Australia snatches one more reprieve from Unesco

To better conserve it, the Great Barrier Reef, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981, must be included in the list of endangered sites. The recommendations of the scientific arm of the UN organization could not be more firm in this regard in its preliminary report published at the end of June and submitted for adoption Friday to the twenty-one members of the committee.

The current state of the coral ecosystem in northeast Australia and its long-term outlook has deteriorated and more needs to be done by the country – one of the world’s leading exporters of coal and natural gas – to improve the water quality that cradles the reef, as well as to counter climate change, according to this document based on scientific data – provided by Australia.

However, the members of the World Heritage committee did not opt ​​for this path and on the contrary decided, Friday July 23 … not to decide, but to reassess the situation in 2022. When unanimously adopting the opinion, they supported an amendment tabled by Bahrain and co-sponsored, among others, by other fossil fuel-producing countries such as Russia and Saudi Arabia, striking out the proposal to include the Great Barrier on the list endangered sites.

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In the online debate of the committee, chaired from Fuzhou, China, by Tian Xuejun, Chinese vice minister of education, nineteen out of twenty-one members – including Hungary, Spain, Brazil, Nigeria, Oman, Bosnia-Herzegovina or even Thailand – took the floor to support this lenient approach to Australia, a country which trembles to see its jewel fallen from the prestigious recognition of Unesco.

A snub for the scientific community

During the debate, Norway did try to plead to demote the site: “Politics must not take precedence when there is a certain danger (…). The inscription on the list in danger is not a punishment, but on the contrary an encouragement ”, expressed his representative. But Oslo ultimately rallied to the consensus, negotiating for Australia to submit an updated report on the state of conservation of the reef by 1 February 2022 – in barely six months – for a new examination by the committee, at its 45e meeting, to be held in 2022, a year earlier than Canberra expected.

The Australian government has nonetheless gained yet another respite, having previously escaped a withdrawal from the site in 2015. Australian Environment Minister Sussan Ley praised members’ support in a statement released on Friday. “We have always been concerned that Unesco has sought to obtain immediate inscription on the list of sites in danger without proper consultation, without an on-site visit and without having all the most recent information, and it is clear that this process concerned not only Australia but also other nations ”, she declared.

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