Australia was deleted from a UN report on climate change because the government was worried about tourism

Some of Tasmania’s world heritage area destroyed by the Mackenzie fire in 2016. Photo: Rob Blakers CC BY-SA 3.0

Observations on the damage climate change has caused to world heritage sites such as the Great Barrier Reef were deleted from a United Nations report into the issue because of Australian government concerns that it would scare off tourists.

The Guardian Australia reports that any reference to Australia and its endangered environment was taken out of the joint UN-UNESCO and Union of Concerned Scientists report “World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate”, released today.

The report looked at the threats posed by climate change at 31 UNESCO-listed sites in 29 countries, including New York’s Statue of Liberty, Easter Island’s statues, Hoi An in Vietnam, Stonehenge and Venice, and found impacts.

But three Australian sites in the draft report — the Great Barrier Reef, which is suffering from coral bleaching, Tasmania’s wilderness forests, which experienced extensive and devastating fires for the first time in recorded history, and parts of Kakadu in the Northern Territory — were removed from the report following objections by the Australian Department of Environment.

A departmental spokesperson told the Guardian that “negative commentary about the status of world heritage properties impacted on tourism” and they were concerned “the framing of the report confused two issues – the world heritage status of the sites and risks arising from climate change and tourism”.

Unesco removed the Australian passages as a result, and Australia is the only continent unrepresented in the landmark study, which chose the sites assessed based partly on their importance to tourism and existing studies at those places the impacts of climate change.

The removal of any references to Australia comes a year after the government lobbied Unesco to stop the Great Barrier Reef being listed as a World Heritage site in danger.

Adam Markham from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), and the report’s lead author, has since published the Great Barrier Reef analysis on his blog.

It says, in part, that “international concern has continued to grow, however, that without a comprehensive response more in keeping with the scale of the threat, the GBR’s extraordinary biodiversity and natural beauty may lose its World Heritage values”.

A 2013 report by Deloitte estimates the tourism sector generated $5.2 billion in value-added economic activity with 64,000 FTE jobs in 2012.

In another post, Markham, deputy director of the Climate and Energy Program at UCS, refers to Australia saying:

There is an alarming range of climate impacts already in evidence at World Heritage sites. Some of the most spectacular coral reefs on the planet — Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and the western Pacific islands of New Caledonia and Palau — are currently suffering a massive bleaching event with a direct connection to rising water temperatures caused by climate change.

Earlier this year, irreplaceably rare forests burned in the Tasmanian Wilderness National Park in Australia as climate-driven drought conditions and high temperatures combined to produce devastating wildfires.

The head of Australia’s Climate Council, Will Steffen, who was part of the peer review panel on the reef report, told the Guardian that he hadn’t seen an intervention like that before, saying it was more like “the old Soviet Union”.

The full Guardian Australia report is here.

The UNESCO report is here.

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