Great Barrier Reef not 'out of the woods'

Shae McDonald

The Great Barrier Reef isn't "out of the woods" despite UNESCO's decision to leave it off its "in danger" list, one of Australia's peak climate change bodies says.

Climate Council scientist Will Steffen says the outcome doesn't change the fact science shows the ecosystem is in danger and has little chance of surviving unless the federal government changes its policies.

"The federal government must focus on protecting the reef, instead of labels and listings," Professer Steffen said in a statement on Thursday.

UNESCO's World Heritage Committee endorsed the federal and Queensland governments' Reef 2050 Plan at its annual meeting in Poland on Wednesday.

Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg said it was a "big win for Australia".

"We're taking every action possible to ensure this great wonder of the world stays viable and healthy for future generations to come," he told ABC Radio on Thursday.

But Prof Steffen said the strategy didn't address climate change and was being implemented while governments continued to support the controversial Adani coal mine in Queensland's Galilee Basin.

"Unless Australia joins the rest of the world in adopting very strong climate and energy policies, the reef will have very little chance of surviving," he said.

Environmentalists argue the Adani mine will increase greenhouse gas emissions and potentially contaminate the reef as coal is shipped offshore.

Mr Frydenberg and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a joint statement the government was committed to climate change targets in the Paris Agreement.

He told ABC Radio that land management practices for farmers could still be improved, but he welcomed the Adani mine because of the jobs it would bring to regional Queensland towns.

Queensland Environment Minister Steven Miles accused Mr Frydenberg of taking undue credit for initiatives in the Reef 2050 Plan.

Dr Miles said it was largely work done by his state government that convinced the World Heritage Committee to endorse the strategy.

"When the Palaszczuk government was elected we made very substantial changes to that plan," he said.

Despite its endorsement, the World Heritage Committee expressed "serious concern" about the health of the reef.

It urged Australia to accelerate its efforts to improve water quality, describing it as "essential to the overall resilience of the property".

Dr Miles said the Queensland government had committed to spending a record $63m to address the issue.

Dr Miles said it had also committed to re-introducing tougher land clearing laws if it won with a majority at the next election.

He said if the state government wasn't able to pass the legislation, the World Heritage Committee may have a "different view down the track".

The World Heritage Committee will next consider the health of the reef in 2020.