Why Did UNESCO Decide Against ‘In Danger’ Status For Great Barrier Reef?


United National cultural agency UNESCO has voted leaving the Great Barrier Reef off its “in danger” list amid the world heritage site’s recent destruction from massive coral bleaching.

The decision, made at the annual meeting of the World Heritage Committee (WHC) in the Polish city of Krakow, is believed to help the Australian government dodge embarrassment and deal with a damaging blow to its tourism industry.

Win For Australian Government?

“This announcement overnight is a big win for Australia and a big win for the Turnbull Government,” said federal environment minister Josh Frydenberg in an ABC report, adding that the government’s heavy investment in the reef could take time to translate to improvements.

According to the minister, the government is standing by its Reef 2050 plan, which is coordinated and integrated with the Queensland government’s efforts to defend the widely battered reef.

The committee is concerned about water quality targets as well as land clearing laws in the state. UNESCO blames land clearing as an issue in the reef’s health, calling for greater efforts on the matter. Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s administration is believed to have failed to achieve stronger tree-clearing laws through state parliament.

Palaszczuk deemed the decision good news, citing the reef’s support for more than 69,000 jobs in Queensland and billions of dollars in assistance to the state’s economy each year.

Reef Management And Protection

The government’s management of the embattled reef has come under fire for the extensive coral die-off seen in the area, which has been attributed to the strongest El Niño phenomenon in two decades and climate change impact.

The mass coral bleaching has also threatened the world heritage status of the Great Barrier Reef.

Its commitment to addressing climate change, for instance, is questioned in the fact of its relationship with fossil fuels. Coal remains the second-biggest export earner in the country.

For Alix Foster Vander Elst of Greenpeace Australia Pacific, an endangerment listing would have represented the reef’s situation in a “more realistic” way, forcing the federal government to act on climate change.

A new report noted that the Great Barrier Reef is “too big to fail,” estimating its value at a staggering AU $56 billion (US $42 billion).

The reef is seen to contribute AU $6.4 billion to the Australian economy in financial year 2015 to 2016 and $3.9 billion to Queensland’s economy, and the state would see its highest unemployment rate in 25 years if all Australians working there lost their jobs today.

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