Great Barrier Reef in ‘shameful’ condition – and here’s why Australia is blaming China

Aerial views of Great Barrier Reef show extent of bleaching

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UNESCO, the UN’s cultural body, said the Great Barrier Reef – the world’s biggest coral reef system – should be downgraded to the list of World Heritage Sites that are “in danger” due to damage caused by climate change. But the Australian government has reacted angrily, saying it would “strongly oppose” the recommendation and laying the blame on China.

China currently chairs UNESCO, and sources have said that long-running tensions between Beijing and Canberra may have influenced the latest decision on the reef.

Australia’s Environment Minister Sussan Ley said Canberra would challenge the recommendation, saying it went against advice given just a week ago, and defended Australia’s protection of the reef.

Ms Ley said: “This is a complete subversion of normal process.”

She added: “This decision was flawed. Clearly, there were politics behind it.”

Australia said it had been blindsided by the move and blamed political interference, hinting at China’s possible involvement.

Ms Ley said: “Climate change is the single biggest threat to all of the world’s reef ecosystems… and there are 83 natural World Heritage properties facing climate change threats so it’s not fair to simply single out Australia.”

But Australia has been battling to keep the Great Barrier Reef off the “in danger” list for years.

The reef is a huge tourist attraction that supports and creates thousands of jobs each year.

The reef is composed of 3,000 individual reef systems, 760 fringe reefs, 600 tropical islands, about 300 coral cays, and is the world’s largest living ecosystem.

They house a wide variety of marine life, plants, and animals, including sea turtles, reef fish, more than 100 species of sharks and rays, and 400 hard and soft corals.

Over the past three decades, the reef has lost half of its coral cover, pollution has caused deadly starfish outbreaks, and climate change has resulted in coral bleaching, the World Wildlife Fund says.

UNESCO said in 2015 that the reef’s outlook was poor and since then, it has suffered three major coral bleaching events.

Scientists say the main reason is rising sea temperatures as a result of global warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

UNESCO has urged Australia to take “accelerated action” on global warming.

However, Australia remains reluctant to commit to stronger climate action.

The nations is one of the few OECD (the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) outliers still resisting pressure to sign up to a net-zero emissions target by 2050.

Environmental groups rejected the suggestion that the UNESCO move was political.

Richard Leck, Head of Oceans for the World Wide Fund for Nature, Australia, said: “There is no avenue for any government to have any input.

“This recommendation is reached by world-renowned scientists.”

Mr Leck was part of a group of conservationists that lobbied 13 members of the Unesco committee to reach its recommendation, which will now be considered by all 21 countries on the committee before a decision next month.

He added: “The recommendation from UNESCO is clear and unequivocal that the Australian government is not doing enough to protect our greatest natural asset, especially on climate change.”

Australia’s Climate Council said the UN decision “brings shame on the federal government, which is standing by as the reef declines rather than fighting to protect it”.

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