1.         Great Barrier Reef (Australia) (N 154)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1981

Criteria  (vii)(viii)(ix)(x)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/154/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved: USD 0
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/154/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

N/A

Previous monitoring missions

March 2012: joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/154/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2017

On 1 December 2016, the State Party submitted an update report on progress with the implementation of the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan (2050 LTSP) and the associated Investment Strategy, for review by the World Heritage Centre and IUCN. This report is available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/154/documents/. The State Party also submitted an update on the coral bleaching in the property in 2016. In addition, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN were invited to a consultation meeting with the State Party in March 2017 for further updates on the status of the Investment Strategy, water quality targets and the coral bleaching in early 2017. They also consulted directly with the independent chairs of the Reef 2050 Advisory Committee and the Independent Expert Panel.

The State Party considers that the inception of the 2050 LTSP has been effective, that progress has been made, and that an Investment Framework is in place. Since the Plan’s release, legislation has been passed to ban sea-based disposal of capital dredge material in the property, to restrict new port development within current port limits, and to prohibit major capital dredging for port facilities outside the four major priority areas. Progress is also being made towards improving monitoring and compliance with the regulated standards in relation to agricultural run-off, which is the major cause of poor water quality.

The Investment Strategy maps out AUS$ 1,28 billion (approx. USD 950 million) against the 2050 LTSP actions over the next 5 years, excluding general investment such as the Reef Fund. Investments are subject to 5-year adaptive management cycles based on monitoring of performance. Priority funding gaps are identified and a framework to mobilise large-scale private sector and further philanthropic investments to complement government funding is being implemented. The majority of investment is directed to water quality where collective investments of up to AUS$ 573 million (approx. USD 434 million) are committed during the next five years.

The State Party further notes that against the backdrop of the 2050 LTSP implementation, the property was severely affected by the global mass coral bleaching event resulting from climate change and a particularly strong El Niño effect during the summer of 2015-2016.

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN

The specific request made by the World Heritage Committee in 2015 (Decision 39 COM 7B.7) for this progress report, and its request that the overall state of conservation of the property be reviewed at its 44th session in 2020, should be recalled.

The initial work in the inception of the 2050 LTSP and the development of a comprehensive, multi-year Investment Strategy that sets out priority targets and funding gaps are highly welcomed. Via the 2050 LTSP and its supporting initiatives, there has undoubtedly been an unprecedented level of increased effort to reduce pressures affecting the property, provide an integrated vision for its future protection, and establish concerted management cooperation across different levels of government. This effort is a marked departure from past practices and deserves full recognition.

However, despite the positive achievements in the Plan’s inception and the establishment of the Investment Strategy, progress towards achieving water quality targets has been slow, and the most immediate water quality targets set out in the 2050 LTSP are not expected to be achieved within the foreseen timeframe. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that the implementation of the Plan will need to accelerate to ensure that the intermediate and long-term targets of 2050 LTSP are being met, in particular regarding water quality. It is also noted that important legislation regulating land clearing has not been passed yet, and that increased efforts are needed to ensure that all important legislation necessary to deliver the 2050 LTSP outcomes is put in place.

Climate change remains the most significant overall threat to the future of the property. It is recommended that the Committee express its serious concern at the coral bleaching and mortality that occurred in 2016 and at the second event underway in early 2017.  While the long-term effects of these events cannot be fully evaluated yet, their scale serves to underline the severity of the threat to the property from climate change.  At the site level, there is a need to consider how these mass bleaching events influence the effectiveness of the 2050 LTSP in its current form, notably in relation to the most urgently needed measures and improvements that contribute to the property’s resilience.  Considering the global nature of both the causes and the scale of the impacts of recent mass coral bleaching across many World Heritage properties, this issue is discussed in Document WHC/17/41.COM/7.

It is recommended that the Committee request the State Party to accelerate its efforts to reach the water quality targets set out in the 2050 LTSP and to ensure that all measures which are necessary to achieve them are taken. As per the Committee’s Decision at its 39th session (Bonn, 2015), it remains essential, beyond this interim consideration of the plan’s inception and the Investment Framework, that the Committee evaluate the overall state of conservation of the property at the time when the first five-year targets under the 2050 LTSP are expected to be met. This evaluation should include an assessment of the effectiveness of the State Party’s response to the recent bleaching events in the framework of the implementation of the 2050 LTSP. It is therefore recommended that the Committee reiterate its request (Decision 39 COM 7B.7) to the State Party to submit a report on the state of conservation of the property, demonstrating effective and sustained protection of the property’s OUV and effective performance in meeting the targets established under the 2050 LTSP, linked to the findings of the 2014 and 2019 Great Barrier Reef Outlook Reports, for review at its 44th session in 2020.

Decision Adopted: 41 COM 7B.24

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/17/41.COM/7B.Add,
  2. Recalling Decision 39 COM 7B.7, adopted at its 39th session (Bonn, 2015),
  3. Welcomes the progress made with the inception and initial implementation of the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan (2050 LTSP) and the establishment of the Investment Framework, and expresses its appreciation for the significant efforts by all those involved in the implementation of the 2050 LTSP;
  4. Strongly encourages the State Party to accelerate efforts to ensure meeting the intermediate and long-term targets of the plan, which are essential to the overall resilience of the property, in particular regarding water quality;
  5. Notes with serious concern the coral bleaching and mortality that affected the property in 2016 and 2017;
  6. Reiterates its request to the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 December 2019, an overall report on the state of conservation of the property demonstrating the effective and sustained protection of the property’s Outstanding Universal Value and effective performance in meeting the targets established under the 2050 LTSP, linked to the findings of the 2014 and 2019 Great Barrier Reef Outlook Reports, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 44th session in 2020.