UNESCO puts Burke on notice: Recommends halting coal developments to save the Reef

Press release - 29 June, 2012
Sydney/St Petersburg, Friday 29 June 2012: The World Heritage Committee has put Australia on notice overnight, warning that it may list the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area as “in danger” unless Australia acts on a series of recommendations to avert clear threats to the Reef’s “outstanding universal values.”

The decision, announced last night at the 36th annual World Heritage Committee meeting in St Petersburg, leaves Environment Minister Tony Burke with big decisions to make - to protect Australia’s most treasured environmental icon or risk irreversible damage to it by allowing extensive new and expanded coal development.

“Australia has been put on notice by the international community. If Minister Burke doesn’t make the right decisions now the Reef could be listed as “in danger” when the Committee meets again in one year’s time,” said Greenpeace Senior Climate Campaigner, John Hepburn.

The recommendations from UNESCO’s June monitoring mission’s report were also accepted by the meeting. The report flagged serious concern about the scale and pace of coastal development along the Reef and called for Australia “to ensure no developments are permitted which create individual, cumulative or combined impacts on the outstanding universal values of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area and its long-term conservation”. (1)

“It is not surprising that the World Heritage Committee is deeply concerned about Australia’s lack of action to defend the Reef from the potential consequences of significant industrial development on the coast. Gladstone Harbour, which has been dramatically impacted by LNG developments, could set a precedent for what is ahead up and down the World Heritage Area if all the coal industry plans proceed.

“It’s time for Tony Burke to declare a moratorium on approvals for major industrial projects that would impact on the outstanding universal values of the Great Barrier Reef,” said Hepburn.

Key decisions from the Committee include:

  • Request for an updated report by February next year on the state of conservation of the Reef, including outlining whether the Government has implemented the decisions adopted by the Committee in St Petersburg, Russia, and the recommendations made by the monitoring mission “with a view to consider, in the absence of substantial progress, the possible inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.”
  • Requesting that the Australian Government “not permit any new port development or associated infrastructure outside of the existing and long-established major port areas within or adjoining the property, and to ensure that development is not permitted if it would impact individually or cumulatively on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property.”
  • An independent review of the management of Gladstone Harbour, where dredging for a major new LNG export facility first sparked UNESCO’s concern in 2011

Earlier this week Greenpeace released a briefing paper outlining the seven coal terminal projects allowed to proceed through the approvals process despite UNESCO’s warnings. These projects, if approved, would defy UNESCO’s recommendations and risk the Reef being placed on the “in danger” list. (2)

Contact:

John Hepburn, Senior Climate Campaigner in Sydney 0407231172

Erland Howden, Climate Campaigner in St Petersburg +7 921 423 9331

Jessa Latona, Communications Officer 0488 208 465

Notes:

1. Recommendation 8, UNESCO mission report available at: http://whc.unesco.org/en/documents/117104
2. The seven new projects would increase the volume of coal exported from Queensland by almost 600 million tonnes per year and increase coal shipping by an estimated 6437 ships per year. Read the briefing here: http://www.greenpeace.org/australia/PageFiles/433616/Business_as_usual_for_reef_destruction.pdf

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