In September 2004, we petitioned the World Heritage Committee to put the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (GBRWHA) on the ‘in danger’ list due to the threat posed by climate change. The GBRWHA was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1981 as a natural property possessing world heritage values. Our petition was supported by a Report by the Sydney Centre for International and Global Law on ‘Global Climate Change and the Great Barrier Reef: Australia’s Obligations under the World Heritage Convention.’
As a party to the World Heritage Convention, and under accepted principles of international law, Australia is required to perform the obligations imposed by the Convention in relation to the GBRWHA in good faith. In relation to World Heritage sites in Australia, the Australian Government has assumed the duty of ensuring the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and transmission to future generations of those sites. Australia must do all it can to this end, to the utmost of its own resources.
Under Article 11(4) of the World Heritage Convention the World Heritage Committee is required to establish, keep up to date and publish a List of World Heritage in Danger comprising those properties for the conservation of which major operations are necessary and for which assistance has been requested under the Convention. Article 11(4) further provides:
“The list may include only such property forming part of the cultural and natural heritage as is threatened by serious and specific dangers, such as the threat of disappearance caused by accelerated deterioration, large-scale public or private projects or rapid urban or tourist development projects; destruction caused by changes in the use or ownership of the land; major alterations due to unknown causes; abandonment for any reason whatsoever; the outbreak or the threat of an armed conflict; calamites and cataclysms; serious fires, earthquakes, landslides; volcanic eruptions; changes in water level, floods, and tidal waves.”
The World Heritage Committee may decide, at its discretion, whether a property in the World Heritage List is to be included in the List of World Heritage in Danger. Such a decision does not require the consent of the State Party on whose territory the property is situated.
The petition was given initial consideration by the World Heritage Committee in Vilnuis in July 2006.