Melting of Antarctica Sea Ice Endangers Planet, Lives Worldwide, Secretary-General António Guterres Warns, Stressing Leaders Must Act, Break Cycle in Upcoming Climate Conference

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27 November 2023

I have just returned from Antarctica – the sleeping giant.

A giant being awoken by climate chaos.

Together, Antarctica and Greenland are melting well over three times faster than they were in the early 1990s.

It is profoundly shocking to stand on the ice of Antarctica and hear directly from scientists how fast the ice is disappearing.

New figures show that this September, Antarctic sea ice was 1.5 million square kilometres smaller than the average for the time of year – an area roughly equal to the combined size of Portugal, Spain, France and Germany.

And this year, Antarctic sea ice hit an all-time low.

That matters for us all.

What happens in Antarctica doesn’t stay in Antarctica.

We live in an interconnected world.

Melting sea ice means rising seas. And that directly endangers lives and livelihoods in coastal communities across the globe.

Floods and saltwater intrusion imperil crops and drinking water – threatening food and water security.

Homes are no longer insurable.

Coastal cities and entire small islands risk being lost to the seas.

And vital natural systems are at risk of being disrupted.

The movement of waters around Antarctica distributes heat, nutrients and carbon around the world, helping to regulate our climate and regional weather patterns.

But that system is slowing as the Southern Ocean grows warmer and less dense. Further slowdown – or entire breakdown – would spell catastrophe.

The cause of all this destruction is clear:

The fossil fuel pollution coating the Earth and heating the planet.

Without changing course, we’re heading towards a calamitous three-degree Celsius temperature rise by the end of the century.

Sea surface temperatures are already at record highs.

If we continue as we are, and I strongly hope we will not, the Greenland and West Antarctica ice sheets will cross a deadly tipping point.

This alone would ultimately push up sea levels by around ten meters.

We are trapped in a deadly cycle.

Ice reflects the sun’s rays. As it vanishes, more heat is absorbed into the Earth’s atmosphere.

That means more heating, which means more storms, floods, fires and droughts across the globe. And more melting. Which means, with less ice, even more heating.

At COP28, which starts later this week, leaders must break this cycle.

The solutions are well known.

Leaders must act to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, protect people from climate chaos, and end the fossil fuel age.

We need a global commitment to triple renewables, double energy efficiency, and bring clean power to all, by 2030.

We need a clear and credible commitment to phase out fossil fuels on a timeframe that aligns with the 1.5-degree limit.

And we need climate justice – setting the world up for a huge increase in investment in adaptation and loss and damage to protect people from climate extremes.

Antarctica is crying out for action.

I salute the thousands of researchers – in Antarctica and around the world – expanding our understanding of the changes taking place on the continent.

They are testament to human ingenuity and the immense benefits of international collaboration.

Leaders must not let the hopes of people around the world for a sustainable planet melt away.

They must make COP28 count.

And I thank you.


Spokesperson: Kristen Saloomey, Al Jazeera.

Question: Thank you for this briefing. Couple of questions, if I may. Can you react to allegations that the UAE (United Arab Emirates) has been negotiating carbon fuel deals on the sidelines of COP, and that’s their intention? Are you worried about this undermining it? Also, just if you have any reaction to the ceasefire in Gaza happening. We just heard it was extended another two days. How is the humanitarian relief going, from your perspective? Thank you.

Secretary-General: Well, in relation to the first question, I can’t believe it is true. In relation to the second, I would say it’s a glimpse of hope and humanity in the middle of the darkness of war. And I strongly hope that this will enable us to increase even more the humanitarian aid to the people in Gaza that is suffering so much, knowing that even with that additional amount of time, it will be impossible to satisfy all the dramatic needs of the population in Gaza.

Spokesperson: Michelle Nichols, Reuters.

Question: Thank you, Secretary-General. Just another couple of quick questions on the Middle East conflict. The UN has been pushing for Israel to allow aid deliveries through the Kerem Shalom crossing, as well. Has Israel given you any indication that they might be willing to open that? And then, once a ceasefire is reached and the war stops, you’ve spoken about the need for a reinvigorated Palestinian Authority to run Gaza. What does a reinvigorated Palestinian Authority look like? What does that mean?

Secretary-General: Well, first of all, I’m sincerely hopeful that it will be possible to have other crossings, because they will facilitate the distribution and it will also facilitate the control by the Israeli side. So, I’m very hopeful that this will happen. A Palestinian Authority, hopefully, in the day after, and as I mentioned, we will need to look seriously into how the transition takes place – and obviously, the before has implications on the after, and so it’s still early to know exactly how things will happen – but I believe that we need a Palestinian Authority with the responsibility to rule in Gaza, in the West Bank, and to create the conditions to make sure that the two-state solution moves forward and this time moves forward in a way that is irreversible. And so, obviously, this will naturally lead to a strengthened Palestinian Authority. And I believe the international community should be ready to support it.

Spokesperson: Pam Falk.

Question: Welcome back. It’s Pamela Falk from CBS News. On your trip, renewables are being increased. They’re at the lowest cost they’ve been. The one thing you didn’t say is whether or not it is too late for the Antarctic melting and the ice sheet melting.

Secretary-General: It is not too late. It is clear that if we now take decisions, tripling for 2030, the renewables energy available, and it is possible and it is cheaper than doing anything else. Doubling energy efficiency, because if we do not spend energy, that is the best way to protect the climate. And finally, phasing out fossil fuels with a time frame that is compatible with 1.5 degrees. So if there is political will to take these three decisions, we are perfectly on time to avoid any catastrophe in Antarctica and around the world.

Question: Thank you.

Spokesperson: [inaudible]

Question: Thank you, Ahmed Fathi, ATN News. Mr. Secretary-General, you have always championed the role of the civil society in climate action. How do you intend to discuss with the civil society who are going to be present in Dubai, especially after the last report about UAE engaging in negotiation with 15 nations? And what message do you have for the activists who are going to be on the ground, since you have seen through the previous COPs how passionate they are about the climate action? Thank you.

Secretary-General: Obviously, if there is a defining issue of our times, if there is what we can call the most relevant threat to humankind, it is climate. So to be passionate about climate is to be passionate about humanity. Now, I already had a meeting with key civil society leaders, exactly in preparation of the COP. And I intend to take profit of my presence in the COP to have intense contact with the civil society that will be present in the Blue Zone.

Spokesperson: Thank you very much.

Secretary-General: Thank you.

Spokesperson: Thank you. Merci. Tomorrow – we have another press encounter tomorrow.

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