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Australia and other nations must be held to account for obligations they have made to protect World Heritage sites such as the Great Barrier Reef, legal groups say.

US-based Earthjustice and Environmental Justice Australia on Thursday unveiled legal analysis in Paris that they said demonstrates Australia was failing to fulfil responsibilities to protect and conserve the reef.

Australia and other nations must be held to account for obligations they have made to protect World Heritage sites such as the Great Barrier Reef, legal groups say.

US-based Earthjustice and Environmental Justice Australia on Thursday unveiled legal analysis in Paris that they said demonstrates Australia was failing to fulfil responsibilities to protect and conserve the reef.

"Over the past three years, almost all of the world's reefs have experienced summertime heat stress, with more than 40 per cent of reef locations accumulating stress to a level where we expect coral bleaching", said Dr Scott Heron of NOAA's Coral Reef Watch from Townsville.

"At present, many southern hemisphere reefs are at or near bleaching levels, including in the Great Barrier Reef and the South Pacific - and some of those for the second time in the three-year period."

'More dire'

"Corals around the world are bleaching and dying because of ocean warming and acidification caused by out-of-control greenhouse gas emissions," Noni Austin, an Earthjustice lawyer and report author, said. "The plight of these corals – and of the World Heritage sites on which they depend – is growing more dire every year."

Bleaching near Port Douglas last month as sea temperatures exceed coral thresholds.Bleaching near Port Douglas last month as sea temperatures exceed coral thresholds. Photo: Brett Monroe Garner, via Greenpeace

"It's ambitious and it sets out in law and science, what [nations] could and should do," said Ariane Wilkinson, lawyer at not-for-profit law firm Environmental Justice Australia, another of the authors.

"It's very clear that by mid-century, many coral places will not survive," Ms Wilkinson said, adding that the necessary action had to include halts to major new fossil-fuel projects such as those planned in Queensland.

Another coral bleaching event is unfolding over parts of the Great Barrier Reef for the second year in a row.Another coral bleaching event is unfolding over parts of the Great Barrier Reef for the second year in a row. Photo: Brett Monroe Garner, via Greenpeace

The report's release comes as lobbying of the World Heritage Committee's 21 members intensifies ahead of a meeting in Krakow, Poland, in July. The groups want the committee to finally give priority to climate change.

"The committee can't squirm out of it any more.They've got to focus on it," said Jon Day, formerly a director of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and an ex-Australian government official who attended 11 committee meetings between 1998 and 2013. "It isn't just about the [Great Barrier] reef – it's affecting many, many of their world heritage sites."

http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/pretty-shocked-legal-efforts-gather-pace-to-prioritise-reefs-climate-risks-20170309-guudqr.html

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