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Keynote address by Barbara Creecy at the Antarctica Season launch and seminar

Cape Town, Western Cape Province, 4 December 2019

Your Excellency, the Ambassador of Norway Astrid Helle
Councillor of Japan, Yasushi Naito
Consul of the Russian Federation, Evgeny Kosenkov
Vice-Consul of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Polyandkiy
Deputy Commissioner of India
Programme Director; Albi Modise
Distinguished Guests;
Delegates from Antarctica partners;
Ladies and Gentlemen;

Let me to start by thanking you for allowing me this brief opportunity to join you at this, the 2019/20 Antarctica Season. Unfortunately, I was unable to be here when you started your important discussions, but I am reliably informed that Mr Mpumi Dweba-Kwetana of the Transnet Port Authority did an excellent job in hosting your arrival and welcoming you all to the City of Cape Town.

Thank you Ambassador Helle for your supportive remarks. We cherish our partnership with Norway who has since 2016 shared in hosting this annual seminar. I am also happy to be able to recognise and appreciate the participation of countries such as Sweden, India, China and Germany this year.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This last Sunday, the 1st of December, we celebrated Antarctica Day – the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Antarctic Treaty by 12 nations that set aside almost 10% of the Earth "forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes... in the interests of all [humanity]." The Antarctic Treaty effectively became the first nuclear-arms non-proliferation agreement and the first instrument to govern all human activities in a region beyond sovereign jurisdictions.

Antarctica Day is not only a celebration of this important event, but serves to highlight how diverse nations can work together peacefully using science as a common language for cooperation and stewardship of this global commons.

Firstly, the unexpected discovery of a hole in the atmospheric ozone layer over the Antarctic that not only revolutionised science, but helped to establish one of the most successful global environmental policies of the twentieth century – the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

Unfortunately, as our global efforts start facilitating the ‘healing’ of the ozone hole, we now face an even greater threat – the global climate crises.

The latest international Panel on Climate Change ‘s Special Report released in September underscores the critical role the frozen parts of the planet play for life on Earth. A total of 670 million people in high mountain regions and 680 million people in low-lying coastal zones depend directly on these systems.

The team of international scientists reiterated the urgent need to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit the scale of ocean and cryosphere changes. By doing this, ecosystems and the people who depend on the oceans and the cryosphere for their livelihoods can be preserved.

Sea levels have risen globally by around 15 cm during the 20th Century and the rate of sea level rise is rapidly increasing. Alarmingly, it has been predicted that ice loss in the West Antarctic will contribute to a 1.4 metre sea level rise by the year 2100.

Research is also showing that ocean warming and changes in ocean chemistry are affecting marine ecosystems and, ultimately, ocean food stocks as marine organisms die off or are depleted.

The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research has warned that the Antarctic Circumpolar Current has warmed faster than the global ocean as a whole. The Southern Ocean is one of the major sinks of atmospheric CO2, but increasing westerly winds have affected the ocean’s ability to absorb CO2 by causing the upwelling of CO2 rich water. This could decrease the biodiversity of the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic seabed, affecting the food chain.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Tomorrow I depart for Madrid to lead our country’s delegation at the 25th United Nations Climate Change Conference. It is therefore completely appropriate that I acknowledge the significant role Antarctica and the Southern Oceans play in the global climate system.

In relation to scientific endeavour and environmental management, Antarctica and Southern Ocean environments are special outdoor laboratories that are used to study and understand natural processes and as such, they provide a barometer against which the rate and effects of climate change and global heating can be measured.

The study of space science and electromagnetic activity provides an important service to humanity by providing early warnings and forecasts of conditions that may have detrimental impacts on infrastructure for communication and navigation systems in the defence, aeronautics, shipping and communication sectors.

Along with our proximity to Antarctica, South Africa’s collaboration with our international partners in the sphere of research and collaboration holds numerous advantages.

First and foremost, South Africa is fully committed to the Antarctic Treaty and sees the peaceful international science-based collaboration that underpins it as a model for how the world must respond to the climate crises. Replicating our global response to the ozone hole, we must pull together as a planet to deal with this existential threat to life as we know it. We simply do not have time for ‘false facts’ and ‘alternative truths’.

With this, South Africa believes that Antarctica should belong to humankind and should never be apportioned to parties that happened to have been able to reach the continent before others. Furthermore, South Africa supports the ban on mining as elaborated in the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty.

Given South Africa’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, the meteorological information we get from our Antarctic and Southern Ocean monitoring stations are, and will increasingly become, fundamental to our climate change early warning systems and resilience building initiatives.

Thus, if we are all agreed on the special nature and role of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean within the global environmental system then we must agree ladies and gentlemen on the importance of prioritising and undertaking joint long-term research to study and monitor trends and changes in species and ecosystems to inform management. This approach is multifaceted and includes different policies and research.

The development of goal-orientated marine management practices and methods, and undertaking research to understand the impact of human activities in Antarctica to inform management interventions are just two areas of research that can be furthered through collaboration between South Africa and our partner countries. Similarly, advanced cooperation and synergy between partner countries can open avenues for enhanced governance for Antarctic and Southern Ocean management, as well as further support for the establishment of specially managed and protected areas.

To support these initiatives, we will need to enhance public awareness and interest in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean in order for their importance to be recognised and appreciated by national and international scientists, policy makers and the general public. From South Africa’s side, our public awareness programmes and initiatives should include the establishment of an Antarctic Centre and Precinct and strengthening of the Antarctic outreach programme.

Facilitating the mainstreaming of Antarctic Education and Research Programmes in higher education institutions is an important component of strengthening their research capacities. The purpose of these programmes is to conscientise young people on the importance of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean, and further to encourage their interest in science. We hope in future, this will lead some to contribute to programmes advancing our understanding of the Antarctic. Exciting opportunities for promising individuals can be created through student exchanges with partner’s countries, thus deepening our mutual research interests and objectives.

As the only African country actively involved in researching and protecting the Southern Ocean and Antarctica, I would like to see South Africa’s geographic and strategic advantages optimised to advance world class scientific research that is responsive to relevant national, regional, continental and global strategic imperatives.

This can be done by strengthening forward-looking scientific marine and terrestrial research that is directed at national and regional priorities and adopting multi-disciplinary and integrated approaches aimed at generating projections and predictions. Other forward-looking research areas include advancing our fundamental understanding of Antarctic ecosystem processes, and focussing on living marine resource use to optimise sustainable utilisation and fisheries management.

In order to further grow our cooperation and the exchange of scientific and research expertise, the scope of research concerned with the Antarctic and Southern Ocean must extend beyond traditional sectors to include applied and emerging sectors. 

We must also optimise support for science and logistics gateway services for all countries active in Antarctica. Equally important is the building of strong cooperative relationships with relevant departments and institutions in advancing co-ordinated governance for Antarctic and Southern Ocean research activities.

Finally, we need to plan, provide and maintain infrastructure for operations in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean to ensure that it remains safe and fit for purpose.

In closing, I would like to briefly touch on a less high-level issue. Despite the positive impacts our Antarctic research and meteorology has, and will increasingly have, on building and maintaining our climate change resilience, we must also acknowledge the embarrassing carbon footprint of these programmes themselves.

In this regard I want to share with you exciting work the South African National Antarctic Programme (SANAP) Energy Working Group is undertaking.  Dedicated and enthusiastic representatives of the departments of Higher Education, Science and Technology and Public Works and Infrastructure, together with our own department are exploring ways to reduce the carbon footprint of our polar supply and research trip, the SA Agulhas II, during research expeditions. I am hoping that, as with all of our Antarctic research endeavours, our international will help us with this challenge.

I believe that there is immense scope for scientific and technological collaboration that may lead to ground-breaking innovations with broad application. Given the harsh, unforgiving Antarctic environment, there is probably no better product testing facility in the world.

With this, I would like to wish you all the continued success of this Antarctica Season Launch and Seminar. It is my hope that this engagement will not only continue to strengthen collaboration between institutions and countries, but will also serve as a springboard for future research and exploration in Antarctica.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish you well in your deliberations.

Thank you.


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