1 Aug 2023


The World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia says UNESCO’s draft decision on the World Heritage status of the Great Barrier Reef makes it clear Australia needs to step-up its Reef protection commitments, particularly on climate change.

UNESCO is recommending that Australia return before the World Heritage Committee next year. If the Government can’t demonstrate progress on implementing its existing commitments, and stepping up to new ones, then the Committee is likely to place the Reef on the list of World Heritage properties ‘in-danger’.

“UNESCO has kept the Australian and Queensland governments on probation for their management of the Great Barrier Reef,” said WWF-Australia Head of Oceans Richard Leck.

“The recent decision to phase out commercial gill nets from Reef waters by mid-2027 is a world class conservation breakthrough that should be celebrated. Now is the time to keep that momentum going by tackling the Reef’s other main threats,” he said. 

Mr Leck said land clearing in Reef catchments remains a problem and the Queensland Government’s current emissions reduction target of 30% by 2030 is the least ambitious of any state.

“Better protection of forests in Reef catchments is vital for Australia to become a deforestation-free nation. The latest figures, released by the Queensland Government on Sunday, show full-scale clearing (forest or woodland cleared to bare ground) in Reef catchments has actually increased."

“A big step up on climate change is also crucial for the Reef’s future. To give the Reef a fighting chance, it’s vital the Queensland and Australian Governments implement ambitious emissions reduction measures consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C, in line with UNESCO’s draft recommendation,” he said. 

Mr Leck urged Australia’s decision makers to heed the warning from UN secretary general, António Guterres who just days ago said: “The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived. The air is unbreathable, the heat is unbearable, and the level of fossil fuel profits and climate inaction is unacceptable. Leaders must lead. No more hesitancy, no more excuses, no more waiting for others to move first. There is simply no more time for that.”

Mr Leck said: “There’s an opportunity for Australia to lift its game before it is required to provide a progress report to the World Heritage Committee next year."

“Reef scientists are concerned about the possibility of mass coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef this summer because of human-caused ocean warming combined with an El Niño event."

“The last major El Niño in 2016/17 resulted in the loss of about 50% of the Reef’s shallow water coral."

“The World Heritage Committee has a vital role to play in encouraging greater climate action and ensuring the Australian and Queensland Governments implement the announcements they’ve made on climate change, water quality and fishing,” Mr Leck said.