09 November 2007

Statement on Antarctica

Ban Ki-moon

I am here today to observe the impact of global warming. To see for myself and learn all I can. We joke among ourselves that we are on an “Eco-tour”, but I am not here as a tourist but as a messenger of early warning.

What we saw today was extraordinarily beautiful. These dramatic landscapes are rare and wonderful, but it is deeply disturbing as well. We can clearly see this world changing. The ice is melting far faster than we think.

All this may be gone, and not in the distant future, unless we act, together, now

Look about us. We have seen it with our own eyes. Antarctica is on the verge of a catastrophe –- for the world. The glaciers here on King George Island have shrunk by 10 per cent. Some in Admiralty Bay have retreated by 25 kilometres. You know how the Larsen B ice sheet collapsed several years ago and disappeared within weeks –- the size of Rhode Island, 87 kilometres.

What alarms me is not the melting snow and glaciers, alone. It is that the Larsen phenomenon could repeat itself on a vastly greater scale. Scientists here have told me that the entire Western Antarctic Ice Shelf –- the WAIS –- is at risk. It is all floating ice, one fifth of the entire continent. If it broke up, sea levels could rise by 6 metres or 18 feet. Think of that. And it could happen quickly, almost overnight in geological terms.

This is not scare-mongering. I am not trying to frighten you. According to recent studies, 138 tons of ice are now being lost every year, mostly from the Western Ice Shelf.

You know, also that deep blue water absorbs more heat than sea covered with ice. The sea ice around Antarctica is vanishing too.

There are other deeply worrying signs. The penguin population of Chabrier Rock, a main breeding ground, has declined by 57 per cent in the last 25 years. It is the same elsewhere. What will happen to the annual march of the penguins in the future? Will there even be one?

Grass is growing for the first time ever here on King George Island –- including a grass used on American golf courses. It rains, increasingly often in the summer rather than snows.

These things should alarm us all. Antarctica is a natural lab that helps us understand what is happening to our world. We must save this precious earth, including all that is here. It is a natural wonder, but above all, it is our common home.

It is here where our work, together, comes into focus. We see Antarctica’s beauty –- and the danger global warming represents, and the urgency that we do something about it. I am determined that we shall.