With echoes of the eights students and a nun who took the government to court over the Vickery coal mine expansion in northern New South Wales, three young Queenslanders are pushing to protect the Great Barrier Reef by writing to UNESCO.
The women are urging the Reef be listed as ‘in danger’ owing to the severe risk it faces from climate change, and the federal government’s ill-founded reliance on, and prolonging of, fossil fuels.
Environmental Justice Australia lawyers, on behalf of the three young women, have written to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee arguing the federal government has failed to meet its obligations under the 1972 World Heritage Convention and to protect the Reef from its most serious threat – climate change.
In June this year, UNESCO recommended the Reef be added to the ‘List of World Heritage in Danger’, which would put pressure on the federal government to face up to climate threats to the reef on the international stage. It would also open the Reef to more funding and assistance to tackle the pressing issues placing the health of the Reef at risk.
Owing to alleged persistent lobbying by the federal government, UNESCO deferred the decision and requested the government report back on its action to protect the global icon by February 1, 2022.
In response, three community leaders – Claire Galvin, 20, from Cairns, Brooklyn O’Hearn, 18, from Townsville and Ava Shearer, 17, from Port Douglas – are stepping up their fight to protect the Reef, which is not only an international wonder but is integral to their lives, communities and local economies.
The three women say the federal government’s persistent approval of new fossil fuel projects flies in the face of the action needed to prevent further extreme coral bleaching events and to protect the immeasurable value of the Reef.
The move comes as pressure mounts on Environment Minister Sussan Ley to revoke approval for the Adani mine, which will further fuel harmful climate change and pose serious and irreversible threats to the Reef.
In October 2020, Brooklyn and Claire presented Ms Ley with expert evidence and strong legal grounds to revoke the approval of the controversial coal mine on the basis that its contribution to climate change and the resulting impact on the Great Barrier Reef was not assessed when the mine was approved.
Ava has also previously written to Ms Ley urging her to reject Clive Palmer’s Central Queensland Coal project mine, located just 10km from the World Heritage Site, on the basis of the very significant risks to the Reef and reiterating to the Minister that a safe, healthy and prosperous future for the Reef is vital for her generation, and all those to come.
The clients, Claire, Brooklyn and Ava, say that having grown up next to the Reef, each of us fell in love with the Great Barrier Reef at a very young age and feel a very deep connection to it and its immense beauty.
‘We know that the Great Barrier Reef is in imminent danger due to human-induced climate change. Rather than shift towards a renewable future that would help secure this Australian icon for our generation and those to come, our government continues to greenlight more fossil fuel projects, including Adani’s coal mine, which contradicts what the science tells us is needed.’
Recognise what has been known for years
The trio say they need the federal government to recognise what the scientists and the international community have known for years, that our Reef is in danger and we need to act now to preserve it.
‘Placing the Reef on UNESCO’s “in danger” list is a first, important step.
‘We have grown up surrounded by the incredible wonder of this international icon, but it means so much not only to the local environment but to the livelihoods for so many people in our regions.’
Environmental Justice Australia Lawyer, Elke Nicholson, said as a signatory to the 1972 World Heritage Convention, Australia has a responsibility to ensure our magnificent natural world is kept intact for generations to come.
‘The Morrison government continues to approve coal and gas projects which lock in emissions for decades to come and are debilitating to the health of our Reef and the ecosystems it supports.
‘Listing the Great Barrier Reef as ‘in danger’ would acknowledge the obvious reality and open it up to further funding dedicated to responding to the imminent threat of climate change, which could be critical to help restore the Reef after years of severe bleaching events.
‘Our clients, and all young Australians, have the right to see the Great Barrier Reef thrive for years to come. It is vital we act now to ensure there is something left to protect.’