The Great Barrier Reef may be at risk of being added to the “world heritage in danger” list, as climate change continues to bite, and the Australian government continues to fail to do anything about it. In a recent meeting, as reported by the Guardian, experts have warned that the current sustainability plan to protect the reef is simply no longer achievable.
The Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan was developed as a direct result of the concern that UNESCO World Heritage Center voiced after it was considering adding the reef to the World Heritage Sites in Danger list in 2015. In order to prove that the health of the reef could be improved, the plan was released to show how it will be protected for future generations to come.
Unfortunately, there are a few glaring issues from the Reef 2050 plan, namely climate change. The main aim of the plan is “to ensure the Outstanding Universal Value of the Great Barrier Reef continues to improve each decade between now and 2050, ensuring the Reef remains a natural wonder for successive generations.” But this may no longer be possible.
With climate change already impacting the reef, dealing an unprecedented two successive bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 that killed almost half the coral, experts at a recent advisory meeting looking to review the plan are concerned that the 2050 target cannot be met. They have apparently said that the best that can be hoped for is to “maintain the ecological function” of the reef, as improving its health is now impossible.
This is not the first time that the Australian government has decided to bury its head in the sand when it comes to an open and frank discussion about how climate change may be impacting one of the nation’s greatest environmental treasures. When UNESCO was compiling a report on the main threats to sites, it was revealed by the Guardian that the Australian government specifically and successfully lobbied to have the reef removed from the section dealing with climate change, claiming that it would have a negative effect on the tourism industry.
The horrible irony, of course, is that if nothing is done about climate change then there won’t be any reef for tourists to visit anyway. Running over 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles) along the northeastern coast of Australia, the reef is a major draw for tourists, who support an estimated 70,000 jobs and annually contribute $6 billion to the economy.