Coalition believes it has numbers to prevent the Great Barrier Reef from being classified as “endangered” | Great Barrier Reef

Australia’s global lobbying offensive to keep the Great Barrier Reef off the ‘endangered’ World Heritage list has won the support of at least nine of the 21 members of the committee that will make the decision, according to an e -diplomatic email as seen by Guardian Australia.

Paris-based Australian Ambassador to Unesco, Megan Anderson, said in the email that she believed the government had obtained enough support to delay the decision on the “endangered” listing until. ‘in at least 2023.

It was sent on Saturday, shortly after the start of a two-week meeting of the World Heritage Committee in China that will decide whether to change the reef’s World Heritage status. A decision on the reef is expected Friday.

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley was due to return to Australia on the night of an eight-day lobbying trip that included flights to Hungary, France, Spain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Oman and the Maldives.

The minister’s office said she had met with ambassadors from 18 countries, in person or virtually.

The trip aimed to lobby against a recommendation by the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization, Unesco, that the reef be classified as “World Heritage in Danger” due to the impact of three massive bleaching events. corals in five years and slow progress in reducing pollution. farms and properties.

If the committee agrees, this would be the first time that a World Heritage site has been inscribed on the list due to damage caused by climate change. The committee is chaired this year by China.

In the email, Anderson said Bahrain, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Ethiopia, Hungary, Mali, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Bosnia and Herzegovina had indicated “that” they would like to co-write / co-sponsor ”an amendment supporting Australia to position.

Anderson said Australia believed the level of support “would send a good message about consensus and the committee wouldn’t need to spend a lot of time discussing [the reef]”.

The amendment, which was submitted by Bahrain, would require a Unesco monitoring mission to the reef and allow Australia to report to the committee by December 2022. Any consideration for placing the reef on the list of dangers would be postponed until at least 2023.

Last week, the Guardian revealed that Australia had secured support from oil-rich Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to co-sponsor “amendments” to be submitted to the committee, which would see a decision delayed until the 2023 meeting. of the committee.

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Australia argued that Unesco had not followed the normal process because it had not carried out a follow-up mission before making its recommendation. Australia also argued that the decision had been politicized.

Environmental groups, prominent Australians and a range of international figures from entertainment, science and conservation all supported Unesco’s appeal.

Senior Unesco officials have repeatedly dismissed allegations that due process was not followed and said that an “endangered” list was a chance to rally the world to the critical reef situation.

Since the World Heritage Committee last examined the reef in 2015, corals in the world’s largest reef system have been affected by massive bleaching in 2016, 2017 and 2020.

In the email sent to ambassadors from more than 20 countries, Anderson provided a scientific summary from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (Aims) which she said found “widespread recovery of coral over key sites of the property ”.

Record-breaking ocean temperatures over the Queensland Reef in February 2020 led to the most widespread bleaching event on record. But since then conditions have been benign, according to the Aims report.

But the report says the increase in coral cover is due to fast-growing species that were susceptible to storms and coral-eating starfish – and would likely be affected in the next bleaching event.

The Minister flew in one of three new RAAF Dassault Falcon 7X planes. Fees for previous departmental flights on the same plane suggest the trips cost around $ 4,200 per hour.

Last Thursday, the government hosted ambassadors from 13 countries and the EU for a day of snorkeling on Agincourt Reef, off Port Douglas, with reef envoy Warren Entsch.

Ley was accompanied on the trip to Europe by the General Manager of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Josh Thomas.

Publicly available flight logs showed that the RAAF plane had crisscrossed Europe for meetings with members of the World Heritage Committee made up of 21 countries.

The plane landed in Budapest last Monday and then flew to Paris. On Wednesday, the plane made a round trip to Madrid. On Friday there was a round trip to Sarajevo.

The plane then flew to the Maldives, a country in the Indian Ocean, via Oman, on Monday, where Ley met the country’s environment minister and the country’s special envoy for climate change.

A spokesperson for the minister said there was “a strong appreciation of the minister’s concerns about the lack of process on Unesco’s part”.

“The meetings included constructive and cordial conversations, including two with the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to Unesco,” they said.

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Australia had strong relationships with all countries in the World Heritage system, the spokesperson said, “as we work together to protect the world’s cultural and natural heritage”.

Imogen Zethoven, World Heritage consultant for the Australian Marine Conservation Society who has also briefed countries on the reef, said: “Minister Ley’s trip is a matter of policy ahead of conservation.”

“The government wants to postpone any decision on the Great Barrier Reef after the next elections. I hope committee members can see through this, ”she said.

Richard Leck, responsible for oceans at WWF-Australia, said Unesco’s recommendation to the committee was “based on the best available scientific data”.

“” It contains recommendations that are urgently needed to give the reef a chance to fight.

“We urge the committee to assess whether to implement this draft decision on the basis of the integrity of science, and not on the basis of the lobbying efforts of the Australian government.”

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