The UN has rejected a proposal from the Australian government to revoke the special protection afforded to 74,000 hectares of Tasmanian rainforest, in order to allow logging operations in the region to resume.
The controversial request was unanimously rejected within just seven minutes at a meeting of the Unesco’s world heritage committee in Doha, as delegates from Germany, Colombia and Portugal argued against the delisting.
The news agency Reuters reported that members of the Portuguese delegation said, “The justifications presented for the reduction are, to say the least, feeble.
“Accepting this delisting today would be setting an unacceptable precedent impossible to deny in similar circumstances in the future.”
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The Tasmanian wilderness was added to Unesco’s world heritage list in 1982, recognised as being one of the last expanses of temperate rainforest in the world and a haven for a massive range of fauna and flora.
In 2013, the then-Labour government added 170,000 hectares of Tasmania’s rainforest to the protected heritage area in a peace deal. When Tony Abbot’s Liberal National party came into power later that year, it pledged to reopen some of the area to Tasmania’s timber industry.
The government had claimed that the 74,000-hectare strip of forest is already degraded and has already been disturbed by earlier logging operations. Had the bid been successful, Australia would be the first developed country to have the protected status of a natural environment reversed on economic grounds.
Instead, Unesco’s quick decision has left the government “disappointed”, while earning praise from environmentalists.
“The Australian government must now accept the world heritage committee’s decision and get on with the job of protecting our spectacular forests and engage with the Tasmanian aboriginal community to fund and rigorously complete the requested cultural heritage assessments”, said the Wilderness Society’s Tasmania campaign manager Vica Bayley.
Aboriginal community elder Rocky Sainty, who had worked with environmental groups in Doha to oppose proposals, added, “We can return home in celebration and assure our elders that Tasmanian aboriginal heritage and culture is important to the world.
“As custodians, we have felt the weight of responsibility to protect the burial places of our ancestors, some of the oldest rock art in the world and our magnificent forests, from the Australian government’s irresponsible proposal.”
Meanwhile, Unesco has decided to put on hold a decision about whether to declare Australia’s Great Barrier Reef as being “endangered”. The move comes as concern rises over the government’s plan to unload dredged sediment into the reef’s marine park, as part of a controversial effort to create one of the world’s biggest coal ports.
Photo: J Brew via Flickr