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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Senator the Hon Penny Wong
Minister for Climate Change and Water

Climate change risk to world heritage properties

Joint media release
2 August 2009

A new report released today finds that 17 of Australia's iconic World Heritage properties will experience increased risks from climate change.

Sites including Sydney Opera House, the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu National Park, Lord Howe Island Group, the Tasmanian Wilderness and the Greater Blue Mountains Area are identified as particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

These effects include reduced rainfall, higher sea and land surface temperatures, more severe storm events, ocean acidification and rising sea levels.

The report is the first comprehensive report by any country into the impacts of climate change on all of its World Heritage properties.

"The disintegration of our World Heritage areas would be an irreparable loss to our local communities and the global community,'' Mr Garrett said.

"We must act now to ensure they are conserved for the future.''

This report will inform the Climate Change Adaptation Plan for Australia's World Heritage and Iconic Areas which will outline clear principles and key actions for incorporating climate change adaptation into management of Australia's World Heritage and iconic areas.

"The Implications of Climate Change for Australia's World Heritage Properties report is a valuable contribution to our understanding of how climate change may impact World Heritage properties," Mr Garrett said.

"Particularly vulnerable is the largest World Heritage icon the Great Barrier Reef which extends from the tip of Cape York Peninsula to south-east Queensland.

"Its network of reefs - about 2,900 in total - is the largest and most complex coral reef system in the world. It is also home to significant biodiversity such as six of the world's seven species of marine turtles, one the world's most important dugong populations and is an important breeding area for humpback and other whale species.''

Senator Wong said the report showed the need for urgent action on climate change.

"We need to act now to protect Australia's unique environment, especially these World Heritage sites that support so many Australian workers in the tourism and hospitality industry,'' Senator Wong said.

Senator Wong said efforts to reduce carbon pollution were essential to securing Australia's future prosperity.

"In 11 days, the Parliament will vote on legislation to start reducing carbon pollution for the first time ever,'' Senator Wong said.

World Heritage properties are included on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) managed list because of their outstanding universal value.

The Implications of Climate Change for Australia's World Heritage Properties: A Preliminary Assessment was commissioned by the Australian National University and assesses the likely impacts of climate change on these properties, identifies major gaps in knowledge and recommends a range of responses.

A copy of the report is available on the Department website at:

Commonwealth of Australia