A new analysis finds that Australia has failed on a promise to control tree-clearing to protect the Great Barrier Reef, is falling behind on other key commitments, and risks being called before the World Heritage Committee again in 2017.
The Reef Probation Report, prepared by Fight For The Reef, calls on Australia to urgently lift its game on tree-clearing, water pollution, investment in Reef repair, and responding to climate change.
With Australia due to give the World Heritage Committee a progress report on its Reef 2050 rescue plan by December 1, FFTR partners WWF-Australia and the Australian Marine Conservation Society have prepared their own assessment.
The fact that Australia lived up to its promise to ban sea-dumping of industrial dredge spoil in the Reef World Heritage Area and limit port development is a landmark win for the Reef and proof that big actions can be taken to save the Reef.
But the failure on tree-clearing, slow progress on water pollution targets, insufficient funding for reef repair, and inadequate action on climate change are cause for major concern.
“Global warming, caused by the mining and burning of fossil fuels like coal, has just triggered the worst bleaching event in recorded history,” said Imogen Zethoven, Great Barrier Reef Campaign Director at the Australian Marine Conservation Society.
“Huge sections of the northern Reef have died, and its World Heritage value has been seriously damaged.
“Despite this, Australia is not doing its fair share to tackle global warming and prevent coral bleaching events becoming more frequent and severe.
“A bigger effort is urgently needed on climate change and the other reef promises where Australia is falling behind,” she said.
Latest government figures show that 108,000 hectares of bushland was cleared in Great Barrier Reef catchments in 2014-15 – an increase of 46% since 2011-2012 - despite the crucial role of bushland in preventing sediment smothering the Reef.
The Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce this year welcomed the efforts so far by farmers and land managers to reduce water pollution, but concluded that “the resulting changes have not been rapid or widespread enough to improve or even maintain water quality on the Reef”.
A government study shows there is a funding gap of at least $6 billion between what the Australian and Queensland Governments have committed so far to achieve water quality targets, and what’s needed over the next ten years.
“The Australian and Queensland governments have not met their promise to control tree-clearing in Reef catchments, and need to do more to meet their promises to cut farm pollution and invest the funds required to repair the Reef catchment,” said WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman.
“We need innovation and immediate action. If not, we’re not meeting UNESCO’s probation, and our governments are risking the Reef’s World Heritage status. The world is watching,” he said.
WWF-Australia and AMCS say urgent action is needed to:
• Control tree-clearing in Reef catchments
• Make a rapid shift to renewable energy, with no new coal mines
• Stop farm pollution harming the Reef
• Commit the funds needed to implement the Reef 2050 Plan’s promises
• Create a strong, independent champion for the Reef (by empowering and better resourcing the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority)
Download the report here.
Mark Symons, WWF-Australia Senior Media Officer, 0400 985 571, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jane Garcia (AMCS) 0434 489 533