Australia gets itself airbrushed from UN climate report

UNESCO removes mentions of climate change’s effect on Great Barrier Reef in report upon government’s request.

Australia’s government has intervened to have all references to the country removed from a United Nations report examining the effect of climate change on world heritage sites over concern it could have a negative impact on tourism.

The World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate report – released on Friday – has upset climate scientists, who were not informed that their contributions had been removed upon the request from Australia’s Department of the Environment.

Will Steffen, a climate scientist at the Australian National University, who had been asked to contribute to the report, told Al Jazeera from Canberra that the report was scientifically sound and would have had no effect on tourism. 

“It simply put out the facts about what the risks were to the reef and what needed to be done to deal with those risks,” he told Al Jazeera.

“So to have that pulled out was quite a shocking event for us scientists down here in Australia. I think very few tourists would pick up a UNESCO report and read it before they decided where to go on their holidays.”

Al Jazeera has seen the chapter on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef which was dropped from the UNESCO report.

“Climate change is the primary long-term threat to the world’s most extensive coral reef ecosystem,” it says. There is “international concern”, it adds, that the reef’s “extraordinary biodiversity and natural beauty may lose its World Heritage values”.

Nikola Casule of Greenpeace described the revelation that the chapter had been removed as “jaw-dropping”.

“It really was quite shocking because the government should be promoting science and promoting information about the health of world treasures like the reef instead of trying to censor it in this way,” he told Al Jazeera.

Australia’s government said the report risked confusing people into thinking the Great Barrier Reef might be dropped as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mass bleaching

Australian scientists said last month that just 7 percent of the Great Barrier Reef, which attracts about $3.61bn in tourism revenue every year, has been untouched by mass bleaching and much of it was at risk of being destroyed.

Bleaching occurs when the water is too warm, forcing coral to expel living algae and causing it to calcify and turn white. Mildly bleached coral can recover if the temperature drops.

Although the impact has been exacerbated by one of the strongest El Nino weather systems in nearly 20 years, scientists believe climate change is the underlying cause.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters