The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has voted not to add Australia's Great Barrier Reef to its list of sites in danger. The group's baffling decision occurred despite the reef's currently perilous state, where back-to-back coral bleaching events threaten more than two-thirds of its length. Even worse, is that UNESCO published a paper just last month, saying that if nothing was done, the Reef would die in a century. The cause of this spectacular act of cognitive dissonance is political, thanks to hard lobbying from Australia's government.
The Great Barrier Reef is a wonder of the natural world and is pegged to benefit Australia's economy to the tune of $56 billion. If it were added to the danger list, the country would be forced to take drastic action to protect it, which could threaten its short-term profitability. Not to mention that Australia is building a $4 billion coal mine which will ship tons of climate change-causing material through the Reef itself. Building the mine, and cutting a shipping canal through the reef to support it, is likely to cause extraordinary harm to the local ecosystem.
As Reuters explains, UNESCO's decision prevents "political embarrassment and potential damage to the country's lucrative tourism industry." It also serves as an endorsement of Australia's current plan to maintain the Reef's ecosystem through its own, lighter-touch methods. UNESCO did, however, say that it held some concerns about the health of the Reef, urging the country to improve water quality in the surrounding area. Although, given that climate change is the biggest factor as to its current condition, backing a coal project next door will seem like adding insult to injury.