Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan

The Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan is identified as the overarching framework for protecting and managing the Great Barrier Reef 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/July 2015. It is seen as a key component of the Commonwealth Government’s response to the recommendations of the WHC.


World Heritage Committee Decision of 2014 and 2015


In June 2014, the WHC considered the possible inscription of the GBR on the ‘List of World Heritage in Danger’. In response to the WHC’s decision, the Queensland and Commonwealth governments developed the Reef 2050 Plan.


Following IUCN’s advice, on 1 July 2015 in Bonn Germany, 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.


The WHC noted that the Outlook Report (2014) confirms the scale of major challenges facing the GBR, and underlines the need for a significant response to be put in place by Australia (also referred to as the State Party). 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.


Measures adopted by the Queensland and Commonwealth governments that represent significant progress in responding to key WHC requests include:

  • Commitments toward restoring water quality:
    • 80 percent reduction in pollution run-off in the GBR by 2025;
    • Additional investment of $AUS 200 million to accelerate progress in meeting this objective; and
    • A detailed investment strategy to reach the Reef 2050 Plan water quality targets, objectives and outcomes.
  • Commitment to protect greenfield areas by:
    • Restricting major new port development in and adjoining the GBR World Heritage Area;
    • Limiting capital dredging for the development of new or expansion of existing port facilities to within the regulated port limits of Gladstone, Hay Point/Mackay, Abbott Point and Townsville; and
    • Excluding the Fitzroy Delta, North Curtis Island and Keppel Bay from future port development.
  • Decision to reverse the original decision to dump capital dredge material from Abbot Point inside the GBR;
  • Commitment for a permanent ban on dumping of dredged material from all capital dredging projects within the GBR; and
  • Confirmation that the scientific findings of the five-yearly Outlook Report are expected to provide the basis for evaluating the plans performance, the results achieved toward the restoration of degraded areas, the protection of the GBR’s OUV and its resilience to the effects of climate change


Considering the fundamental importance of successful implementation of the Reef 2050 Plan, the WHC 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 early 2017.


As the first set of targets of the Reef 2050 Plan are expected to be reached by 2020, it was also recommended that the WHC request a report on the State of Conservation of the GBR for review at its 44th session in 2020. The report should detail the results achieved for each target and link progress to the scientific findings of the anticipated 2019 Outlook Report.


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. It has a particular focus on implementation and ongoing review of the Reef 2050 Plan, including providing strategic advice on:

  • Implementation of Reef 2050 Plan actions;
  • Reef policy issues that require collaborative action across sectors;
  • Investment approaches and linkages across multiple investment sources (see link below to the 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, the first due in 2020.


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 focussed forums.


QRC sees the two main areas of strategic priority in relation to the GBR and Reef 2050 Plan as:

  • Reef 2050 implementation focussing on the 139 actions identified within the Reef 2050 Plan; and
  • Developing GBR policy.


The protection of the GBR’s Outstanding Universal Value and responsible economic development are not mutually exclusive and a risk management approach to the regulation of activities delivers benefits for all stakeholders. As such it is critical that the resources sector is involved in the planning and implementation of GBR policy to ensure positive environmental, social and economic outcomes are achieved. QRC, through its membership on the RAC, will continue to promote the resource sector’s views and guidance on Reef 2050 actions. QRC will also continue the open and constructive dialogue it has commenced with government on emerging policy matters throughout 2016 and in 2017.


The Commonwealth and Queensland governments have been rolling out announcements on the implementation activities required to meet the various commitments made under the Reef 2050 Plan via the Implementation Strategy and other actions such as the commencement of the Queensland Sustainable Ports Development Act 2015, the amendment to the Commonwealth’s GBR Marine Park Regulation to ban capital dredging, introduction of the Maintenance Dredging Strategy for GBR World Heritage Area Ports and the operability of the Reef Trust.


Whilst progress in being made, further work is still needed to develop the net benefit and cumulative impact management policies and offset guideline for the GBR and a marine offsets calculator, as well as the overall operation of the Reef Trust, will require extensive work from QRC and its members in 2017.