A rapidly melting Antarctica gets the attention of UN chief ahead of COP28 climate talks

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stands outside the Chilean Eduardo Frei Air Force Base in King George Island, Antarctica, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023. Guterres' visit to Antarctica comes days before nations converge in Dubai for COP28 to address climate change. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)


KING GEORGE ISLAND, Antarctica (AP) — On the cusp of the COP28 climate talks, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited frozen but rapidly melting Antarctica and said Thursday that intense action must be taken at the conference where countries will address their commitments to lowering emissions of planet-warming gases.

“We are witnessing an acceleration that is absolutely devastating,” Guterres said about the rate of ice melt in Antarctica, which is considered to be a “sleeping giant.”

“The Antarctic is waking up, and the world must wake up,” he added.

Guterres is on a three-day official visit to Antarctica. Chilean President Gabriel Boric joined him for an official visit to Chile´s Eduardo Frei Air Force Base on King George Island.

Guterres also was scheduled to visit the Collins and Nelson glaciers by boat.

He described the U.N. climate change conference that begins in Dubai next week as an opportunity for nations to “decide the phase-out of fossil fuels in an adequate time frame” to prevent the world from warming 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial temperatures.

Guterres said the COP28 conference also gives nations the chance to commit to more renewable energy projects and to improve energy efficiency of existing grids and technologies.

The U.N. chief also said he thinks that Sultan al-Jaber, the president of the upcoming climate talks and head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, has a “bigger responsibility” to encourage the fossil fuel industry to make more clean energy investments because of his ties to the sector.

“He needs to be able to explain to all those that are responsible in the fossil fuel industry, and especially to the oil and gas industry that is making obscene profits all over the world, that this is the moment to use those profits instead of doubling down on fossil fuels,” Guterres said.

Warming air and ocean temperatures are causing Antarctic ice to melt. The frozen continent plays a significant role in regulating Earth’s climate because it reflects sunlight away and drives major ocean currents.

For years, scientists and environmentalists have kept an eye on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet as an important indicator of global warming. A study published in Nature Climate Change last month said warming has increased to the point that the ice sheet will now experience “unavoidable” melting regardless of how much the world reduces emissions of planet-warming gases like carbon dioxide.

The study’s lead author, Kaitlin Naughten, estimated that melting ice in Antarctica’s most at-risk areas could raise global sea levels by about 1.8 meters (5.9 feet) over the next few centuries.

Another study published in Science Advances, also last month, reported that nearly 50 Antarctic ice shelves have shrunk by at least 30% since 1997 and 28 of those have lost more than half their ice in that short period of time.


O’Malley reported from Philadelphia.


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