Australian heritage sites wiped from UN climate report at government's request

File photo - Great Barrier Reef (REUTERS/David Gray/File photo).

File photo - Great Barrier Reef (REUTERS/David Gray/File photo).

Australian sites have been controversially removed from a U.N. world heritage report on the impact of climate change at the request of the country’s government.

The heritage sites include the famous Great Barrier Reef, which is located off the coast of Queensland, Australia.

The “World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate” was released Thursday and lists 31 natural and cultural world heritage sites in 29 countries that are said to be vulnerable to climate change. Risks to iconic tourist sites such as the Statue of Liberty, Venice, Stonehenge and the Galapagos Islands are described in the report.

However, no sites in Australia, such as the famous Great Barrier Reef, are mentioned. reports that the initial version of the report included references to the Great Barrier Reef as well as the Kakadu National Park and the Tasmanian Wilderness.

Related: Great Barrier Reef hit by widespread coral bleaching

The Australian Department of the Environment confirmed to that it asked for references to Australia to be removed, citing a negative impact on tourism.

“Recent experience in Australia had shown that negative commentary about the status of world heritage properties impacted on tourism,” it said, in a statement. “The department was concerned that the framing of the report confused two issues — the world heritage status of the sites and risks arising from climate change and tourism.”

The department noted that the World Heritage Committee decided last year not to include the Great Barrier Reef on its list of world heritage sites in danger. The committee had also commended Australia for its Reef 2050 plan for protecting and managing the reef, it added.

However, the government’s move sparked criticism from Mark Butler, Australia’s shadow minister for the Environment, who said that climate change poses the biggest threat to the Great Barrier Reef.

Related: West Antarctic ice sheet could collapse, causing significant sea level rise, experts warn

The Great Barrier Reef has been hit by widespread coral bleaching, which scientists say is a combination of El Nino and climate change.

A spokesman for UNESCO, which published the report with the United Nations Environment Programme and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), confirmed to that references to the Australian sites were removed at the request of the Australian government. However, the spokesman declined to add any further comment.

UCS has voiced its concern about the changes to the report. “I was disappointed that the final product ultimately omitted case studies on the Australian sites—the Great Barrier Reef, Tasmanian wilderness and Kakadu National Park,” said Adam Markham, deputy director of climate and energy at UCS, in a statement emailed to “It now seems this was due to pressure on UNESCO by the Australian government. Ironically, the Australian sites are some of the best managed World Heritage sites, so it is surprising that the government felt the need to make such a request.”

The case study on the Great Barrier Reef that was removed from the report has been published on the UCS website. “UCS believes conversations about the mounting threats to the Great Barrier Reef and other World Heritage sites need to happen and should be done publicly,” said Markham, noting that the report is “the tip of the iceberg” for sites at risk.

Related: Yale's climate change program out of gas

U.S. sites listed in the U.N. report include the Statue of Liberty and Yellowstone National Park. In Yellowstone, climate change “is threatening to radically change the region’s fire regime, with rising temperatures heavily influencing Yellowstone’s fire season,” it said.

Citing damage to New York’s Liberty Island during Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the report also highlighted a risk to the Statue of Liberty. While Sandy’s flood waters did not harm the statue and its pedestal, the report noted extensive damage to facilities and infrastructure on Liberty Island, as well nearby Ellis Island. “As solid and invulnerable as the Statue of Liberty itself seems, the World Heritage site is actually at considerable risk from some of the impacts of climate change – especially sea-level rise, increased intensity of storms and storm surges,” the report said.

Earlier this year scientists warned that the West Antarctic ice sheet could collapse, potentially causing sea levels to rise more than 49 feet by 2500. The study, which was published in the journal Nature, cited the impact of greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decades.

Skeptics, however, have largely dismissed fears over man's impact on global warming, saying climate change has been going on since the beginning of time. They also claim the dangers of a warming planet are being wildly exaggerated and question the impact that fossil fuels have had on climate change.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers