UNESCO steps up defence of the Reef

Feature Story - 8 July, 2012
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has just concluded its annual meeting. Last week’s decisions on the Great Barrier Reef have profound implications for its future protection and pose some tough questions for Environment Minister Tony Burke.
© Darren Jew / Greenpeace

The 21 countries of the World Heritage Committee endorsed the recommendations of the March Monitoring Mission, and three made statements about the global importance of the Reef, urging a "highly precautionary" approach to its conservation. The delegation from India -- home to GVK and Adani, two key companies driving Queensland's coal export expansion - urged that "abundant precautionary principles should be applied.”

The committee adopted the conclusions of the mission report which state that “decisive and immediate action is required to secure [the Reef’s] Outstanding Universal Value over the long-term…” in part due to extensive proposed coastal development.

If "decisive and immediate action" is not taken, the Reef could be placed on the list of World Heritage properties “in Danger" next year – an international humiliation for our country.

The Committee concluded that Australia should “ensure that development is not permitted if it would impact individually or cumulatively on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property."


New criteria have been established against which the Outlook for the reef should be measured, and which must be included in the Strategic Assessment of the area – currently being developed by the Queensland Government and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. This will be considered by the Committee in mid-2015 and in the meantime, the decision urges Australia to "prevent any approval of major projects that may compromise the outcomes of the Strategic Assessment".

It would be evident to most Australians that building the world's biggest coal ports at Abbot Point and Hay Point constitute "major projects that may compromise the outcomes of the Strategic Assessment". 

For two new coal projects, a massive new mine and railway called “The Alpha Project” and a 60 million tonne coal terminal at Abbot Point called “T3”, the Minister is being pressed to grant approval in the coming months. This will be a test of Australia’s credibility ahead of their next report to UNESCO, which they will submit on the 1st February.

Neither of these projects has been subject to thorough, rigorous or cumulative environmental assessments. The decision before Minister Burke is clear: to protect Australia’s most treasured environmental icon or risk irreversible damage to it by allowing extensive new and expanded coal development.

If you want to have your say on the controversial “T3” coal port, take action here now.