"Global warming has already had enormous effects on our planet, and we have no time to lose in tackling this crisis," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the first-ever joint session of the Arctic Council and the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, which opened its two-week conference today.
In 1959, representatives from 12 countries came together in Washington to sign the Antarctic Treaty, which is sometimes referred to as the first arms control agreement of the Cold War, said Clinton. Today, 47 nations have signed it. "And as a result," she said, "Antarctica is one of the few places on Earth where there has never been war."
Marking the 50th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty, Clinton said, "The genius of the Antarctic Treaty lies in its relevance today. It was written to meet the challenges of an earlier time, but it and its related instruments remain a key tool in our efforts to address an urgent threat of this time, climate change, which has already destabilized communities on every continent, endangered plant and animal species, and jeopardized critical food and water sources."
Clinton pointed out that an ice bridge connecting the Wilkins Ice Shelf to the Antarctic continent broke off over the weekend. The 25-mile-long ice bridge connected the Wilkins Ice Shelf to Charcot and Latardy islands.
"With the collapse of an ice bridge that holds in place the Wilkins Ice Shelf, we are reminded that global warming has already had enormous effects on our planet, and we have no time to lose in tackling this crisis," she said.
At the United Nations annual climate change conference in Copenhagen, nations are expected to finalize an agreement to strictly limit the emission of greenhouse gases responsible for climate change. This agreement will take over when the first commitment period of the current Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012.
Acknowledging the unique scientific importance of the polar regions, both as actors and barometers of these changes, "which are vital to the functioning of the Earth terrestrial, biological, climate, ocean and atmospheric systems," the declaration calls upon government members of both groups to commit themselves to "using science to help inform the cooperative development of measures to address the threats to the polar regions."
The Ministerial Declaration calls upon states, organizations, scientists, and other stakeholders "to continue to engage with young people to cultivate the next generation of polar scientists, and to communicate with the general public to develop an awareness of the importance of polar research for life in all regions of the world."