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Australia removed from UN climate report

Do Not UseDo Not Use 27/05/2016
Coral in the Great Barrier Reef: Warm ocean currents have caused bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, but it is not yet listed on the UN's in-danger list © Getty Images Warm ocean currents have caused bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, but it is not yet listed on the UN's in-danger list

All references to climate change's impact on World Heritage sites in Australia have been removed from a United Nations report.

Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory was also mentioned in the draft report © Getty Images Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory was also mentioned in the draft report

A draft of the report contained a chapter on the Great Barrier Reef and references to Kakadu and Tasmania.

But Australia's Department of the Environment requested that Unesco scrub these sections from the final version.

A statement from the department said the report could have had an impact on tourism to Australia.

It also said the report's title, Destinations at Risk, had "the potential to cause considerable confusion".

"In particular, the World Heritage Committee had only six months earlier decided not to include the Great Barrier Reef on the in-danger list and commended Australia for the Reef 2050 Plan," the statement said.

"The department was concerned that the framing of the report confused two issues - the world heritage status of the sites and risks arising from climate change and tourism.

"Recent experience in Australia had shown that negative commentary about the status of world heritage properties impacted on tourism."

'No substance'

Prof Will Steffen, an emeritus professor at the Australian National University and head of Australia's Climate Council, was one of the scientific reviewers on the paper.

He told the BBC that he was "amazed by the apparent overreaction that's gone on".

"I don't understand it at all. I think it was a very balanced report. There was nothing in that report that was not already known," he said.

Prof Steffen was sceptical about official explanations that the report risked causing confusion over the status of the reef and could impact tourism.

"There's no substance to either of those arguments," he said.

"There was no mention at all that the Great Barrier Reef might be listed as endangered. There was also a paragraph at the end that discussed steps the Australian government is taking to mitigate risks to the reef."

Prof Steffen also noted that distribution of the report, which summarises risks to World Heritage areas in many nations, would likely be limited to specialists who worked in associated fields.

"You wouldn't expect to see it on a bestseller list," he said.

The report was created by Unesco in partnership with the Union of Concerned Scientists and the United Nations Environment Program.

It is not clear why Unesco agreed to the government's request to remove the passages.

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