Antarctica shaping up as 21st century geopolitical hotspot The locale of one of today’s greatest real estate development grabs might surprise you. It’s not Dubai, Las Vegas, or Shanghai, but the frozen continent that rests at the end of the world. Writing in The New York Times in late December 2015, Simon Romero describes increased activity from various global players, including Russia building its first Orthodox church (with logs imported from Siberia), China’s plans to operate five bases (complete with indoor badminton court in its Great Wall Station), and India’s spaceship-looking Bharathi base, built on stilts and interlocking shipping containers. “An array of countries is rushing to assert greater influence here,” Romero writes, “with an eye not just toward the day those protective treaties expire, but also for the strategic and commercial opportunities that exist right now.” Why the race to the bottom? “The newest players are stepping into what they view as a treasure house of resources,” University of Canterbury School of Social and Political Sciences Professor Anne-Marie Brady told the Times. A treaty banning mining in Antarctica—which shields coveted reserves of iron ore, coal, and chromium—is expected to come up for review by 2048 and the continent’s mineral, oil, and gas deposits are all highly prized. The Times article details how researchers recently found deposits that hint at the existence of diamonds in the region and geologists estimate the area holds at least 36 billion barrels of oil and natural gas. Rather than the desolate, monolithic icescape of popular imagination, Antarctica is shaping up to be a 21st century geopolitical hotspot. Professor Brady is perhaps the world’s foremost scholar at navigating Antarctica politics. Editor of The Emerging Politics of Antarctica (2012, Routledge Advances in International Relations and Global Politics), a volume that examines the post-Cold War challenges facing the continent’s governance, Professor Brady specializes in subject matter related to the power and influence of China, New Zealand’s largest trading partner and the nation that arguably has the fastest-growing operations in Antarctica. Prof. Brady has published groundbreaking research in the field, covering China’s modern propaganda system and the nation’s relationships with Antarctica and the Pacific, as well as major revisionist histories of the Long March and of New Zealand’s national icon, Rewi Alley.
AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, France and India launched an international alliance to deliver solar energy to some of the planet’s poorest. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the initiative. NARENDRA MODI: One must turn to sun to power the future. As developing world leaps billions of people into prosperity, our hope for a sustainable planet rests on a bold global initiative. It will mean advanced countries living in a carbon space for developing countries to grow. It will create unlimited economic opportunities that will be the foundation of the new economy of the century. This is an alliance that brings together developed and developing countries. AMY GOODMAN: While India is pushing solar energy, it’s also heavily promoting coal power. India is expected to open a new coal plant every single month until 2020 as the country plans to double its coal production. Chinese President Xi Jinping called on the world’s wealthiest nations to help the developing world adapt to a changing climate.
This is an important example of the way the “keep it in the ground” discourse has been captured by the oil industry and reframed as carbon capture – burying the carbon in the ground. Not only is this anything but the safe alternative promoted here, but also, and importantly, putting a price on carbon thus becomes an impetus to develop carbon capture infrastructure which in turn will enable oil mining to continue as usual.
“….But he also approved of fossil fuel divestment, a fast-growing and UN-backed campaign to persuade investors to dump their stocks, on the basis that current reserves of coal, oil and gas are already several times greater than could be safely burned. The Guardian’s Keep it in the Ground campaign is highlighting the divestment argument and calling on the world’s two largest medical charities – the Bill and Melinda Gates Foudnation and Wellcome Trust – to divest their endowments from fossil fuels.
“Divestment is a rational approach,” Moody-Stuart said, speaking at a dinner in London organised by Carbon Trust, which provides advice to businesses on reducing emissions. “If you think your money can be used somewhere else, you should switch it. Selective divestment or portfolio-switching is actually what investors should be doing.” He pointed out that all the major oil and gas companies divested their considerable coal operations in the 1990s. “It was a perfectly rational decision.”
Moody-Stuart condemned the lack of industry progress in addressing climate change. “I find it quite distressing that 18 years after major oil companies, such as BP and Shell, acknowledged the threat of climate change, and the need for precautionary action, and began to put in place modest steps to address it, that the world in general and the industry has made remarkably little progress,” he said.
Moody-Stuart added: “There are two realities acknowledged by most businesses. The first is the needs that have to be met today [but] business leaders also recognise there will at some point be radical change, and industries will be completely transformed. The gap between how we get from one to the other hasn’t really closed.”
The oil and gas majors should be developing carbon capture and storage (CCS) quickly, Moody-Stuart said. “The industry has a real role to play in CCS. We can do it and it can be perfectly safe. it is not rocket science.”
He said a key problem was the vast infrastructure needed for CCS, on the same scale as the existing oil business. “CCS has the potential to have a major impact but I worry because of the scale and we haven’t made much progress with it.”
The World Bank will invest heavily in clean energy and only fund coal projects in “circumstances of extreme need” because climate change will undermine efforts to eliminate extreme poverty, says its president Jim Yong Kim.
Talking ahead of a UN climate summit in Peru next month, Kim said he was alarmed by World Bank-commissioned research from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, which said that as a result of past greenhouse gas emissions the world is condemned to unprecedented weather events.
“The findings are alarming. As the planet warms further, heatwaves and other weather extremes, which today we call once-in-a-century events, would become the new climate normal, a frightening world of increased risk and instability. The consequences for development would be severe, as crop yields decline, water resources shift, communicable diseases move into new geographical ranges, and sea levels rise,” he said.