Science

Aust pressure gets reef cut from UN report

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Australia is not mentioned, at the Environment Department's insistence, in a major UN report about the impacts of climate change on heritage sites.

Australia has pressured a United Nations agency into removing the Great Barrier Reef from a report detailing climate change risks on world heritage sites.

That's despite mass bleaching at the world's largest coral reef, which scientists strongly link to global warming.

Australia is not mentioned in the 87-page UNESCO report that lists other sites in the Asia-Pacific region and which says coral reefs are "particularly vulnerable" to climate change.

A chapter on Australia's world heritage sites was scrubbed, after the federal environment department objected.

The department expressed concerns about references to Australia - which included Kakadu and Tasmanian-heritage-listed sites.

It feared the report confused the issues of world heritage listing and climate change and tourism.

Recent experience in Australia had shown "negative commentary" about heritage sites impacted on tourism, it said.

"The department indicated it did not support any of Australia's world heritage properties being included in such a publication for the reasons outlined above."

The report details risks at 30 heritage sites across the globe, many of which are already being significantly affected by global warming.

The Climate Council says one of its researchers was invited to review the case study of the reef.

Will Steffen says given recent widespread bleaching of the reef it "beggars belief" Australia did not even get a mention.

Scientists widely agree the bleaching - which has left 50 per cent of the northern section of the reef dead or dying - is strongly linked to climate change.

"To argue that this is about tourism doesn't make much sense," Prof Steffen said.

"No other country requested sections to be removed from the report."

Activist group 350.org said Australia's intervention was appalling and showed the government was more concerned with its reputation than protecting the reef.

UNESCO last year considered placing the reef on its in-danger list but instead decided to monitor progress until 2017.

The department said Environment Minister Greg Hunt was not involved in its decision.

But the Greens are demanding to know whether Mr Hunt knew of what it claimed was censorship before the report was published.

Labor environment spokesman Mark Butler said it was extraordinary the Australian government would lobby a UN agency without the knowledge of the minister or his office.

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