Statement by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Chile, Heraldo Muñoz at the Opening Ceremony of the XXXIX Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting
Firstly, I would like to welcome the members of the international Antarctic community to the 39th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting and 19th Meeting of Committee for Environmental Protection.
These meetings take place exactly 50 years after the last regular Consultative Meeting held in Santiago – in 1966 – and 55 years after the entry into force of the Antarctic Treaty. In just over half a century, the Antarctic Treaty System has become a successful model of international collaboration to protect this continent of disputes and conflicts present in other regions of our planet. This is a legacy that we must value and protect, avoiding any differences that may negatively affect the work of this multilateral forum.
This international regime has evolved considerably since its creation. Every step we have taken, whether in the conservation of marine and terrestrial resources, or through the establishment of instruments for environmental protection, we have done it creatively and moved by the collective belief that the purposes and principles of the Antarctic Treaty System have extraordinary value and deserve to be protected.
I wish to take this opportunity to share with you some brief reflections that we, as Chileans, have embraced and that I believe may be of interest in the deliberations that will take place over the next eight days of the meeting.
Effective international cooperation at the current major challenges
International collaboration in the Antarctic continent, particularly in the scientific field, has a long history dating back long before the Antarctic Treaty. This treaty legally formalized what was already a practice, being the best example the International Geophysical Year 1957-1958. Since the entry into force of the Treaty, a framework was established to exchange scientific information. The Declaration on Antarctic cooperation on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the entry into force of the Antarctic Treaty in 2011, was a clear and recent manifestation of the will of the Parties to further develop this cooperation.
But the challenges, as well as the number of acceding countries and Consultative Parties to the Treaty, have grown, and we believe that the interaction among us is still insufficient. There is a large concentration of scientific stations in the Antarctic Peninsula area, but this installed capacity is underused and coordination among our national programs is still partial. We believe necessary that the Parties seek ways to encourage greater cooperation in science as well as in the use of existing logistics.
Undoubtedly, greater coordination could bring significant benefits: increasing the number of scientific projects through the reduction of operational costs of national programs; improving synergy among various research projects and also reducing the human footprint on the continent, ultimately avoiding the construction of new facilities.
In this sense, Chile is undertaking enormous efforts to support development of science in Western Antarctica. One of the iconic projects of our national program is the construction of the International Antarctic Center in the city of Punta Arenas. With an investment close to 40 million dollars, it will have offices, labs and logistic facilities, in just a two-hour flight from the Antarctic continent.
Soon, an international tender process will be launched and we expect to have it fully functional by 2019. This project not only aims to provide an infrastructure of excellence to the national scientific community. We also want to open these facilities to our international partners, making the most of the privileged geographic position of our country and its proximity to the White Continent.
To this we add the important efforts of our country to provide support to the logistics platform we have in the Antarctic Peninsula, as well as the 21 National Antarctic Programs that during the last season came through Punta Arenas. Our logistics is an effective collaboration with the international Antarctic community.
We also recognize that Antarctica is a privileged place to observe various phenomena of interest and global concern, such as climate change. The Antarctic Peninsula has registered an increase of 3 Celsius degrees in its temperature in the last 50 years. It may seem slight, but it is 5 times the average for the planet. The changes steaming from the greenhouse effect we see in this region have a direct effect on Chile´s continental climate and the climate in the rest of the world, so to study it is vital for the planet.
No country on its own can effectively study these phenomena that are of global significance and impact us all. Strong international cooperation is necessary and Chile is prepared to contribute with its scientific platform for this purpose.
A clean, but useful Antarctica
A second important point is the conservation and protection of both terrestrial and marine Antarctic ecosystems, which are and will continue being a priority to Chile. Our country was particularly active in the negotiation of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, signed in Madrid in 1991. It is no coincidence that our National Antarctic Policy – the document that sets out the guidelines for our work in Antarctica -, was drafted only one year after the Protocol’s entry into force. At that time the need to adapt our work to the evolution of the Antarctic Treaty System was included in our national priorities.
It has been 16 since the adoption of our National Antarctic Policy, and the Antarctic Treaty System has continued to evolve. For this reason, the main national body for Antarctic affairs, the Antarctic Policy Council, which I have the honor to preside, adopted a mandate to update this national policy. This new policy strengths the aspects of environmental protection taking into account developments in this area since the entry into force of the Protocol on Environmental Protection. This updating process must be concluded by the end of this year.
This decision is the result of a detailed analysis of the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities provided by the Chilean work in Antarctica. From this analysis we present the document “Chile in Antarctica: Strategic Vision towards 2035” that lays out more than 100 action proposals seeking to strengthen our position as a country with polar projection. Environmental issues have a special place in that strategy.
Regarding environmental protection, climate change and ocean acidification, we must be proactive and creative. One of Chile’s priorities for the Southern Ocean is to establish a representative system of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) around the Antarctic Continent. To this end our country is working, together with Argentina, on a proposal for MPA for the Antarctic Peninsula and the south of the Scotia Sea. Chile also support two proposals for MPA that are currently being discussed by the Comission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources: one submitted by the United States and New Zealand for Ross Sea area, and another led by Australia, the European Union and France for the Eastern Antarctic region. We also support the process led by Germany to create a proposal for AMP in the Weddell Sea region.
Our national Antarctic policy can be summarized in the following motto, coined by Ambassador Oscar Pinochet de la Barra when he was Head of the Chilean Antarctic Institute: “A clean, but useful Antarctica.” Environmental protection and conservation must go hand by hand with activities beneficial for mankind. It’s not easy to straight this balance but we should unflaggingly straight to achieve it.
When we talk of cooperation for the great challenges that our planet is facing and the need to minimize the impact of man on Antarctic ecosystems, we are setting the agenda for the future. However, we must remember that our countries are also united by a long shared history, rich in achievements, where due to the inclement weather and geography, it was required the best of man to conquer these cold and distant lands.
An example that we remember today was the brave feat when Chile, headed by pilot Luis Pardo, rescued the crew of the Endurance Expedition, exactly 100 years ago. We want to offer you a new exhibition at this venue, which is the result of the work undertaken jointly by the Department of Libraries, Archives and Museums (DIBAM), the National Maritime Museum, the Chilean Navy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. You can follow day by day the development of this expedition, conducted in 1916 in conditions that nowadays are difficult to imagine.
Remembering our common history is important. For that reason we must devote our attention to preserve historical sites in Antarctica. We are glad that this year a joint proposal among the United Kingdom, Chile and the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) will establish new guidelines for visitors to Point Wild on Elephant Island, where the Endurance sank. Proposals such as these seek to care for places of historical importance. It is also in this context that we value the information provided this year by France regarding the reinstatement of a plaque commemorating the journey of Pourquoi Pas on Petermann Island. These measures, with a strong historical content, are relevant in the context of mankind’s presence on the Antarctic Continent.
Next Monday we will meet again to celebrate the 25th years of the signing of the Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty on Environmental Protection. That occasion will be appropriate to refer more extensively about this international instrument, whose negotiations began here in Chile at two Special Meetings of the Treaty, in November and December 1990, in Viña del Mar. We are pleased to celebrate this important anniversary in our country.
For this reason, next Monday we will have a Special Working Group of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in the form of a Symposium. It will take stock of what has been achieved since the entry into force of this Protocol and will analyze the current and future environmental challenges to the Antarctic continent.
I wish you every success in your deliberations and work, as well as a fruitful and pleasant stay in our country.
Thank you very much.