Great Barrier Reef kept off UNESCO 'in danger' list after intense Australian lobbying

Aerial view of heart reef in whitsundays. Heart Reef is part of the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem.
Photo credit: Getty Images

The Great Barrier Reef will not be added to a list of World Heritage Sites that are "in danger" after a U.N. panel on Friday agreed to defer a vote until 2022 amid intensive lobbying by Australia.

A United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) committee last month recommended the Great Barrier Reef be classified as "in danger", drawing an angry response from Australia.

Desperate to avoid a politically embarrassing classification for a tourist attraction that draws about 5 million people each year and supports nearly 70,000 jobs - Australia's Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley travelled to more than a dozen countries in recent weeks to secure support.

Speaking ahead of the decision, Ley assured the 21-country panel that Canberra was committed to tackling climate change, one of the key factors in the initial recommendation.

"Every Australian is heavily invested in the protection of our barrier reef," Ley told the virtual meeting.

Shortly afterwards committee members agreed to an amendment that would require Australia to produce an updated report on the state of the reef by February 2022 when a vote could follow on whether to classify the site as in danger.

Environmental groups criticised the decision.

"This is a victory for one of the most cynical lobbying efforts in recent history," said David Ritter, chief executive officer of Greenpeace Australia.

"This is not an achievement - it is a day of infamy for the Australian government."

Australia's reliance on coal-fired power makes it one of the world's largest carbon emitters per capita, but its conservative government has steadfastly backed fossil fuel industries, saying tougher action on emissions would cost jobs.