Tag Archives: UNESCO

The Great Barrier Reef isn’t listed as ‘in danger’ – but it’s still in big trouble

The Conversation

James Watson, The University of Queensland and Martine Maron, The University of Queensland

In a somewhat surprising decision, UNESCO ruled this week that the Great Barrier Reef – one of the Earth’s great natural wonders – should not be listed as “World Heritage in Danger”.

The World Heritage Committee praised the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan, and the federal minister for the environment, Josh Frydenberg, has called the outcome “a big win for Australia and a big win for the Turnbull government”.

But that doesn’t mean the Reef is out of danger. Afforded World Heritage recognition in 1981, the Reef has been on the warning list for nearly three years. It’s not entirely evident why UNESCO decided not to list the Reef as “in danger” at this year’s meeting, given the many ongoing threats to its health.

However, the World Heritage Committee has made it clear they remain concerned about the future of this remarkable world heritage site.

The reef is still in deep trouble

UNESCO’s draft decision (the adopted version is not yet released) cites significant and ongoing threats to the Reef, and emphasises that much more work is needed to get the health of the Reef back on track. Australia must provide a progress report on the Reef in two years’ time – and they want to see our efforts to protect the reef accelerate.

Right now, unprecedented coral bleaching in consecutive years has damaged two-thirds of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. This bleaching, or loss of algae, affects a 1,500km stretch of the reef. The latest damage is concentrated in the middle section, whereas last year’s bleaching hit mainly the north.

Pollution, overfishing and sedimentation are exacerbating the damage. Land clearing in Queensland has accelerated rapidly in the past few years, with about 1 million hectares of native vegetation being cleared in the past five years. That’s an area the size of the Brisbane Cricket Ground being cleared every three minutes.

About 40% of this vegetation clearing is in catchments that drain to the Great Barrier Reef. Land clearing contributes to gully and streambank erosion. This erosion means that soil (and whatever chemical residues are in it) washes into waterways and flows into reef lagoon, reducing water quality and affecting the health of corals and seagrass.

Landclearing also directly contributes to climate change, which is the single biggest threat to the Reef. The recent surge in land clearing in Queensland alone poses a threat to Australia’s ability to meet its 2030 emissions reduction target. Yet attempts by the Queensland Government to control excessive land clearing have failed – a concern highlighted by UNESCO in the draft decision.

Land clearing can lead to serious hillslope gully and sheet erosion, which causes sedimentation and reduced water quality in the Great Barrier Reef lagoon. Willem van Aken/CSIRO

A time for action, not celebration

The Reef remains on UNESCO’s watch list. Just last month the World Heritage Committee released a report concluding that progress towards achieving water quality targets had been slow, and that it does not expect the immediate water quality targets to be met.

The draft decision still expressed UNESCO’s “serious concern” and “strongly encouraged” Australia to “accelerate efforts to ensure meeting the intermediate and long-term targets of the plan, which are essential to the overall resilience of the property, in particular regarding water quality”.

This means reducing run-off of sediment, nutrients and pollutants from our towns and farmlands. Improving water quality can help recovery of corals, even if it doesn’t prevent mortality during extreme heatwaves.

The Great Barrier Reef is the most biodiverse of all the World Heritage sites, and of “enormous scientific and intrinsic importance” according to the United Nations. A recent report by Deloitte put its value at A$56bn. It contributes an estimated A$6.4bn annually to Australia’s economy and supports 64,000 jobs.

Excessive landclearing in Queensland, which looks like being a core issue in the next state election, has been successfully curbed in the past, and it could be again.

But the reef cannot exist in the long term without international efforts to curb global warming. To address climate change and reduce emissions, we need to act both nationally and globally. Local action on water quality (the focus of the Reef 2050 Plan) does not prevent bleaching, or “buy time” to delay action on emissions.

The ConversationWe need adequate funding for achieving the Reef 2050 Plan targets for improved water quality, and a plan to reach zero net carbon emissions. Without that action, an “in danger” listing seems inevitable in 2020. But regardless of lists and labels, the evidence is clear. The Great Barrier Reef is dying before our eyes. Unless we do more, and fast, we risk losing it forever.

James Watson, Associate Professor, The University of Queensland and Martine Maron, ARC Future Fellow and Associate Professor of Environmental Management, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Love, wisdom and wonder: three reasons to celebrate philosophy

The Conversation

By Matthew Beard, University of Notre Dame Australia

Today is UNESCO World Philosophy Day, a day aimed to “underline the enduring value of philosophy for the development of human thought, for each culture and for each individual”.

However, it was not so long ago that philosophy was the target of university funding cutbacks. Philosophy is commonly painted as a discipline defined by ivory tower musing and abstraction. We don’t often celebrate philosophy and many question its value. What makes philosophy so special?

We might start by saying a little about what philosophy actually is.

As every student who has ever enrolled in a philosophy subject knows, philosophy’s etymological roots lie in two Ancient Greek words: philo – loving, and sophia – wisdom. Thus, literally translated, philosophy is a love of wisdom.

This romantic notion is one that still resonates with philosophers today, but it doesn’t say much about what philosophy does, or what it offers to humanity. To answer that, we need to consider philosophy as an intellectual discipline.

Todd Lappin/Flickr

Aristotle argued that philosophy begins with wonder. In this he is right, but more precisely, philosophy begins when we wonder about something. It is – like every intellectual discipline – a way of asking questions about the nature of things. In this way, philosophy is born of the very basic human disposition toward asking questions.

More than that though, philosophy asks questions of a particular type. British philosopher Isaiah Berlin argued that all disciplines are defined by the types of questions that they have been designed to answer. Again, the study begins with questions.

Most questions that human beings tend to ask can be divided into two categories: formal and empirical. Formal questions as those that can be answered by deduction from our knowledge of axiomatic truths: for instance, the answer to “are healthy behaviours ones that prolong our lives?” is discoverable merely by thinking logically about the concepts of health and life.

Empirical questions, by contrast, cannot be answered without observation of the material world. “Which behaviours are healthy?” cannot be answered without observing some large number of behaviours and tracking their effects on health.

However, there are another set of questions whose answers cannot be discovered either by formal or empirical inquiry. For instance, the question: “why should I be healthy?” or “should I fear losing my life?” cannot be deduced from the very concepts of life and health, nor discovered through observation of healthy, living beings.

These questions demand an entirely different method of analysis. This, Berlin argues, is what defines philosophical questions: ones that “cannot be answered either by observation or calculation.“ This describes our questions about life and health. To answer these questions requires a kind of knowledge that neither formal nor empirical inquiry can attain. In this case, we need an understanding of the value of human life.

Values cannot be observed: nor are they (with apologies to Immanuel Kant) mere matters of deduction from self-evident truths. Rather, they imply entirely new kinds of questions about value, right and wrong, and the relevant context. Today, determining whether, and under what conditions, life is valuable is as pertinent a question as ever – despite all our advances in scientific analysis and a deepening understanding of what life – as a concept – actually is.

Answering a question like this requires more than clinical facts regarding levels of pain, likelihood of recovery, or quality of life. They require serious thinking about questions such as whether existence is always preferable to non-existence, the relationship between death and non-existence, the moral significance of suffering, and the importance of individual autonomy.

Philosophy matters, simply, because the answers to philosophical questions matter. Not only is it a matter of life and death, but a matter of, to name a few examples, the nature of law, the role of language, where morality comes from, whether there is a God, whether there is a self and what constitutes our identity, and what beauty is. What makes these questions important is not only that they help societies to function (although they certainly do), but that they reflect something deeply fundamental about human beings: that we are physical creatures, but our consciousness is not restricted to physical matters. Indeed, philosophy is both reflective and perfective of human nature.

As author and philosopher C.S. Lewis explained, although we are physically embodied, most of the things that give our lives value are less tangible than material reality, and philosophy is among them:

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.

Aristotle thought that philosophical reflection was the perfection of human living. He might have been overreaching a little bit, but there can be no question of the value that reflection adds to our lives.

There is only so much that talking about philosophy can persuade of its value though.

Today, on World Philosophy Day, I encourage you to give it a try yourself. Find a philosopher – there are plenty on Twitter and every university faculty member has an email address – get in touch and see what it’s like first hand. All you need is curiosity, and the right question.

The ConversationMatthew Beard does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Republished with permission). Read the original article.

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