The last decade: the World Heritage Committee and the Great Barrier Reef

A review and recommendations for change
Biodiversity conservation Great Barrier Reef Marine reserves Environmental monitoring Government regulatory policy Marine management Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Comprising 10 per cent of the world’s coral reefs, this vast and beautiful region meets all four World Heritage natural criteria and was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in 1981.

While some World Heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef are still in good condition, many are declining due to the cumulative impacts of climate change, agricultural pollution and a range of in-water threats.

The Reef 2050 long-term sustainability plan was a major policy achievement and demonstrated the power of the World Heritage Convention to effect positive change. In 2015, the Committee welcomed the plan and urged Australia to implement all commitments.

This report examines the events that led to the development of the Reef 2050 plan and whether Australia has been successful in effectively protecting and managing the property since the plan’s inception. It also urges the Committee to once again consider inscribing the Great Barrier Reef on the List of World Heritage in Danger if Australia does not commit to a new round of protection measures within the Reef 2050 plan.


This report recommends that at its 44th session, the World Heritage Committee:

1. Requests Australia to revise the Reef 2050 Plan to commit to ambitious domestic emissions reduction compatible with a 1.5°C pathway, thereby helping to limit the global average temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels in order to protect the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the Great Barrier Reef.

2. Requests Australia to develop a detailed plan to achieve the above, containing:

• Clearly defined criteria for success, i.e. time-bound greenhouse gas pollution reduction targets across the economy compatible with a 1.5°C pathway and measurable targets to increase native vegetation sinks in the Reef catchment;

• Concrete measures, e.g. actions and investments that deliver on the targets and timelines.

3. Recalls its decision of 41 COM 7 in relation to Climate Change and reiterates the importance of all other State Parties undertaking the most ambitious implementation of the Paris Agreement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to protect World Heritage.

4. Urges Australia to allocate additional resources to fully meet the time-bound water quality targets in the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan 2017-2022, including adequate funding for education, extension and regulatory compliance.

5. Requests Australia to accelerate efforts in response to the poor or deteriorating status of biodiversity and species considered vulnerable to fishing, as outlined in the GBRMPAi 2019 Outlook Report; in particular fully implementing and funding the Queensland Sustainable Fisheries Strategy 2017-2027, monitoring and reducing bycatch of endangered wildlife, reducing gillnet fishing effort and establishing more extensive commercial net-free zones along the Great Barrier Reef coastline.

6. Requests Australia to submit to the World Heritage Centre an updated report by 1 December 2022 on the state of conservation of the property, including on the implementation of the requests outlined above.

7. Agrees that, without substantial progress to achieve the above requests, it would consider the inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger at its subsequent session.

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