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

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ opening remarks at the press encounter on climate, in New York today:

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 3°C 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 [twenty-eighth United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change], 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°C, 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°C 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.

For information media. Not an official record.