UN chief visits Antarctica ahead of Cop28 climate talks

UN chief visits Antarctica ahead of Cop28 climate talks
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres stands outside a Chilean air force base in King George Island, Antarctica (Jorge Saenz/AP/PA)

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres has warned of the need for climate action as he visited Antarctica ahead of the Cop28 talks.

“We are witnessing an acceleration that is absolutely devastating,” Mr 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.

Mr Guterres is on a three-day official visit to Antarctica and Chile’s President Gabriel Boric joined him on an official visit to Chile´s Eduardo Frei Air Force Base at King George Island on the continent.

Chilean President Gabriel Boric (left) and UN general-secretary Antonio Guterres chat before taking a flight to Antarctica (Jorge Saenz/AP/PA)

The UN chief was also scheduled to visit the Collins and Nelson glaciers by boat.

He said that Cop28 – which begins on November 30 in Dubai – is an opportunity for nations to “decide the phase-out of fossil fuels in an adequate timeframe” in order to prevent the world from rising 1.5C (2.7F) above pre-industrial temperatures.

Mr Guterres said it also creates the opportunity for countries to commit to more renewable energy projects and improve energy efficiency of existing grids and technologies.

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.

Papua penguins walk at a Chilean military base in Antarctica (Jorge Saenz/AP/PA)

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 the ice sheet will now experience “unavoidable” melting regardless of how much the world reduces emissions of planet-warming gases like carbon dioxide.

Lead study author Kaitlin Naughten estimated that melting ice in Antarctica’s most at-risk areas could raise global sea levels by about 1.8 metres (5.9ft) 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.

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