While UNESCO said the Great Barrier Reef is the “most biodiverse” of its World Heritage sites, and that it is of “…enormous scientific and intrinsic importance”, today, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has declared that the Great Barrier Reef is not to be listed as a site “in danger” but will remain on the UNESCO watch list for another 4 years.
The Australian government admitted to spending $100,000 on lobbying the committee (ie, paying lobbyists to convince members that the Great Barrier Reef is still “great”) and $88,000 in media dollars to convince the world-at-large of the same.
The Queensland Tourism Industry Council reports that the reef contributes about $6 billion a year to the Australian economy and notes that an “in danger” listing would have been “catastrophic” for tourism.
Other factors likely contributing to the lobbying efforts (i.e., lobbying the government to lobby the committee) include mining and farming industries, whose activities would have been severely threatened with regulations under an “in danger” listing.
To bolster their efforts in keeping the reef off of the “danger” list – the Commonwealth and Queensland governments released the Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan, which asserts the government will spend more than $2 billion over the next 10 years in reef protection and $8 million in “enhanced reef monitoring,” and will also limit new port development and ban dredge dumping from any new developments it allows.
I need to include a little aside here to talk about this “body” we rely on for decisions of this magnitude. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) is the parent organization of the “World Heritage Committee.” The World Heritage Committee is compiled of nations, tasked with the preservation and conservation of, well, the world. You’d think they would be enormously structured and immensely dedicated.
As it turns out, it’s just a random group of 21 “states” (countries) elected for 6-year terms, but get this, (quote extracted from their website): “ … most State Parties choose voluntarily to be Members of the Committee for only four years, in order to give other States Parties an opportunity to be on the Committee.” Does this sound like a committee dedicated to preserving the world or a bunch of kids in a sandbox practicing “sharing” – and the Earth is their toy? To me, this implies that countries elected to this committee are just waiting out their terms, just to say they did it. And if that is not the case, it implies at the very least, that they are pretty disorganized if their term structures are so ambiguous that nations just drop out when they’re done playing. Just sayin…
Back to the issue: About half of reef’s coral coverage has been lost in the past three decades. In scientific terms: a whole stinking lot of dead coral. Threats include climate change (tropical cyclones wreaked the havoc shown in the image associated with this post) wastewater, fishing and developments including coal exportation in nearby ports. Greenpeace Australia notes that the Australian government’s protection assertions cannot be trusted unless they drop massive coal mine and port expansion in the Queensland Galilee Basin, which they state will create a highway for coal ships right through the reef.
Australia is required to report its progress to UNESCO at the end of 2016 and again in 2020.
With this ruling, it seems all we can do is wait and see if Australia will make good on its promise. Seems to me it comes down to this: tourism dollars vs. coal/development/farm dollars – whichever is greater determines the fate of the Great Barrier Reef.
So, my first call to action on this blog: get your tickets to Australia!!
Sources and Other Fun Stuff:
Check out Australian’s Satirical News Source – “the ‘Meh’ Barrier Reef” – love it: http://www.sbs.com.au/comedy/article/2015/06/04/unesco-downgrades-icon-good-barrier-reef