29 Nov 2022


The World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia has called on the Federal and Queensland Governments to adopt recommendations to protect the Great Barrier Reef released overnight by UNESCO.

One of UNESCO’s key asks is that the Australian and Queensland Governments must do their fair share to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

It follows four mass coral bleaching events on the Reef in just six years and the powerful COP27 speech by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warning that “we are on a highway to climate hell.”

“The Great Barrier Reef has been at the frontline of climate change damage. These UNESCO recommendations are a reminder it is our choice to give the world’s most iconic coral reef the best chance of survival,” said WWF-Australia Head of Oceans Richard Leck.

“UNESCO and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) are the global experts on protecting World Heritage areas. Their recommendations should be accepted by the Australian and Queensland Governments,” he said.

The suggested actions are contained in a report by UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre and IUCN following their monitoring mission to assess the Great Barrier Reef in March this year.

On climate, UNESCO and IUCN are calling for improved emissions reduction targets and faster shifts away from fossil fuels. Other recommendations – which aim to build the Reef’s resilience – include:

  • Protecting the Reef’s iconic wildlife by removing commercial gill net licences in Reef waters.
  • Strengthening laws and better targeting investment to achieve water pollution reduction targets.
  • Prioritising protection of remnant vegetation in Reef catchments by strengthening laws to restrict land clearing.
  • Increasing support for Traditional Owner capacity and management of their land and sea Country.

In 2021, UNESCO sent a draft decision to the World Heritage Committee recommending the Reef be added to the List of World Heritage in danger.

It followed multiple mass coral bleaching events and the Australian Government’s own comprehensive Outlook Report which stated the outlook for the Reef had deteriorated from “poor” to “very poor”.

The previous Australian Government successfully lobbied World Heritage Committee member nations to reject that “in danger” recommendation.

Instead, at the invitation of Australia, UNESCO undertook the monitoring mission. But that visit in March this year coincided with the fourth mass coral bleaching event in six years.

Mr Leck said UNESCO’s monitoring mission report is an opportunity for the Australian Government to prove that nature and climate are back on the agenda.  

“The world is watching. The new Australian Government wants to co-host the global climate change COP31 in 2026 with our Pacific neighbours. The UNESCO recommendations are our moment to show the world that on climate and nature we really are switching from laggards to leaders."

“On the issue of considering an in danger listing, WWF believes this should be on hold until 2024 to provide the Australian Government the opportunity to work in partnership with the Queensland Government to adopt and make progress on UNESCO’s report,” he said.

“The UNESCO recommendations provide the Australian Government with a critical time-bound opportunity to signal change. Because the love for our great Reef goes beyond Australian borders, and there are many eyes watching to see if the government are willing to do what it takes to save our icon.”

WWF-Australia is calling on the Australian Government to develop a Renewable Exports Strategy for Australia, classify at least 30% of Australia’s oceans as highly protected zones by 2030 and for the Queensland and Australian Governments to expand net-free areas in the Reef as part of our Blueprint to Regenerate Australia.

These policies are required to safeguard iconic wildlife and wild places including the Great Barrier Reef. To find out more visit www.wwf.org.au/regenerate-australia