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G20 commits to protecting the Antarctic

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The Group of 20 (G20) environment leaders have committed to protecting Antarctica’s Southern Ocean from human pressures in order to allay biodiversity loss and bolster humanity’s defences against the climate crisis.

In an official communique issued Thursday (22 July) following a G20 meeting in Naples, the world’s economic superpowers stated for the first time that protecting the Antarctic would be in line with science and in the interests of humankind as a whole. The move follows a series of warnings by leading scientists that climate change is pushing the region towards numerous tipping points with global ramifications.

“This is an unprecedented commitment by the world’s economic leaders to expand protections in the Southern Ocean, which faces grave threats from climate change and other factors,” said Andrea Kavanagh, director of Antarctic and Southern Ocean conservation for The Pew Charitable Trusts. “Establishing a well-managed network of marine protected areas in this fragile polar region would be one of the greatest acts of ocean conservation in history and show that large MPA networks are possible in international waters. This action would also protect areas that are vital to scientific research on climate change and provide the best opportunity for keystone species such as krill to adapt to warming and acidifying waters,” said Andrea Kavanagh, director, Antarctic and Southern Ocean Conservation at The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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Currently, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is discussing three large Antarctic marine protected areas (MPAs) in the East Antarctic, Weddell Sea and Antarctic Peninsula. These would protect almost four million square kilometres - almost 1% - of the ocean and help contribute towards the global target of protecting at least 30% of the ocean by 2030. To date, no consensus has been reached on these MPAs.

“We have an incredible opportunity to provide long-term protection for one of the world’s last great wilderness areas. Adopting these MPAs would give iconic species, such as penguins and seals, safe havens in a changing world. It would also be an effective way to bolster biodiversity and help keep our planet habitable,” said Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC) Executive Director Claire Christian.

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