SAN FRANCISCO/MELBOURNE: Today’s decision of the World Heritage Committee on the Great Barrier Reef highlights the poor condition of the Reef and expresses serious concerns about the Reef’s health.
Lawyers from US-based Earthjustice and Environmental Justice Australia, who together recently released a report finding that the Reef meets the legal criteria to be placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger, say that if Australia does not take stronger action at the domestic and international levels to address climate change – the greatest threat to the Reef’s long term survival – it will remain open to the Committee to list the Reef as “in danger” in 2017.
“The World Heritage Committee found that the outlook for the Reef is poor and that climate change, poor water quality, and coastal developments are major threats to the health of the Reef,” said Ariane Wilkinson, lawyer at Environmental Justice Australia.
“It recognized the importance of Australia restricting major new port developments and limiting capital dredging to ensure the ‘future conservation’ of the Reef, and it imposed an 18-month review upon Australia,” she said.
“The World Heritage Committee’s decision shows that the international community is watching Australia – and it does not like what it sees,” said Earthjustice’s Australian lawyer, Noni Austin.
“The evidence is clear: climate change is one of the greatest threats to the Reef’s long term survival. But at a time when we must burn less coal, Australia is proposing to expand coal export terminals like Abbot Point on the Reef’s coast.
“These port expansions directly harm the Reef and enable Australia to open massive new coal mines in the Galilee Basin – adding insult to injury by exacerbating climate change.
“Last month we released a legal analysis that found that the Reef meets the criteria for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger. Today’s decision of the World Heritage Committee gives Australia a reprieve from an ‘in danger’ listing.
“But if Australia does not take stronger climate action and stop the coal port expansions and the development of the Galilee Basin, it will remain open to the World Heritage Committee to place the Reef on the List of World Heritage in Danger when it considers the Reef again in 2017,” Ms Austin said.
“It is time for Australia to step up to ensure this unique and threatened part of humanity’s world heritage is not lost forever,” Ms Wilkinson said.