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Australia Avoids UNESCO Reef Downgrade 07/25 08:29


   CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- Australia on Friday garnered enough 
international support to defer an attempt by the United Nations' cultural 
organization to downgrade the Great Barrier Reef's World Heritage status 
because of damage caused by climate change.

   UNESCO had recommended that its World Heritage Committee add the world's 
largest coral reef ecosystem off the northeast Australian coast to the World 
Heritage in Danger list, mainly due to rising ocean temperatures.

   Australian-proposed amendments to the draft decision at a committee meeting 
in China on Friday would have deferred the "in danger" question until 2023.

   But Norway moved amendments that put the reef back on the committee's agenda 
at its annual meeting next June.

   In the meantime, a monitoring mission will visit the reef to determine how 
the impact of climate change can be managed.

   Australian Environment Minister Sussan Ley told the virtual meeting that 
downgrading the reef's status before the committee had finalized its own 
climate change policy made no sense.

   "Delegates, we ask only two things: time for experts to see first hand our 
commitment to the reef, its present condition and our management, and for the 
final climate policy to provide a consistent framework for addressing the 
impacts of climate change on all World Heritage properties," she said from 
Australia, where she in in quarantine after lobbying delegates in Europe and 
the Middle East on the decision.

   In 2014, Australia was warned that an "in danger" listing was being 
considered rather than being proposed for immediate action.

   Australia had time to respond by developing a long-term plan to improve the 
reef's health called the Reef 2050 Plan.

   Since then, the reef has suffered significantly from coral bleaching caused 
by unusually warm ocean temperatures in 2016, 2017 and last year. The bleaching 
damaged two thirds of the coral.

   Australia reacted angrily last month when the draft decision was published 
to remove the network of 2,500 reefs covering 348,000 square kilometers 
(134,000 square miles) from the World Heritage list it joined 40 years ago for 
its "outstanding universal value." The "in danger" listing is one step away 
from losing all World Heritage standing.

   "This decision was flawed. Clearly there were politics behind it," Ley said 
at the time.

   Many in Australia's conservative government saw the move as an attempt to 
pressure it into committing to reducing the nation's greenhouse gas emissions 
to zero by 2050 and to stop allowing coal mines to be expanded.

   In arguing for the reef's downgrade, UNESCO World Heritage Center's marine 
program coordinator, Fanny Douvere, referred to the Intergovernmental Panel on 
Climate Change's conclusion that global emissions needed to fall to zero by 
2050 to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

   "Accelerated action on climate change on all possible levels, in accordance 
with the 1.5 degree target under the Paris Agreement for Climate Change, and 
the recovery of the property from poor water quality are both vital and are 
urgent to secure the outstanding universal value of the Great Barrier Reef for 
present and for future generations," Douvere said.

   Greenpeace said in a statement that the committee had missed an opportunity 
to shine a light on Australia's neglect of a natural wonder.

   The Chinese host of the committee meeting in the city of Fuzhou this week 
defended the proposed "in danger" listing against Australian government 
suspicion that China influenced the finding for political reasons.

   "Australia, as a member state of the World Heritage Committee, should ... 
attach importance to the opinions of the advisory bodies and earnestly fulfill 
the duty of World Heritage protection instead of making groundless accusations 
against other states," said Tian Xuejun, the Chinese vice minister of education 
and the president of this year's session.

   China's representative said during the debate that his nation "supports the 
emerging consensus" to defer the "in danger" question.

   Before the committee's ruling, Jodie Rummer, a research fellow at the 
Australian Research Council Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, said 
the "in danger" designation was needed to get Australia to act on climate 

   "I think that's the wake-up call that we need here in Australia, very much 
so," Rummer said. "It's the wake-up call that we need to cut our emissions and 
commit to net zero. It's the wake-up call that we need to really put that 
spotlight on the Great Barrier Reef."

   The deferral sidelines Australia's management of the reef as an issue at 
elections due by May next year at which the government will seek a fourth 
three-year term.

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