A climate disaster despite a landmark historic treaty

OPINION
By KLAUS DORING
June 28, 2021

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While the rainy season officially started here in the Philippines, we are still sweating in summer temperatures. And not only us. In my home country Germany and neighboring European countries, the temperatures climbed up to 38 degrees. And as if it wasn't enough, California  hit over 50 degrees Celsius yesterday.That has an impact again on the whole world.
    
The Antarctic is nearing a climate disaster despite a landmark historic treaty. Burning fossil fuels threatens one of the last areas on earth left unspoiled by extractive human industries. Author Ajit Niranjan captionedit  it in one of his latest write ups: "The remote continent of Antarctica is melting!"
    
Yes, when the Antarctic Treaty came into effect 60 years ago, its signatories had little idea how successful it would be. World leaders agreed to leave an uninhabited continent twice the size of Australia free from war, weapons and nuclear waste. They declared that the southern polar region, which is 98% ice and does not have an indigenous population, should belong to no country and instead be devoted to collaborative science. In the following decades, extra rules to stop companies mining minerals and drilling for oil turned Antarctica into the biggest nature reserve in the world.
    
About 90% of the world's surface freshwater is locked up in the Antarctic Ice Sheet and, as the planet heats up, glaciers whose collapse would deluge coastal cities from New York to Jakarta are melting and growing less stable.
    
World leaders have pledged to limit warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius this century, but their current policies will heat the world by almost 3 C, according to Germany-based research group Climate Action Tracker. A study published in the journal Nature in May found that a global temperature rise of 3 C would lead to an "abrupt jump" in the pace of Antarctic ice loss that would, in turn, trigger "rapid and unstoppable" sea-level rise.
    
Alessandro Antonello, a historian at Flinders University in Australia who has written a book about environmental politics in Antarctica, said "the central environmental challenge to Antarctica today is undoubtedly climate change." Yet, of the 54 parties to the treaty that protects it, the 29 with voting rights include the world's biggest historical polluters, such as the US and Germany, as well as fast-growing emitters like China, India and Brazil.
    
"There is definitely a level of hypocrisy," Antonello added. And yes, he is so very, very right, my dear readers.
    
For scientists, cooperation meant refueling planes at bases of other countries — essential in such a hostile landscape — and sharing findings. Teams of scientists in the Antarctic have collected climate data stretching back hundreds of thousands of years and in 1985 they discovered a dangerous hole in the ozone layer above it.
    
Earth's polar regions are warming faster than the rest of the planet. But unlike the North Pole, which has become the focus of geopolitical tensions as melting ice reveals rich resources, the South Pole has few known minerals or fuels to exploit other than some reserves of coal and oil. That has helped shield it from the attention of extractive industries.
    
Still, the Antarctic is big and similar enough to nearby geological areas to likely be home to more resources. Together with the region's inhospitable landscape — with thick ice and harsh weather making any commercial extraction costly — the Treaty's 1991 ban on mining and drilling has kept Antarctica free from anything other than scientific exploration. The ban is indefinite and may first be reviewed in 2048.
    
"Climate breakdown is drastically changing the scenery in the Antarctic, '' said Laura Meller, an ecologist and polar expert with Greenpeace Nordic, which successfully campaigned to protect the region from mining and drilling. "For life in the water surrounding the continent, that is a drastic transformation." Species such as the Patagonian Toothfish are still being hunted unsustainably in the Southern Ocean surrounding the Antarctic. Seabirds like albatrosses and petrels get caught up in huge nets as bycatch gets thrown away.
    
The legal uncertainty also applies to tourism. Antarctica receives about 70,000 tourists each year, mostly in the summer. While this is low relative to the size of the continent, they mostly go to the same several dozen locations, which concentrates their impact. Antarctica has no police force and — without a sovereign government — it is still unclear who would pay for the damage done by foreign visitors in the event of large-scale disasters like an oil spill from a grounded ship.
    
Still, as an example of global cooperation, the Antarctic Treaty has not been matched — though some experts are skeptical that it could be replicated in today's political climate of rising populism. 
    
Another climate change global problem without solution?

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Email: doringklaus@gmail.com or follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter or visit my www.germanexpatinthephilippines.blogspot.com or www.klausdoringsclassicalmusic.blogspot.com.

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