Damning UNESCO Reef verdict puts spotlight on coal ports

Press release - 2 June, 2012
Sydney. Saturday 2nd June 2012: Greenpeace is calling on Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke to heed United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) damning verdict on the Great Barrier Reef and declare an immediate moratorium on major infrastructure developments in the World Heritage Area.

In a clear call for a broader comprehensive assessment, UNESCO findings stated “it is essential that no port, coastal or other development that could affect the property should be approved if it would pre-empt a positive outcome of the Strategic Assessment and the resulting plan for the sustainable development of the reef.”

The report highlighted the risks posed by coal and LNG port developments within the World Heritage Area.

“Until the results of the Strategic Assessment are achieved, and a related plan for sustainable development has been put in place, a highly precautionary approach is required in relation to all developments that might impact the Outstanding Universal Values of the property…Without such a precautionary approach the outcomes of the Strategic Assessment may be compromised, and there are a number of developments that, were they to proceed, would provide the basis to consider the inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.”

Currently, a six-fold expansion of coal export infrastructure is planned along the World Heritage Area coastal area, with up to 10,000 coal ships destined to slice through the Reef by 2020. UNESCO clearly states that if allowed to proceed before a strategic assessment is complete and a sustainable plan in place, developments in the pipeline would ‘directly risk irreversible impacts’ on the Great Barrier Reef.

“There are 35 major development applications seeking approval within the next 18 months that would impact on the reef. The scale and pace of proposed development is out of control,” said Greenpeace Program Director Ben Pearson.  “Thankfully UNESCO have recognised the scale of the threat and are calling for urgent action.”

“We may as well kiss the Reef goodbye if we sign off on even half of sixfold expansion of coal port capacity planned in the World Heritage Area,” said Pearson.  “Tony Burke needs to step in before it’s too late and halt approval of new coal port developments until he has carried out a comprehensive strategic assessment.”

“UNESCO has clearly stated that the Great Barrier Reef is under threat from reckless industrialisation and we need to take action now to safeguard it for the future,” concluded Pearson.

“If we don’t change course, the Great Barrier Reef could be on the ‘in danger’ list,” Pearson said.

This week, the Queensland Government was forced into an embarrassing backdown after documents revealed Gina Rinehart had pressured it to ride roughshod over its own assessment processes for the approval the vast Alpha Coal project in the Galilee Basin – a major driver for what could become the world’s largest coal port at Abbot Point in the World Heritage Area. 

Since UNESCO first called on Australia to undertake a comprehensive strategic assessment of the Great Barrier Reef in June 2011 numerous port developments have been entered the planning system or advanced through it. For example, the massive Dudgeon Point development (bigger than any coal port in Australia), BHP Billiton, Waratah Coal and Adani’s proposals for a new terminals at Abbot Point and possibly most surprisingly the Yarwun Terminal in Gladstone was submitted after the UNESCO visit in March 2012.

“It’s disappointing to see the Queensland Government falling over itself to please the big miners instead of considering the long-term future of the 50,000 Queenslanders who rely on the Great Barrier Reef for employment,” said Pearson.

“Tony Burke needs to put an immediate halt on coal port approvals, including the massive T3 expansion at Abbot Point which is anticipated to receive approval within months.”

“This report is a serious wake up call for both the Federal and Queensland Governments”.

For further comment contact: Greenpeace Communications Manager James Lorenz 0400 376 021

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