According to expert accounts given to an advisory committee of the Australian government, the government’s plan to safeguard the Great Barrier Reef is no longer possible due to the emerging effects of climate change. Environmental leaders said the account may lead to the listing of the reef as a “world heritage site in danger.” The Australia and Queensland governments have sought to avoid such a designation.
The national and state government’s Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan, announced in 2015, promised to “ensure the Great Barrier Reef continues to improve on its outstanding universal values.” The plan was created largely to appease the Unesco World Heritage Centre, which was considering the “in danger” designation at the time.
However, two experts from government science agencies, tasked with advising the state and federal governments, said improving the natural heritage values of the reef is no longer possible
In 2016 and 2017, the reef faced back to back mass bleaching events, which killed nearly half the coral. Scientists have forecasted a continued increase in these events in the near future, putting the reef’s coral and biodiversity in serious peril.
At the meeting, the experts advised the government accept a more realistic goal, such as to “maintain the ecological function,” despite accepting an inevitable decline it its overall health.
Such a decline would have wide-reaching effects on the region. The reef supplies food, as well as shelter, for fish, which in turn provide food for humans in the area. The reef is a major draw for tourists, and is therefore essential to the area’s economy.
A spokesperson for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said:
“The concept of ‘maintaining ecological function’ refers to the balance of ecological processes necessary for the reef ecosystem as a whole to persist, but perhaps in a different form, noting the composition and structure may differ from what is currently seen today.”
Nonetheless, federal environmental minister Josh Frydenberg, as well as Queensland environmental minister Steven Miles, said they remained committed to the Reef 2050 plan.
According to Frydenberg:
“The Turnbull government is firmly committed to protecting the Great Barrier Reef for future generations and delivering the Reef 2050 plan. The government has been clear from the outset that the Paris Climate Agreement is the place to deal with climate change.”
But Richard Leck, a campaigner with the World Wildlife Fund argued that Australia is still not doing enough to address the heart of the problem. According to Leck:
“The elephant in the room, that is not included in the plan, and Australia is not performing well on, is climate change. Until Australia gets serious about playing its part in limiting emissions to 1.5C temperature rise, we are not taking saving the reef seriously.”