Australia warned that if the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) insisted on including the Great Barrier Reef on its “at risk” list, it could weaken its own credibility.
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Special Envoy Warren Entsch (Warren Entsch) expressed his hope that the United Nations World Heritage Committee can reverse Draft decision Last month, Canberra conducted a frenetic lobbying campaign ahead of the vote scheduled for Friday.
United Nations officials said the move is aimed at spurring action to protect the 2,300 kilometers of biological structures on Australia’s east coast that have been damaged by climate change and coastal development.
But the debate about its UNESCO status has become the front line of the struggle between Australia’s conservative government (a climate policy laggard who has not yet committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050) and environmental activists.
Since the committee is chaired by Tian Xuejun, China’s Vice Minister of Education, Canberra has also raised concerns about Beijing’s influence on international institutions.
Canberra has spared no effort in trying to influence committees in 21 countries. Last week, it sent its environment minister to Europe to lobby.
Entsch even invited foreign ambassadors-including nine ambassadors from the countries that sit on the committee-for a snorkeling trip to introduce them to the health of the coral reef.
“We showed the ambassadors the areas affected by coral bleaching and they were surprised by the regeneration and diversity of corals,” he said.
“UNESCO plays an important role. If it wants to maintain its credibility, it needs to follow its own agreement.”
Australia seems to have won the support of 12 countries, and the amendment will postpone the list of “at risk” until at least 2023. But this will depend on the final vote.
But scientists and environmental groups warned that Canberra’s aggressive lobbying may further politicize the world heritage protection system. They added that trying to shift the focus to China and leaking secrets to the Australian media hinted that Tian might have influenced the committee’s targeting of Canberra, which is part of the diplomatic dispute between the two countries and would be distracting.
“The’at risk’ list has nothing to do with China,” said marine scientist Charlie Belon, who cataloged and named approximately one-fifth of the world’s coral species.
“It’s about the government’s unwillingness to take responsibility for anything related to climate change, whether it’s the plight of the Great Barrier Reef or the recent forest fires.”
Tian Benzhou said that the draft decision is based on scientific data submitted by the Australian authorities to the committee.
This includes 2019 report Responsible by the Australian government agency that manages coral reefs, the agency concluded that the prospects for coral reefs are very bad after multiple coral bleaching events related to rising water temperatures.
Tian told reporters on Sunday that Australia should pay attention to the advice of the advisory body and fulfill its responsibility to protect the world heritage, instead of making “groundless accusations” against other countries.
Canberra believes that adding coral reefs to the list fails to recognize its efforts to restore coral health and may damage the international reputation of natural wonders. According to a recent report, the Great Barrier Reef provides 64,000 jobs and contributes A$6 billion (US$4.4 billion) to the Australian economy.
“The Great Barrier Reef is the best-managed coral reef in the world. Billions of dollars continue to be spent on it, and a lot of work has been done by different stakeholders,” Entsch said.
He added that, unfortunately, when he hopes to see his government more quickly commit to achieving net zero emissions by 2050, UNESCO has made Australia’s climate policy a priority.
“My concern is that the’at risk’ list shows that all efforts to protect coral reefs so far are worthless, and stakeholders will say,’Why should we bother?'” he said.
Most scientists and environmentalists disagree and say Australia’s position is full of hypocrisy.
Richard Leck, head of marine conservation organization WWF, said: “A strongly scientifically driven process is being manipulated and presented as a political process, which is clearly not.
“It is ironic that the Australian government accused the committee of being’politically motivated’ and then engaged in frantic political lobbying in the past three weeks.”