The UNESCO called for the Great Barrier Reef to be put on a list of World Heritage Sites that are “in danger” over harm caused by climate change.
The world cultural body says the world’s biggest coral reef system should be downgraded to the list at a meeting next month.
It is urging Australia to take “accelerated action” on global warming. But the Australian government said it would “strongly oppose” this recommendation.
The latest feud is part of an ongoing dispute between UNESCO and the Australian government over the status of the reef, which gained World Heritage ranking in 1981. Unesco had debated whether it go on the “in danger” list since 2017.
Australian Environment Minister Sussan Ley said the government had been “stunned” by the latest announcement, calling it a “backflip on previous assurances from UN officials” that the step would not be taken.
Rising sea temperatures as a result of global warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels are the main reason the reef has been severely damaged, scientists say.
There have been several “bleaching” events on the reef in the past five years.
The Unesco report says despite efforts by the Australian government, key targets on improving water quality in the reef had not been met.
If the recommendation is followed, it would be the first time a natural World Heritage Site has been placed on the “in danger” list mostly because of impacts from climate change.
Once the reef is put in the “in danger” list access to funds or publicity becomes easy.
But the recommendation could affect a major tourism destination that creates thousands of jobs in Australia.
China who now chairs UNESCO has long-running tensions with Canberra, and this may have influenced the decision.