Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Australia’s censorship of Unesco climate report ... a Shakespearean tragedy

Bleached coral at Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef
From Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” That lady is the Australian government, which some time in early January saw a draft of a report from the United Nations tentatively entitled “Destinations at Risk: World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate”.

It outlined how many world heritage sites around the world were being compromised by the impacts of climate change. One of the sites highlighted in the draft report was the Great Barrier Reef. The Australian government doth protested, and Unesco obliged. All mention of Australia, the Great Barrier Reef, the Northern Territory’s Kakadu national park and Tasmania’s forests were then removed from the report. All this as the reef’s worst recorded case of mass coral bleaching makes headlines around the world.
Australia's Department of the Environment made two arguments to justify the request for censorship. First the government argued the title of the report “had the potential to cause considerable confusion”. The report was finally published as "World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate". The only confusing aspect is how a report about world heritage sites and climate change now omits one of the world’s most iconic natural wonders that has become a very faded poster child for the impacts of global warming worldwide.

Australia’s second argument was that having the reef featured in the Unesco report was “negative commentary” that “impacted on tourism”. The vast majority of people around the world don’t choose their holiday destinations by consulting Unesco reports.
Mass bleaching has destroyed as much as 35 per cent of the coral on the northern and central Great Barrier Reef, Australian scientists said on Monday. That's a major blow to the World Heritage Site that attracts about $5 billion in tourism each year.

Australian scientists said in March just seven percent of the entire Great Barrier Reef had avoided any damage as a result of bleaching, and they held grave fears particularly for coral on the northern reef. After further aerial surveys and dives to access the damage across 84 reefs in the region, Australian scientists said the impact of the bleaching is far more severe than they had feared.

Australia is one of the largest carbon emitters per capita because of its reliance on coal-fired power plants for electricity.

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