For only the second time ever, a nation is attempting to de-list a natural World Heritage site.
The first time there was a good excuse: the tiny nation of Oman de-listed a World Heritage site designed to protect the endangered Arabian Oryx, after it became locally extinct.
Now, under the conservative Tony Abbott government, Australia is about to join the exceedingly short list of World Heritage failures, in order to open up rare forests in Tasmania for industrial logging.
Peter Hitchcock, a leading environmental consultant and former director of the Wet Tropics Management Authority in Australia, weighs in on the fiasco, based on his testimony to the Australian Senate:
The Australian Government is seeking approval of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee to DELIST part of the magnificent Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, for the purpose of commercial logging.
Targeted are 74,000 hectares of globally outstanding tall eucalypt forests (often called tall eucalypt rainforests) and other habitats along the eastern margin of the World Heritage Area.
Tall eucalypt forests form only a narrow band along the eastern margin of the World Heritage Area, and in its present form that band provides ecological connectivity for habitats spanning around 180 kilometers. The proposed delisting will destroy that connectivity and remove some of the grandest stands of tall eucalypt forests on the planet.
It gets worse. The area proposed for delisting includes numerous other attributes of conservation importance including critical habitat for threatened species and plant communities, karst, caves, glacial features, a geological site, and more than 24 Aboriginal cultural sites including a Pleistocene archaeological site.
The Australian Government proposal demonstrates not just an appalling attitude to conservation and World Heritage, but sets a dangerous precedent globally. If a relatively wealthy nation like Australia cannot sustain its World Heritage commitments, how could we ever fault a poorer nation for failing to do so?
The Australian submission to the World Heritage Committee is so full of misinformation that if the Committee were to approve the submission, its reputation would be severely tarnished. Tragically, we would lose the one opportunity we have to protect the most globally outstanding tract of temperate tall eucalypt forest, in the context of a World Heritage site.