Australian Govt caught in “Soviet style” scrubbing of climate risks from UN report


The Australian Government resorted to extraordinary “Soviet style” tactics to dodge international scrutiny for the climate impacts threatening  its World Heritage Areas including the Great Barrier Reef. The Australian government pressured UNESCO to remove mentions of the site in the final version of a major new report entitled, “World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate”. The report had a key chapter on the reef, as well as sections on Kakadu and Tasmania’s forests, all of which were scrubbed after objections from the Environment Department, which claimed that the truth about climate impacts could damage tourism revenue. Australia is the only government to have made such an objection, but given 93 per cent of the reef has been hit by coral bleaching this year the time for pretending it is seriously acting to protect natural treasures from climate change is long gone.


Key Points

  • No tourists will visit a dead reef. Instead of listening to the multiple warning signs and putting in place a strong plan to protect the Great Barrier Reef by phasing out coal burning and exports, the Australian Government is instead censoring the truth. The only way to protecting tourist dollars in both the short and long term is to take strong and visible action on climate change that does justice to the scientific community’s warnings.
  • It’s coal or coral. Not both. The Coalition Government is big on rhetoric but small on action. It has no credible plan to protect the reef or the climate, and by scrubbing a document that identifies an embarrassing challenges that can be overcome, it is only further drawing attention to its inadequate plan for the future of Australia’s natural treasures, and the economic risks failing to act creates.
  • Transitioning to renewables has massive benefits for Australia – not least of which is protecting the multi billion dollar tourism industry. Great Barrier Reef tourism is worth $5.4 billion to the economy and almost 70,000 jobs. Transitioning to 100% renewable energy won’t just help protect those tourism dollars, it will create clean affordable energy and homegrown jobs across the nation.



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Key Quotes

  • “I’ve spent a lot of my career working internationally and it’s very rare that I would see something like this happening. Perhaps in the old Soviet Union you would see this sort of thing happening, where governments would quash information because they didn’t like it. But not in western democracies. I haven’t seen it happen before.” Climate Councillor and one of the UNESCO report reviewers, Prof. Will Steffen
  • “For a liberal, western democracy like Australia to behave in this way is frankly quite disgusting. [It’s] totally pointless and absolutely counterproductive. It makes the government or whatever entity it is that’s trying to squash science in the long run look bad.” Climate Councillor and one of the UNESCO report reviewers, Prof. Will Steffen
  • “The Australian government cannot hide the truth from the international community: our Reef is suffering because of climate change. By interfering with the UN report, the Australian government was effectively throwing the Great Barrier Reef under a bus for wrong-headed, short-term gain. They’re trying to pull wool over Australian’s eyes about serious threats to the future of our greatest natural wonder. This kind of action shows the culture of climate change denialism that has been embedded in the government because of pressure from the Coalition.” – Greenpeace Australia Pacific’s Reef Campaigner, Shani Tager
  • “The department expressed concern that giving the report the title ‘Destinations at risk’ had the potential to cause considerable confusion. Recent experience in Australia had shown that negative commentary about the status of world heritage properties impacted on tourism. The department indicated it did not support any of Australia’s world heritage properties being included in such a publication for the reasons outlined above.” – A spokesperson for the Environment Department
  • “The reef is as irreplaceable as this planet. Australia has overcapacity in electricity generation. It should close several of its old coal-fired plants. Rich in renewable and clean-energy sources, Australia should be a leader, not a laggard, on climate change. Reputations, like the reef, are easily bleached.” – New York Times columnist Roger Cohen

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