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The Australian government welcomed a draft UNESCO decision to lift a threat of downgrading the Great Barrier Reef to an endangered World Heritage site.
The U.N. cultural agency and the International Union for Conservation of Nature recommended in November of last year that the world’s largest coral reef system be added to the List of World Heritage in Danger due to threats including rising ocean temperatures.
But UNESCO issued an updated report in Paris that said it would be appropriate to re-evaluate whether the famed tourist attraction off Australia’s northeast coast fitted the World Heritage in danger criteria.
The report recommended Australia submit a progress report to the World Heritage Committee by February on its commitments to make environmental improvements. The World Heritage Committee will consider the draft recommendation in September.
Marine ecologist Lissa Schindler said the UNESCO report found that Australia needed to do more to address climate change and water quality threats to the reef, including more ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. “I think that they’ve started off and done a really good job and there’s more to do,” Schindler told Australian Broadcasting Corp. of the government’s performance.
Global warming is the greatest threat to coral reefs around the world. Heat stress causes coral to bleach, and bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef in 2016, 2017 and 2020 damaged two-thirds of its coral. The latest UNESCO report noted data submitted by Australia in September last year showed the highest level of hard coral cover in the northern and central regions of the reef since monitoring began 36 years ago.
In February, Australia for the first time rejected a coal mining application based on environmental law, with the new government citing the open-pit mine’s potential harm to the nearby Great Barrier Reef. In July 2021, the previous government garnered enough international support to defer an attempt by UNESCO to list the reef as in danger. The Great Barrier Reef accounts for around 10% of the world’s coral reef ecosystems. The network of more than 2,500 reefs covers 348,000 square kilometers (134,000 square miles).
This article was provided by The Associated Press.