Climate change has diminished the Great Barrier Reef's 'outstanding values,' report says

The Great Barrier Reef’s “outstanding universal value” is diminishing because of climate change, the government says.

File photo of degraded coral reefs at Lizard Island, Northern Great Barrier Reef, Australia.

File photo of degraded coral reefs at Lizard Island, Northern Great Barrier Reef. Source: AAP

The effects of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef are “significant” and have turned it into “an icon under pressure with a deteriorating long-term outlook”, according to a new government report.

The State Party Report by the Department of Environment and Energy to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee said climate change is the biggest threat to the Reef’s long-term outlook.

Poor water quality and coastal developments are among the others.

UNESCO, which could place the Reef on its “in danger” list as part of a review scheduled for June 2020, asked Australia to submit the report amid concerns the 348,000-square-kilometre site’s “outstanding universal value” was under threat.

Coral bleaching has already devastated parts of Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
Source: AAP

The Reef, heritage-listed site since 1981, brings in around $6.4 billion annually and generates about 64,000 jobs.

“Concerted action” on “multiple fronts” is needed to address the key threats to the Reef, the government’s report said.

“Climate change, poor water quality caused primarily by land-based runoff, coastal development and some aspects of direct human use such as illegal fishing are the primary threats,” it said.

“Among them, climate change is the most significant and can only be addressed by effective global action under the Paris Agreement.

"Mass coral bleaching events in 2016 and 2017, six tropical cyclones, flooding, and a coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish outbreak have impacted the [outstanding universal value] of the property since the last in 2015."

The Australian Marine Conservation Society said the government’s report represents “a critical statement for the World Heritage Committee to consider next year”.

"It is in Australia’s interest to play a leading role in getting the world to act, and the only way it can do that is by acting at home while urging other countries to follow our example," director of strategy Imogen Zethoven said.

Australia needed to show “national and global leadership” in reducing emissions, she added.

The report said Australia is taking “strong action” on climate change, saying the country’s commitment under the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 constitutes a “significant contribution to global climate action”.

Fish swim by bleached coral in the Great Barrier Reef
Source: AAP

“We are actively managing the pressures over which we have direct control through investment and regulation based on the best available science,” the report said.

“In the face of these pressures, we are scaling up investment in reef restoration and adaptation science.”

Australia has come under global criticism for its perceived reluctance to phase out the burning and exporting of fossil fuels, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison has continually defended the government’s policies.

He told the United Nations in September Australia was “doing [its] bit on climate change” by “balancing global responsibilities with sensible and practical policies”.

In response, the CEO of the Climate Council - an independent body comprised of science, health, renewable energy and policy experts – called Mr Morrison’s comments "colossal bullshit".

Published 3 December 2019 at 11:27am
By Evan Young