Australia on Friday unveiled a multi-billion dollar package to protect the climate-scarred Great Barrier Reef in hopes of preventing the vast network of corals from being removed from the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the A$1 billion (US$700 million) nine-year plan after narrowly avoiding the reef being placed on UNESCO’s “at risk” list.
“We support the health of the reef and the economic future of tourism businesses, hospitality providers and Queensland communities that are at the heart of the reef economy,” said Morrison.
The move comes ahead of a general election expected in May, in which Morrison will need to win key Queensland seats near the Reef to stay in power.
Earlier in 2015, when the UN threatened to downgrade the reef’s World Heritage List, Australia created a “Reef 2050” plan and poured billions of dollars into protection.
Action is believed to have halted the pace of decline, but much of the world’s largest reef system has already been damaged.
A recent study found that bleaching has affected 98 percent of the reef since 1998, with only a fraction remaining untouched.
The Morrison government’s support for coal and its reluctance to tackle climate change has caused the party to lose support in major cities and led to a series of electoral challenges from pro-climate independents.
Australians are overwhelmingly in favor of action to limit climate change after witnessing a range of disasters made worse by warming, from bushfires to droughts and floods.
A 2021 survey by the Lowy Institute in Sydney found that 60 per cent of Australians believed “global warming is a serious and urgent problem”.
Eight in 10 Australians supported a net-zero emissions target by 2050, which the government reluctantly approved ahead of a landmark UN climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland last year.
As one of the world’s largest exporters of coal and gas, Australia’s economy is heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Its political parties also receive significant funding from donors linked to coal and gas.
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