23 July 2021


The World Heritage Committee has placed Australia back on probation over the declining health of the Great Barrier Reef.

The Committee did not immediately place the Reef on the List of World Heritage in Danger as foreshadowed in a draft decision released last month. Instead, a decision has been delayed until 2022.

The Committee noted “with the utmost concern and regret” three mass coral bleaching events in 2016, 2017 and 2020 and the Australian government’s own 2019 GBR Outlook Report, which said the Reef’s long-term outlook has deteriorated from poor to very poor.

It reiterated that climate change is the most serious threat to the Reef, and urged Australia and all nations to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.

With a revived Reef 2050 Plan due soon, the Committee urged Australia to include “that accelerated action at all possible levels is required to address the threat from climate change in accordance with the Paris Agreement”.

It was also noted “with the utmost concern” that “progress has been largely insufficient in meeting key … water quality and land management targets” as evidenced by the government’s own Reef Water Quality Report Cards.

Richard Leck, Head of Oceans for the World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia, said Australia’s close shave with an in Danger listing should become a turning point towards much stronger national climate policy.

“UNESCO has put Australia on probation. Business as usual on climate will not prevent an in Danger listing in a year’s time,” said Mr Leck.

“Millions of Australians will be shocked we came so close to an in Danger listing. The health of the Reef and its World Heritage status as one of the natural wonders of the world are something that all Australians hold very dear."

“The Australian Government’s first action must be to start work on a plan for Australia to do its fair share to limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. We have a unique moment in time to harness our endless sunshine, huge land areas, powerful winds, and world-class expertise to lead the world in protecting the Reef from global warming."

“A climate plan that protects the Great Barrier Reef will also create policy certainty for greater investment in clean energy solutions and will supercharge our unique opportunity to transform Australia into a renewable exports superpower."

“That will enable Australia to proudly say that we are doing everything we can to protect the Reef, and be a vital step forward to avoiding a World Heritage ‘in-danger’ listing in 2022.”