Protecting the Antarctic for penguins, peace and the planet

Protecting the Antarctic for penguins, peace and the planet

Earlier this month, the Paris Peace Forum brought people together from around the world in support of collective, global action. Over three days, states, international organisations, local governments, NGOs and foundations, companies, experts, journalists, trade unions, religious groups and citizens focused on the solutions needed to deliver a safer, more peaceful and healthy planet for all of us. 

Image of Antarctica

120 projects from around the world selected from 850 applications, were presented in five “villages”: peace and security, environment, development, new technologies and inclusive economy. Our team from Ocean Unite was there to talk about their Antarctica2020 initiative, a project focused on securing the strong protection of at least seven million square kilometres of the Southern Ocean by 2020 (the 200th anniversary of its discovery).

What, you may be thinking, does protecting penguins have to do with securing global peace and security? That is part of the magic of Antarctica. The Antarctic continent and its surrounding ocean is a beacon of hope for multilateralism, international solidarity and our common responsibility for the Earth.

In 1959, at the height of the Cold War, countries came together to sign the Antarctic Treaty – perhaps the first international disarmament treaty since the end of World War Two. It prevented the potential spread of nuclear and other weapons to the ice continent, declaring it a place for peace and science. In the 1980s, countries again came together to outlaw mining in the region.

While Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, and least populated place on Earth (the only people there are scientists and there are no indigenous populations), the icy waters that surround the continent are critical to our planetary functioning. They feed the currents that feed the fish that feed the world. They house 90 per cent of the world’s ice and fresh water. They are home to amazing marine life, such as penguins, seals and whales.

But these waters are also on the frontline of climate change and biodiversity loss, with melting sea ice and industrial fishing for krill threatening wildlife in the region and a key carbon sink. Antarctic krill have been estimated to help sequester the same amount of carbon that 35 million cars emit each year.

Despite a commitment in 2009 to create a network of marine protected areas in the region by 2012, member governments of the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources are six years behind schedule. Just a few countries are preventing the required consensus to drive the spirit of Antarctic collaboration forward.

Antarctica2020 brings together a group of thought leaders from the world of sport, politics, business, media and science, supported by the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, The Pew Charitable Trusts and our own Ocean Unite. They were in Paris to inspire leaders attending the Paris Peace Forum to brainstorm ways to break the impasse of inaction in protecting Antarctica’s Southern Ocean, and work together to deliver protection of the climate and biodiversity globally.

10 of the projects showcased at the Forum were selected to benefit from ongoing support by the Paris Peace Forum over the course of the next year, and we were all very excited to learn that Antarctica2020 was one of them!

In May 1916, Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton asked what was happening with the war. He had not had contact with the outside world since the autumn of 1914 when he and 27 crew set out for Antarctica. He was told: “The war is not over. Millions are being killed. Europe is mad. The world is mad.”

Shackleton and his team had failed in their objective of crossing Antarctica when their vessel was crushed and sank in the pack ice of the Weddell Sea, but they had succeeded in one of the most daring crossings of the Southern Ocean, in three small boats. He demonstrated extraordinary courage and leadership in getting all his crew home alive, just so that many of them could be killed or injured in the war, some of them within weeks. We need that Antarctic leadership again today. For penguins, for people, and for the planet.

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