Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland
I must say, that’s quite a quote from the new Queensland Premier. Premier Newman was responding to the UNESCO report which has brought the spotlight on the coastal Queensland and Australia’s management of the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef. I guess what we had all been suspecting is now true. Queensland equals coal not coral!
Taking a rational deep breath, however, there are some serious issues at the heart of the UNESCO report that even the Queensland government would be ill-advised to ignore. UNESCO is clearly very concerned about the rapid coastal development, particularly the development of gas processing facilities within the World Heritage area. The recommendation is that we take a much more cautious approach given how much is at stake with respect to the Great Barrier Reef.
The World Heritage report also warns that some of the developments in the pipeline will pose a serious risk to the Great Barrier Reef, and hence will lead to the UNESCO World Heritage committee classifying the world heritage reef system has “in danger”.
Clearly UNESCO is very concerned by the rate of the transformative activities in the Gladstone and Curtis Island areas. I think they have posed some important questions about how such activities have been approved. But given that these activities are in full swing, it is now time to reflect on how we proceed with future developments.
The major challenge here is how we balance the development of some sections of the Queensland coastline with the huge benefits we get from the Great Barrier Reef as one of our leading environmental assets and tourist destinations.
The risk of an “in danger” listing has substantial ramifications. For example, what will such a change do to tourism in Queensland in terms of our identity and brand? Will as many people come to Australia if they are told that the World Heritage region is in danger?
This is why the next episode is critical.
The extraction of gas and minerals is by definition a temporary activity, while the Great Barrier Reef and its tourist industries – given good environmental management – are potentially sustainable forever, delivering benefits to many generations of Queenslanders. To let the first destroy the second doesn’t make a lot of economic sense.
Consequently, the Queensland Government’s recent statements that we have to rapidly extract minimal resources in this fashion to pay for hospitals and keep the lights on is inaccurate at best. The tourism industry provides enormous value to Queensland on an ongoing basis. This is really what will keep the lights on, the hospitals functioning and our coastal communities prosperous. And for a very long time after the conclusion of mining activities and other temporary activities.