3 June 2017


UNESCO has expressed “serious concern” about the bleaching death of coral on the Great Barrier Reef caused by climate change, in a report released in Paris early this morning.

The body, which advises the World Heritage Committee, says key targets in Australia’s rescue plan – Reef 2050 – “are not expected to be achieved” and is urging Australia “to accelerate efforts”. 

Australia’s tourism icon is on the agenda of this year’s World Heritage Committee meeting in Poland (2-12 July).

UNESCO did have some praise welcoming progress made with the inception and initial implementation of Reef 2050.

But that was countered by three main concerns.

UNESCO said “climate change remains the most significant overall threat” to the Reef and “recommended that the Committee express its serious concern at the coral bleaching and mortality” that occurred in 2016 and 2017.

It said the scale of the mass bleaching “serves to underline the severity of the threat” to the Reef from climate change.

UNESCO also said “progress towards achieving water quality targets has been slow, and the most immediate water quality targets … are not expected to be achieved within the foreseen timeframe.”

The third stumbling block was the failure to strengthen tree protection in Reef catchments to reduce polluted run-off.

UNESCO “noted that important legislation regulating land clearing has not been passed yet.”

WWF-Australia Head of Oceans Richard Leck said the biggest threats to the Reef were climate change, poor water quality, and excessive tree clearing which increases polluted run-off.

“On all three fronts UNESCO has concerns on progress in tackling these issues."

“Two years ago UNESCO put Australia on probation until the health of the Reef improves. Clearly that probation is not going well. Since then there has been an unprecedented loss of coral."

“Today’s UNESCO report shows Australia is not on course to rescue the Reef and we must lift our game significantly."

“Australia must become a world leader in tackling climate change, and boost efforts to clean up pollution from Reef catchments."

“The Great Barrier Reef can bounce back. However, never has more urgency and leadership been needed to make sure the Reef is not lost on our watch,”

WWF is urging the Australian and Queensland Governments to:

  • Commit Australia to do its fair share in keeping global temperature rise below 1.5oC.
  • Implement strong laws in Reef catchments that clean up farm water pollution and stop excessive tree clearing
  • Transition to a 100% renewable electricity by 2035
  • Rule out government support for new coal mines
  • Stop government subsidies which encourage more coal, oil and gas to be burnt.

UNESCO’s report can be viewed here (go to page 23) 

WWF-Australia Media Contact:

Mark Symons, Senior Media Officer, 0400 985 571