Doha hailed a success

Green Lifestyle

Environment groups are celebrating the outcomes for Australia at the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting in Doha.


The Florentine Valley in Tasmania is to remain listed as a World Heritage area.

Credit: Rob Blakers

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World Heritage experts and conservationists have welcomed international decisions for the ongoing protection the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area, and Australia''s Great Barrier Reef.

Last night, at around midnight Australian eastern standard time, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee unanimously rejected Prime Minister Abbott’s bid to delist the status of Tasmania’s World Heritage forests. Delegates from some countries, such as Portugal, even called Abbott''s request “a feeble attempt”.

This comes after the Committee announced on Wednesday last week that it won't downgrade the listing of Australia''s Great Barrier Reef, while scientists and policy makers emphasised that leaders will need to take stronger action in future to protect this iconic region.

“The outcomes at Doha – particularly for Tasmanian forests – are fantastic,” said Jess Abrams, Australian Conservation Foundation campaigner.

“It shows that the Australian government's anti-environment agenda doesn''t hold sway with the experts. The scientists from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature [IUCN] said that the Abbott government proposal to delist these forests was inappropriate.”

Former leader of the Greens party, Bob Brown, commiserates; “But for all Australians, it is a bitttersweet victory.”

“This is the lowest point in the history of Australian environmental diplomacy,” said Brown. “Abbott's failed mission has sullied the nation's great history of upholding the World Heritage Convention over the last four decades.”

“Tony Abbott lied about the forests being degraded. That lie has been rejected at an international level. It is a diplomatic fiasco for the Prime Minister and Australia. However it is a win for global diplomatic propriety,” said Brown.

Green Lifestyle asked Abrahams to give us some background on the decisions made at Doha. “The country has campaigned for years to get these areas on the World Heritage list,” said Abrahams. “And the government's attitude to the World Heritage areas in the Great Barrier Reef and Tassie has been reckless – so hopefully they get a clear message from these decisions that Australia needs to do much better and show more respect for our World Heritage efforts.”

“The Queensland government in particular, tried very hard to convince the World Heritage Committee that everything was OK with the Reef. Clearly it's not – the Reef isn't on the endangered list, but it's not far off. And the Queensland government and the Federal government can't continue to treat our natural assets as resources simply to exploit and degrade.”

The tourism industry on the Great Barrier Reef generates more than $6 billion a year. Abrahams outlines that “those earnings are long–term and sustainable, and don't depend on degrading the environment or making climate change worse, as do our short–term coal exports, or logging forests that are of outstanding value to us.”

“The arguments that we should destroy these areas that are protected by World Heritage are very short term thinking; we need to think many generations ahead. We need to think about long–term sustainability of the planet, the climate, and our forests, and the Australian government really needs to set aside their anti–environment push and realise that Australians, and in fact the whole world, want to government to look after Australia's extraordinary natural heritage,” said Abrahams.

Alec Marr is a World Heritage expert who pioneered the attendance of environmental–NGOs at international forums such as this 20 years ago, and shepherded through the World heritage listing of Australia's sub Antarctic Islands, Heard, McDonald and Macquarie in 1997. Marr says that “today is vindication for every Australian, and people around the world.”

“The World Heritage Committee has today upheld the integrity of the Convention and Australia needs to respect its obligations to the Convention... The Committee saw through the deception of the Australian Government’s efforts here, and the high quality science and professionalism of the advisory bodies was exemplary,” said Marr.

Wilderness Society National Director Lyndon Schneiders adds that, “The UNESCO World Heritage Committee's decisions over Tasmania's forests and the Great Barrier Reef have put the Australian Government on notice that it has international obligations to respect and look after its World Heritage assets.”

“The committee swiftly dismissed the government's application to axe Tasmania's new World Heritage forests, and has told the government it must make serious attempts at improving the health of Great Barrier Reef, expressing concern over its approval of the massive Abbot Point coal terminal and its plans to hand over approval powers to the states,” said Schneiders.

“The Great Barrier Reef is simply irreplaceable while Tasmania's forests are some of the most spectacular on Earth... State governments have also been put on notice that our environmental assets are worth protecting,” reflected Schneiders.

The Committee’s decision also sends a clear message to the Tasmanian state government, which wants to log other iconic forests, such as the Blue Tier, Tarkine, Bruny Island, Tasman, Reedy Marsh and the North–East Highlands.

“The fight for Tassie forests isn’t over yet,” said Abrahams. “In a sense, this win is just holding the line on something that was already won. Now we need to go back and try to protect the remaining forests – the remaining 400,000 hectares of forest that were promised under the Tasmanian Forest Agreement, signed in 2012, haven't yet been delivered.”

“This week in the Tasmanian Parliament, a bill could go through that could potentially mean those forests are put back on as 'production forests' rather than conservation forests.”

“The new state government still has the magnificent forests we protected under the Tasmanian Forests Agreement in their sights. I’m a little daunted by the job ahead but we’ve got a great strategy to keep the forests safe.” said Abrahams. “The battle is not over.”

To have your say on what action should be taken for Tasmanian forests, take our poll here; Should the forests protected under the Tasmanian Forest Agreement be opened up for logging?

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