The Untied Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee has rejected a bid by the Australian government to delist 74,000 hectares of protected old-growth forest in the state of Tasmania.
The area was a portion of 170,000 hectares of forest added to the World Heritage Area (WHA) last year by the former Labor government on a state and federal level.
The listing was a part of a peace deal between logging companies, unions, the government, and environmental activists who have long been active in blockading logging sites.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
After being elected last year Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his conservative government announced plans to open up some of Tasmania’s forests to logging companies.
Meeting in Doha, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee took just seven minutes to dismiss the government’s case. No member nation spoke in favour of the proposal, with the Portuguese delegation calling Australia’s case “feeble.”
“Accepting this de-listing today would be setting an unacceptable precedent impossible to deny in similar circumstances in the future.
“If this committee cares for conservation according to responsible engagement of states parties to the convention when they submit their nominations, we cannot accept these requests to de-list,” the Portuguese member said.
The Australian government had tried to argue that because a portion of the protected area had been damaged by logging in the past that area should be delisted. However environmental activists opposing the bid said only around eight per cent of the cited 74,000 hectares had been disturbed and the rest was pristine old-growth forest.
UNESCO said that the case was “highly unusual,” particularly coming only one year after the committee had been asked to assess the cite for heritage listing.
Environmental groups have heralded the decision to protect the forest. For its part, the government has said that it will respect the ruling.
The area of protected forest is not the only heritage listed area to come under threat since the change of government. Both the federal government and the fellow conservative Queensland state government have signed off on the dumping of 3 million cubic metres of dredged material inside the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Site.
The dumping will take place as a part of the expansion of a nearby coal port. The move has drawn criticism from UNESCO, who suggested that the reef would be added to its World Heritage in Danger list in 2015 if alternative dumping measures weren’t explored.