Australia has failed to grasp the purpose of an in-danger listing for the Great Barrier Reef and the government should stop fighting it, climate and environment experts say.
Seven experts, including a professor who has helped write UN reports on climate change impacts, have written a paper explaining why opposition to an in-danger listing for the World Heritage site is misplaced.
It describes entrenched resistance among World Heritage Convention nations due to a perception that such listings are a penalty for poor management when the real intention is to mobilise efforts to protect threatened sites.
"It's been seen as a black mark and naming and shaming. But that's not the purpose of it," says UN report author and Griffith University Professor Brendan Mackey, who co-wrote the new paper.
"The purpose is to get the world community to know there's a serious problem, and inspire collective action. We want to reframe this discussion, it's not about trying to penalise anyone."
The Morrison government last year managed to convince the World Heritage Committee not to list the reef as in danger after a global lobbying effort led by then-environment minister Sussan Ley.
Ms Ley argued the UN's scientific organisation, UNESCO, had sought an immediate listing without proper consultation, a site visit and without the latest information on reef health.
She succeeded despite scientific advice that a listing was warranted due to the effects of climate change and water quality.
The World Heritage Committee is due to revisit the issue when it next meets but Labor's new Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has already flagged her opposition.
"I absolutely would say to the UN (that) listing the reef as in danger is the wrong thing to do," she told the Australian Financial Review last month.
She said it would be an unfair move given the new government's efforts to address the two primary threats to the reef: water quality and climate change.
Prof Mackey says there's no doubt successive Australian governments have done a great job addressing water quality issues and the reef is recognised as among the best managed in the world.
"All of that is necessary and important but does not protect the Great Barrier Reef, and other tropical reefs, from climate change," he says.
The discussion paper points to the World Heritage Convention and its guidelines, which recognise that a host country won't always be able to manage threats to its World Heritage areas alone, and protection is a collective burden.
"There is clearly a threat to the Great Barrier Reef from climate change impacts. Dealing with the climate change threat is not just a responsibility of Australian governments. It's a responsibility for all signatories to the convention," the paper says.
Prof Mackey has urged Ms Plibersek to read the paper, saying her opposition to an in-danger listing suggests she's been poorly advised.
"I think she must have got - as previous ministers have got advice - that an in-danger list is a sanction or a black mark against the country. That is just not understanding the purpose of the in danger list.
"Have a read of this discussion paper. I think it will correct that misunderstanding, that misinterpretation of the real purpose of the in-danger list and actually give you a different framing for more constructive engagement on World Heritage, and in particular our neighbouring countries who share this problem."
The paper has been published by Griffith University's Climate Action Beacon.
Australian Associated Press
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