In a bold move, the Australian government has sought to exempt the country from the negative impacts of climate change. The decision was made in association with the release of a new report, “World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate”, published jointly by UNESCO and the United Nations environment program.
An original draft of the report, obtained by the Guardian, includes sections on the threat posed by climate change to the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu national park and the Tasmanian forests. Subsequently however, these sections were removed at the request of the Department of the Environment. The final report contains no mentions of Australia at all.
Justifying the decision to push for the removal of Australia from the report, a department spokesperson told the Guardian that it could “cause considerable confusion” by making people think that the Great Barrier Reef and other natural wonders are “at risk” from climate change. “Recent experience in Australia had shown that negative commentary about the status of world heritage properties impacted on tourism”, they said.
In order to protect the tourism industry, it is necessary for the Great Barrier Reef and other natural wonders to not be seen as at risk. This is a tricky perception to maintain in a context where, for example, the Reef has just experienced its worst ever coral bleaching event, with up to half of the coral in its northernmost parts estimated to have died.
Warmer, and more acidic, ocean waters, which scientists have connected with climate change, are not helping the government’s task in this area, and nor are reports that mention them.
Will the government’s decisive action in response to the threat posed by the UNESCO report result in positive sustainability outcomes for the Great Barrier Reef and other natural treasures? It is, unfortunately, too early to say.
In the meantime, we can be thankful for the foresight shown by the Department of the Environment. If it wasn’t for its intervention, no doubt tourism-industry damaging news about risks to Australia’s world heritage sites would be being splashed across the internet as we speak.
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