Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan

The Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan (the Reef 2050 Plan) is identified as the overarching framework for protecting and managing the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) from 2015 to 2050.


At the core of the Reef 2050 Plan is an outcomes framework that is intended to drive progress towards an overarching vision “to ensure the Great Barrier Reef continues to improve on its Outstanding Universal Value every decade between now and 2050 to be a natural wonder for each successive generation to come”.


The Reef 2050 Plan was submitted to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre in March 2015, for consideration at the 39th session of the World Heritage Committee (WHC) June 2015. It was  a key component of the Commonwealth Government’s response to the recommendations of the WHC. In July 2018, the Reef 2050 Plan was revised (mid-term review) in response to the consecutive coral bleaching events of 2016 and 2017.


World Heritage Committee decisions

In June 2014, the WHC considered the possible inscription of the GBR on the ‘List of World Heritage in Danger’ given the scale of major challenges facing the GBR as outlined in the Outlook Report (2014). The WHC emphasised the need for a significant response to be put in place by Australia (also referred to as the State Party). In response, the Queensland and Commonwealth Governments developed the Reef 2050 Plan.


In July 2015, at Bonn Germany, the WHC welcomed the progress achieved by Australia towards such a response through the Reef 2050 Plan, including the overarching strategy for the management of the GBR. The establishment of such a plan through a multi-stakeholder process at the scale of the GBR was recognised as being in and of itself a major technical and policy achievement. As such, the WHC adopted the draft recommendation to not place the GBR on the ‘List of World Heritage in Danger’. The Committee also requested Australia report in two years’ time on progress made in implementing the Reef 2050 Plan and again in five years’ time on the effectiveness of the Plan.


Considering the fundamental importance of successful implementation of the Reef 2050 Plan, the WHC later requested Australia submit an update on its progress for review by the WHC and IUCN in December 2016 in preparation for the next Committee session in 2017. Australia subsequently delivered the Reef 2050 Plan Update on Progress to the World Heritage Committee 2016.


The update highlighted good progress against the Reef 2050 Plan actions across the first 18 months of its implementation with 32 actions completed and 103 underway. Since its release, the Queensland and Commonwealth Governments have:

  • Amended the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Regulations 1983 and the introduced the Sustainable Ports Development Act 2015 to manage the impacts of ports and dredging (see Ports and Shipping);
  • Implemented compliance arrangements for the cane and grazing sectors; and
  • Initiated work focused on behavioural change regarding agricultural land management practices.

Only one action was significantly delayed with Queensland’s proposed vegetation management legislation to strengthen the State’s land clearing regulations voted down in Parliament in 2016.


Unfortunately, in 2016 (and again in 2017), the GBR and other coral reefs around the world were severely bleached as a result of record breaking sea surface temperatures caused by climate change and amplified by strong El Niño. The interim findings of the coral bleaching event were also outlined in the update.


In July 2017 at Krakow, Poland, the WHC expressed appreciation of the work undertaken to date on the implementation of the Reef 2050 Plan and encouraged an acceleration in ongoing action, in light of the coral bleaching events, to build the Reef’s resilience. The Committee did not recommend listing the Reef as ‘in danger’. It maintains its position and request for Australia to report on the state of the Reef and demonstrate effective and sustained protection by 1 December 2019 ahead of its 44th session in 2020.


Reef 2050 governance

The co-ordinating document for the Queensland and Commonwealth Government’s management of the GBR is the Great Barrier Reef Intergovernmental Agreement, which was signed in 2009. It is this group that oversaw the development of the Reef 2050 Plan. As part of the Intergovernmental Agreement, the Queensland and Commonwealth ministers meet regularly as the GBR Ministerial Forum.


The annual meeting of the GBR Ministerial Forum, held on 10 June 2015, saw the release of the Reef 2050 Plan Implementation Strategy. The strategy details the agencies, timeframes, reporting and governance arrangements for the Reef 2050 Plan. It is designed to be a living document, which will be updated regularly with advice from industry, science bodies, experts and the community, on progress against commitments made under the plan.


The governance arrangements underpinning the Reef 2050 Plan Implementation Strategy include the following groups:

  • GBR Ministerial Forum;
  • Standing Committee of Officials;
  • Reef 2050 Advisory Committee;
  • Independent Expert Panel; and
  • Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Programme Steering Group.

The Reef 2050 Advisory Committee has been established to provide advice to the GBR Ministerial Forum on strategic reef policy matters, and implementation and ongoing review of the Reef 2050 Plan, including:

  • Implementation of Reef 2050 Plan actions;
  • Reef policy issues that require collaborative action across sectors;
  • Investment approaches and linkages across multiple investment sources (see Reef 2050 Investment Framework);
  • Communication and engagement plans to ensure information is provided to the community;
  • Stakeholder priorities for reef research and monitoring; and
  • Reviews of the Reef 2050 Plan at five yearly intervals (at a minimum).

QRC is a representative on the Reef 2050 Advisory Committee and is working with Governments and key stakeholders on implementation of the Reef 2050 Plan in this and other focused forums.


The protection of the GBR’s Outstanding Universal Value and responsible economic development is critical for all Australians, however, they are not mutually exclusive. As such, a risk management approach to the regulation of activities working alongside and in the GBR delivers benefits for all parties. As such it is critical that the resources sector is involved in the planning and implementation of GBR policy and actions to ensure positive environmental, social and economic outcomes are achieved.


QRC, through its membership on the Reef 2050 Advisory Committee, will continue to promote the resource sectors’ views and guidance on Reef 2050 Plan policy and actions.


Mid-term review 2017-18

The review – Building resilience to climate change

In response to the coral bleaching events of 2016 and 2017, the GBR Ministerial Forum agreed, on 28 July 2017, to the immediate commencement of a mid-term review (the Review) of the Reef 2050 Plan (ahead of the scheduled 2020 review) to ensure it effectively manages the impacts of climate change. The Reef 2050 Plan is not intended to respond to climate change more broadly, but to focus on related actions that improve the capacity of GBR ecosystems to resist and recover from disturbance.


A Consortium, consisting of CSIRO, the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences, James Cook University and Eberhard Consulting, was commissioned to provide recommendations on options for the scope of the Review having regard to the views collected from the Reef 2050 Advisory Committee and the Independent Expert Panel.


The Consortium recommended in the Reef 2050 Plan Review Options Report that the scope of the mid-term review:

  • Include a review and update of existing options for how and when the review is conducted;
  • Incorporate new ‘no regret’ actions for reef resilience under climate change and document the rationale for new actions;
  • Not change targets, objectives, outcomes or visions statements at this time; and
  • Leave any major review until 2020 as previously scheduled.

The Consortium also proposed the key focus areas for the full review in 2020.


QRC fully supported the recommendations of the Options Report.


Revised Reef 2050 Plan

The revised Reef 2050 Plan (2018) delivered from the mid-term review focuses on priorities for immediate attention that fill identified gaps from the Plan prepared in 2015. It focuses on:

  • Consolidating and updating progress on the actions of the Plan;
  • Identifying new actions to respond to the challenges of climate change and other pressures; and
  • Providing the basis for the comprehensive review of the Plan to be conducted in 2020.

The new actions build on existing activities (e.g. crown-of-thorns starfish control) and trial new approaches and technologies to build resilience (e.g. testing and deploying reef restoration methods). In addition, local mitigation actions are now represented in the revised Plan, including initiatives for land sector carbon reduction projects and decarbonising Reef Island resorts.


Full review 2020

The next review of the Reef 2050 Plan is due in 2020 and will be informed by the Outlook Report 2019, which examines the GBR’s health, pressures, and likely future.


QRC and other stakeholders, as part of the Reef 2050 Advisory Committee, and the Independent Expert Panel are currently assisting the Governments in developing an approach for the review, including:

  • Reconsideration of the structure and logic of the current themes, outcomes and actions;
  • Consideration of emerging information on climate change and establishment of actions to further strengthen the resilience of the GBR;
  • Incorporation of adaptive management; and
  • Review of the targets and objectives to ensure that they are achievable, specific, measurable and relevant to deliver the desired 2050 outcomes.

Reef Blueprint - Managing for a resilient Reef

The Reef Blueprint is the primary output of the Reef Summit held in May 2017. The blueprint signals the actions the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority will take with its partners, to strengthen the Reef’s resilience in the face of current (e.g. climate change) and future challenges.

The blueprint is designed around 10 initiatives and builds on existing management arrangements. Its explicit focus on coral reefs reflects both their critical state, and the fact that coral reefs are the cornerstones of the Reef’s broader ecological, social, economic, cultural and heritage values.

The 10 initiatives fall into four broad areas:

  • Building a resilience network;
  • On-ground actions;
  • Empowering people; and
  • Fostering change.

From Blueprint to Action examines the first year of actions by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority towards achieving the initiatives of the Reef Summit and the Reef Blueprint.