UNESCO decision exposes Australia’s stunning hypocrisy on the Great Barrier Reef

Press release - 5 July, 2017
Krakow, 5 July 2017 - UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee expressed it serious concern for the state of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, just weeks after releasing a study that warned keeping global warming at well below 1.5-2°C above pre-industrial levels is the only way to save the Reef.

In May of this year, it was revealed that up to 50% of the Reef has died as a result of two mass bleaching events - one in 2016 and another in 2017 [1].

“The health of our reefs is the great canary in the coal mine. Rather than transition away from coal like some of our major trading partners, we are driving ahead with what will be one of the biggest coal mines right next to the Reef,” said Alix Foster Vander Elst, Greenpeace Australia Pacific Campaigner.

“The Australian government says it’s committed to preserving the Reef for future generations, but its actions make it quite clear it doesn’t care enough to do what we need to save it.”

The Australian Government is considering a loan of AU$1 billion (US$700 million) to enable the construction of the biggest coal mine ever built in the country.

“When the Government is spending fifty five times more on fossil fuel subsidies than on its much-touted Reef 2050 plan, it’s quite clear what its priorities really are. The Carmichael mine is a climate bomb that endangers the Reef and defies the Paris climate agreement,”  said Foster Vander Elst [2].

Both the UNESCO World Heritage Committee and the Government’s own Reef 2050 Advisory Committee have warned that the Government’s Reef 2050 Plan, which primarily addresses water quality and land clearing, is inadequate and will not work because it does not address climate change - the primary threat to the Reef.

“Coal consumption in China is stalling while just recently South Korea committed to phase out coal and nuclear, and India is producing solar energy cheaper than fossil fuels. While our trading partners look towards a clean energy future, we’re stuck in the past,” said Foster Vander Elst.

“We intend to hold the Australian government as well as all G20 nations to account for their climate action as they meet in Germany this week. The state of the Reef can be no greater a reminder for stronger, and more urgent climate action.”

UNESCO’s scientific report on coral reefs released on 23 June warns the only way to save the Reef from certain destruction before the end of the century is to halt global warming at well below 1.5-2°C above pre-industrial levels.


Notes to editors:

Photo and video can be accessed here, including drone footage of bleached coral: http://act.gp/2tL2N6y

Greenpeace’s newly updated report, ‘The double threat to the Great Barrier Reef: climate change and the Australian Government’ offers a  background briefing and timeline on UNESCO, the Australian Government and the Reef.

[1]  On 29 May 2017 the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority announced that the extent of the 2016 coral death on the Reef was 29%. While the 2017 mortality figures are not yet confirmed, a figure of an additional 19% is anticipated, as was reported to the Australian Senate Estimates on 22 May 2017 by the Chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Dr Russell Reichelt.

[2] See Greenpeace Report April 2016, ‘Exporting climate change, killing the reef’

[3] The Reef 2050 Plan has a price-tag of $AU2 billion over 10 years - or $AU200 million a year - but Market Forces has identified $AU11 billion in taxpayer funded fossil fuel subsidies provided by the Australian Government each year: ‘How your taxes subsidise fossil fuels' -  Market Forces.

Media contacts:

Rachael Vincent, Media Campaigner, Greenpeace Australia Pacific +61 413 993 316

Greenpeace International Press Desk, +31 (0) 20 718 2470 (available 24 hours),