Australian Government and UNESCO are Oceans Apart on Climate Change and the Great Barrier Reef

| 12th June 2017
Australia has until 1st December, 2019 to show UNESCO its stewardship of the Great Barrier Reef means retaining the ‘Outstanding Universal Value’ and that the targets set for 2050 will be meet (Image by Tane Sinclair-Taylor)
Australia's governments and mining giant Adani have announced the go ahead for a mega mine - despite the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) warnings over climate change and the likely impact on the Great Barrier Reef. MAXINE NEWLANDS reports
Without healthy oceans we have a collapsing ecosystem, and the biggest ecosystem on the planet is the Great Barrier Reef

UNESCO is expecting the Australian governments to meet both the intermediate and long-term targets of the 2050 Reef Plan which are essentially targets relating to overall resilience, particularly with regard to water quality. In fact both Australian and Queensland governments are now being strongly encouraged to "accelerate efforts" to meet these targets.

In 2013 and 2014 the Federal and Queensland Governments were put on notice to make sure development projects will not impact the Barrier Reef but over the last four years, the mega mine has seen port expansion at nearby Abbot Point Port and there are plans to expand ports further up the coast.

UNESCO's warning over the Barrier Reef coincided this month with the United Nations' recent celebrations of World Environment Day (June 5th) and World Oceans Day (June 8th). World Ocean Day which first started nearly 10 years ago (2008), declares the necessity for international organizations and relevant institutions to increase national, regional and international efforts to address levels of ocean acidity and the projected negative impact of such acidity on vulnerable marine ecosystems, particularly coral reefs.

Back to Back Bleaching Causing Concern.

UNESCO's latest draft report notes the impact of coral bleaching and high mortality rates for some of the 3000 reefs making up the worlds' largest living structure.  

Marine and climate scientists believe higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases ocean temperatures. Warmer oceans lead to oceanacidification - a key factor in the recent back-to-back bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef.

Increasing carbon dioxide emissions from coal are not the only destructive force putting pressure on our oceans. Over fishing and other illegal fishing practices, unsustainable aquaculture practices for food, pollution, and climate change are all taking their toll on our oceans ability to bounce back. Without healthy oceans we have a collapsing ecosystem, and the biggest ecosystem on the planet is the Great Barrier Reef.

Favouritisms and Financial Questions Remain over Mine Viability.

The Australian Government's support for the Adani mine has come under fire with objections to offers of royalty deals and billion dollar loans. The Queensland Government, for example, was recently accused of allowing Adani ‘a royalties holiday' which would have meant Adani paid $2 million a year in royalties instead of the $320 billion dollars Queensland government should have received.

Without healthy oceans we have a collapsing ecosystem, and the biggest ecosystem on the planet is the Great Barrier Reef

Pressure from within the sitting Labor party and from environmental activists saw the Queensland Premier U-turn on any royalty breaks, as she announced that "every cent of royalties will be paid and any deferred royalties will be paid with interest," adding that "This is about delivering jobs and getting those royalties so we can continue to invest in frontline services, infrastructure and renewables."

The Prime Minister's office is also under fire for offering a $1.3 billion dollar loan to Adani for a train line to take coal from the mine out to ports along the Great Barrier Reef. The billion dollar loan offer comes after Queensland's Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk (Queensland Labor) promised no taxpayer funds would go towards the rail line linking the Carmichael mine to the Abbot Point Port. Even with the loan, Adani still need £12,8286 billion ($2.2 bn AUD) pounds to fully fund the controversial mine. With 23 international and domestic banks withdrawing or refusing support, the financial viability of the project remains in doubt.

Mining seen as the solution to economic development.

Adani and the Queensland government believe the mine will create 10,000 direct and indirect jobs - a claim disproved in the courts.  The mega mine covers a region of Australia still struggling to recover from the last mining boom collapse in 2013/14.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the Government's resource policy for the Galilee and Surat Basins and North West Minerals Province put strict requirements on project proponents. Premier Palaszczuk added that "Opening up these three regions for development has the potential to support thousands of new jobs that are needed in regional centres along the coast as well as in outback Queensland".

Australia has until 1st December,  2019 to show UNESCO its stewardship of the Great Barrier Reef means retaining the ‘Outstanding Universal Value' and that the targets set for 2050 will be meet.


This Author

Maxine Newlands is a regular contributor to the Ecologist


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