China denies influencing UNESCO’s action on the Great Barrier Reef | News | DW

Political tensions between Beijing and Canberra had nothing to do with UNESCO’s proposal to label the Great Barrier Reef “in danger”, Chinese official chairing this year’s World Heritage Committee meeting said on Sunday. .

His remarks came after apparent speculation in Australia that China may be leading the decision as a political maneuver amid strained bilateral ties.

“Australia, as a Member State of the World Heritage Committee, should (…) attach importance to the opinions of the advisory bodies and seriously discharge the duty to protect World Heritage instead of wearing baseless accusations against other states, ”said Tian Xuejun, who is China’s vice minister of education.

Tian said the Great Barrier Reef proposal was based on data from Australia itself and recommendations from an advisory body.

The reef has lost much of its spectacular coral in recent decades

What did Australia say?

The committee, which is meeting both virtually and in the Chinese city of Fuzhou over the next two weeks, is due to consider the draft decision on Friday.

Australia has reacted angrily to news last month that the reef could be put on the endangered list. Environment Minister Sussan Ley called the move “flawed,” saying “there was clearly politics behind it”, although she did not name China.

In a bid to prevent the reef from being redlisted, one of Australia’s best-known and popular tourist destinations, the Canberra government has invited more than a dozen ambassadors on a trip snorkeling on the reef before the meeting.

Why does UNESCO consider the reef to be threatened?

The draft decision says Australia’s long-term plan for the reef “requires stronger and clearer commitments, especially to urgently address the effects of climate change.”

The Australian government blames global warming for massive coral bleaching in recent years, but UNESCO experts say pollution runoff has contributed to declining water quality and say cleanup efforts were insufficient.

In particular, they said the nearby Carmichael Coal Mine was a source of damage to the reef.

Why is Australia worried?

The reef was designated a World Heritage Site in 1981, but Australia was warned as early as 2014 that an inscription in danger was being considered.

World Heritage designation can encourage tourism while providing incentives for governments to protect cultural or environmental treasures.

Having a landmark placed on the endangered species list is seen by some countries as a stain on their honor, and Australia in particular appears to be concerned that the reef will become less attractive to tourists. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the reef brought in about 4.06 billion euros ($ 4.8 billion) per year in tourism revenue to the Australian economy.

The Great Barrier Reef off the east coast of Australia covers more than 348,000 square kilometers (134,000 square miles), an area larger than that of Italy. It is home to a spectacular array of corals and colorful fish.

tj / sri (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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