UNESCO will give the Australian government 12 months to illustrate its commitment to protecting the Great Barrier Reef, before the organisation decides whether the reef will become the latest addition the World Heritage in Danger List.
The decision was presented to the World Heritage Committee in June and comes in light of growing concern surrounding the regulation of development in the marine park, particularly in respect to the Australian Government’s approval of the Abbott Point coal terminal expansion in North Queensland.
The approval has triggered apprehension amongst various delegate nations, with many expressing concern over the range of natural and man-made threats facing the World Heritage Listed site.
Of particular concern to the group was the Australian Government’s recent decision to hand over coal seam gas development approval powers to state governments, particularly developments in areas of “high national and international relevance”.
The Greens have further criticised the Federal Government’s failure to show whether it was aware of the dangers that the expansion of Abbot Point posed to the health of the Great Barrier Reef, prior to granting approval. Despite the Minister of Environment Greg Hunt’s promise to produce documents showing the extent of his awareness prior to granting approval by the end of April, such documents have not yet been made available.
In response to UNESCO’s criticisms, the Australian Government has defended its efforts and reiterated its commitment to the reef by means of a $180 million annual joint investment into the advancement of the reef’s health.
The Australian Government now faces the substantial task of developing a more comprehensive and sustainable plan to protect the Great Barrier Reef to present to the World Heritage Committee in February 2015.
If the World Heritage Committee is not satisfied that the health of the reef has been sufficiently secured, the Great Barrier Reef may be placed on the World Heritage in Danger List. Placement on the list would inform the international community that the value of the site is at risk and requires immediate rectification.
As the Australian Government continues its struggle to prove its commitment to the health of the Great Barrier Reef while also maintaining its drive to pursue further development in the region, the question remains as to whether the risk of placement on the in Danger List will be enough to guarantee the protection of the Great Barrier Reef for the benefit of generations to come, on a global and international scale.
Written by Rebecca Jancauskas
Accompanying image by SarahAckerman, used under the following <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode" target="blank">license. Image modified from its original state.
Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: July 3, 2014.