Polar Notes

May 2020

All eyes are on Antarctica in 2020

Antarctica has been impossible to keep out of the news recently, and with good reason. The £38 million International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, which the APPG first learned about last year, entered its second field season and has already brought to light new evidence that the world risks losing this vitally important glacier. Then, on 27 January 2020, the world was again in a reflective mood, this time to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the first confirmed sighting of Antarctica by European explorers. To mark the occasion, the APPG’s Chairman, James Gray MP, led a Westminster Hall Debate on the ongoing importance of science and diplomacy in Antarctica.

The first APPG Polar Regions parliamentary briefing of the year will also have an Antarctic theme - two members of the record-breaking team that rowed across the Drake Passage to Antarctica will share their story in the IPU Room at 5pm on 26 February.

In the midst of all this interest in Antarctica, the APPG Polar Regions also celebrated a historic ‘first’, hosting the inaugural Antarctic Parliamentarians Assembly (APA) on 2-3 December 2019. The event was inspired by the work of the Conference of Arctic Parliamentarians, which has taken place biennially since 1993. Until now, there had been no comparable event for promoting parliamentary cooperation over Antarctic issues.

The APA brought parliamentarians and delegates representing 18 signatory countries to the Antarctic Treaty to London to learn more about Antarctica’s importance to our planet. The delegates discussed what could be done to encourage governments around the world to support and prioritise the commitments that have been made to upholding the Antarctic Treaty System (which comprises not only the Treaty, but also its Protocol on Environmental Protection and the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources).

The APA heard first from Lord Ahmad, the UK’s Minister for the Polar Regions and Jane Rumble, the head of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s Polar Regions Department about the importance of the Antarctic Treaty System. A group of eminent polar scientists and social scientists then discussed the challenges global heating is creating for Antarctica, and what that means for the world, both in terms of the challenges created by associated sea level rise and biodiversity losses, and the urgent demands that places on the world to mitigate further climate change. The pressures on Antarctica created by tourism were also considered, as was the importance of scientific collaboration for maintaining good relations between nations.

On the second day, the discussion turned to what more parliamentarians could do. Following what at times were quite intense negotiations, the APA made history of its own as all 19 of the parliamentarians in attendance agreed and signed a joint statement, which recognised the “global importance of the Antarctic Treaty System” and noted “with concern…the profound effects of climate change on Antarctica’s ecosystems and the potentially catastrophic effects of Antarctic ice loss on global sea level”. Furthermore, the parliamentarians agreed to work towards establishing the APA on a biennial basis, with a view to convening again in the southern hemisphere in 2021. It was the firm hope of those who attended the APA that those countries not represented at the meeting will also have taken notice of what was achieved.

The statement was signed by parliamentarians from: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Ukraine.  

Polar Notes is written by Dr Duncan Depledge and endorsed by
 James Gray MP (Chairman, APPG Polar Regions). 

Please send any comments, queries, or suggestions to info@appgpolarregions.uk. 

This is not an official publication of the House of Commons or the House of Lords. It has not been approved by either House or its committees. The views expressed here are the author’s own and do not represent those of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Polar Regions.