CANBERRA, June 22 (Reuters) – The Great Barrier Reef should be added to a list of “endangered” World Heritage sites, a UN committee recommended on Tuesday, sparking an angry backlash from Australia, which has said he was taken aback by this decision and blamed the political interference.
The long-term outlook for the world’s largest coral reef system had deteriorated and action was needed to counter the effects of climate change, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization committee said. culture, which is the responsibility of UNESCO.
Australian Environment Minister Sussan Ley said Canberra will challenge the recommendation, saying it goes against advice given just a week ago and defends Australia’s protection of the reef.
“It’s a complete subversion of the normal process,” Ley said.
Australia has fought for years to keep the Great Barrier Reef, a major tourist attraction that supports thousands of jobs, off the “endangered” list, a step that could potentially lead to its eventual removal as world heritage site.
In 2015, its lobbying included welcoming UNESCO World Heritage delegates on a trip to an unspoiled expanse of the reef, but since then, scientists say, the world’s largest living ecosystem has suffered three major events. of coral bleaching due to severe marine heat waves.
Ley said she and Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne raised their concerns overnight to UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay.
“This decision was wrong. There was clearly politics behind it,” she said, without giving details.
A government source said Canberra believed China, which chairs the committee, was responsible for the move amid deteriorating relations between the two countries.
“We will appeal but China is in control,” the source said, declining to be named because she is not authorized to speak to the media.
The Chinese Embassy in Canberra did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Environmental groups, however, rejected that the recommendation was political and said it was clear Australia was not doing enough to protect the reef, especially on climate change.
“There is no way for a government to have a contribution. This recommendation is being achieved by world-class scientists,” said Richard Leck, Oceans Officer for the World Wide Fund for Nature, Australia.
Leck was part of a group of conservationists who lobbied 13 members of the UNESCO committee to come to his recommendation, which will now be considered by the 21 member countries of the committee.
Australia is on the committee, but by convention they will not be able to vote if consensus is not reached.
Australia’s dependence on coal-fired electricity makes it one of the world’s largest per capita carbon emitters, but its Conservative government has firmly supported the country’s fossil fuel industries, arguing that stricter action on emissions would cost jobs.
Relations between Canberra and Beijing deteriorated last year after Australia accused China of interfering in internal affairs, and worsened when Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
Reporting by Colin Packham
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