The Queensland and Commonwealth governments have released an update to the Reef 2050 Long-term Sustainability Plan (Reef 2050 Plan) which is open for your comments until 30 September 2020.  

The updated draft plan recognises the great unique value of the Great Barrier Reef and that global warming is the most serious threat the reef currently faces. It also highlights that the future of the reef has deteriorated from ‘poor’ to ‘very poor’. The plan is to be applauded for seeking to better recognise the aspirations of First Nations in reef management. It also aims to ‘create a future in which the reef is in a better condition and on a pathway of replenishment and recovery’, however the EDO is concerned that as drafted this plan will not achieve that aim.  

More urgent, tangible action needed to give our Reef a chance of survival 

An overarching issue with the updated plan is the lack of urgency stipulated to address the quickly, seriously deteriorating state of the Great Barrier Reef. The Reef 2050 Advisory Committee has called for the plan to reflect the level of urgency needed to address and seek to ameliorate the reef’s threats, yet the plan instead provides little sense of urgency and weaker language to describe the reef’s decline. Also concerningly, the reference to the ‘Vision’ for the reef has now dropped reference to the Outstanding Universal Values of the Great Barrier Reef, perhaps sadly reflecting the low likelihood that these values will be maintained by 2050 given the direction of global warming.  

The EDO has four key recommendations for improvements to the plan, each of which must be addressed with urgent, tangible action, if the Great Barrier Reef is to have any chance of survival: :  

  1. Climate change – while there is mention of climate change, there are no meaningful actions to seek to do our bit to reduce emissions that are exacerbating climate change impacts to our reef. 
  1. Water quality impacts – ensuring best efforts are made to improve agricultural and development practices upstream to reduce water quality impacts to the reef through greater investment in reducing land-based sources of pollution. 
  1. Sustainable fisheries – recognition of the need to fully implement all elements of the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy that is relied upon in the plan, yet which are lagging in implementation by the Queensland Government.  
  1. Strengthened Reef governance – the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority must be given greater independence in governance of reef matters, including impact assessment and development applications, to ensure that governance is directed with sufficient attention to reef protection.  

Background to the Reef 2050 Plan 

This plan was first released in 2015 in response to the World Heritage Centre’s concerns as to the sustainability of the management of impacts to the Great Barrier Reef, a World Heritage declared site since 1981, and their request for a coordinated and long-term plan for its improved sustainable management. Under the World Heritage Convention, Australia has a duty, as the reef’s custodian for the international community, to protect and conserve its Outstanding Universal Value for future generations.   

This consultation will build on the mid-term review that was completed of the plan in 2018. Your feedback can help ensure the plan is strengthened to improve reef resilience and to reduce impacts the reef is facing now and into the future.  

The updated plan’s vision for the reef in 2050 is that ‘The Great Barrier Reef is sustained as a living natural and cultural wonder of the world.’   

In seeking to achieve this vision, the plan provides a strategic framework for action and sets 20 objectives and 17 management goals to seek to address the protection and management of the eef’s natural and heritage values. The objectives of the updated plan encompass four categories: habitats, species, Indigenous heritage and human dimensions. How these objectives will be measured is provided for by the supporting the Reef 2050 Objectives and Management Goals. The plan alongside the Management Goals are designed to seek to protect the reef from land-based run-offs, coastal development and direct human use.  

Australia and Queensland need to take climate emissions reductions seriously if we are serious about protecting the reef 

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) has stated:

Mitigating human induced climate change through effective emissions reduction and decarbonising the global economy remains the most urgent and critical need for the Great Barrier Reef’s future. 

The plan acknowledges the role that local, state and national governments play in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions and the impact that climate change can have on the reef’s long-term health. Responding to these challenges is imperative as the failure to act to reduce emissions will spell the end of our reef.  

Unfortunately, while having a greater focus on climate change, the updated Reef 2050 Plan continues to fail to provide specific steps and actions of priority to tackle climate change by reducing our emissions, both internally and through our export market.  

Australia’s federal policy to limit greenhouse gas emissions to stay well below the global warming target of 1.5 is drastically falling short by only committing to 30% emission reduction by 2030.  

If the Reef 2050 Plan is to adequately protect the reef from climate induced impacts such as irreversible mass bleaching events, the Australian and Queensland governments will need to develop stronger and more ambitious emissions reductions targets with whole-of-government action to achieve these targets in all sectors, including in our export sector.  

Water quality impacts from upstream catchments must remain strong focus for improvements 

Much of the reef’s poor resilience to climate change and deteriorating quality is due to the situation of water quality. This will require an accelerated effort to ensure that intermediate and long-term water quality targets are met. While work has been ongoing in this space by the Queensland Government, unfortunately, current initiatives will not meet water quality targets necessary to give the reef a better chance of survival into the future. These reforms have been further delayed in response to COVID-19. Continuous work is needed to reduce water quality impacts to a sufficient level that the reef’s resilience can improve, particularly in the face of climate change impacts.  

Commercial fishing impacts must be more clearly addressed 

Relying on the implementation of the Queensland Sustainable Fisheries Strategy, the plan claims to deliver species protection and conservation benefits for the reef.  While the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy is a step forward, it has not been fully implemented into law in Queensland and so many key elements of the Strategy remain unimplemented.  The growing commercial fishing industry poses serious threats to fish stocks and endangered species. The need for the full implementation of the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy should be clearly recognised and obliged in the plan.  

Strengthening Reef governance  

A key issue that has been pointed out recently by many reviews of environmental governance in Australia, including the Australian National Audit Office, and Graeme Samuel’s Interim Report of the Review of the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth), is that changes are needed to current failing governance mechanisms to ensure protection of our environmental matters that hold national significance – like our Reef. GBRMPA hold a unique position of being the experts solely focused on ensuring sustainable management of interactions with and impacts on our Reef.  GBRMPA needs greater power and resources to undertake this role in decision-making regarding development approvals that are likely to have a significant impact on the Marine Park and World Heritage area. 

Get your voice heard to help protect the Great Barrier Reef 

The opportunity to provide submissions on the plan will be a chance to address the local and regional pressures on reef requiring greater action and management. If efforts and investment in the reef and its communities continue to fall short, we stand to lose the intrinsic ecological value as well as the significant economic importance of the reef.   

Submissions are being accepted until 11.59pm AEST Wednesday 30 September 2020.  

To have your say on the updated Reef 2050 Plan, you can provide feedback or upload submissions using the online form via