Environment Minister Sussan Ley and her advisers began lobbying UNESCO against classifying the Great Barrier Reef as “in danger”, outlining her anger at the possible downgrade in a Monday call with 16 countries.

A Green Sea Turtle swimming over the Great Barrier Reef: Picture: Supplied.

The government says it was blindsided by the release of a draft World Heritage Committee decision late last month that has recommended changing the reef’s environmental alert level without consultation or any on-the-ground verification.

Ms Ley hosted the call as part of efforts to halt the change, which the government blames on a China-backed push.

The change will be presented for ratification at a meeting of the World Heritage Committee in China from July 16.

Ms Ley spoke on the call along with Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority chief executive Josh Thomas and ­Australian Institute of Marine Science head Paul Hardisty.

Countries represented on the call included Spain, South Africa, Norway, New Zealand, Japan and Canada, officials said.

Ms Ley told the represent­atives the government was “very frustrated” by the recommendation because Australia had not been given “the opportunity to tell the story of what we are doing to protect the reef”.

Eleven countries – including France, Canada, Britain, Thailand and Spain – have already backed Australia’s alarm about UNESCO’s consultation process, co-signing a letter to the agency’s director-general Audrey Azoulay raising concerns.

A spokesman for Ms Ley said: “We have been very clear on our concerns with the listing process (and) we will continue to make those concerns clear,” he said.

The World Heritage Committee includes 21 countries and is chaired by China’s Vice-Minister for Education, Tian Xuejun.

The Morrison government claims the decision is politically motivated, although China has rejected those suggestions, calling the accusation “groundless smear and slander”.

Despite the government’s concerns, environmental groups in Australia and the US have pushed for the reef to be placed on the “in danger” list, arguing that not enough has been done to combat climate change.

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July 8, 2021