The Antarctic, One Last Chance To 'Do Right' By Mother Nature

The Antarctic, one of the last, unspoiled parts of the natural world, will, like the Amazon, face man's destructive onslaught unless states take action quickly.

Glaciers in The Antarctica
Mariano Aguas

BUENOS AIRES — Beijing recently hosted the 40th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, a chance for signatory states to agree on how to better protect what may be the last bit of the planet with vast, pristine natural territories. It is no easy task.

The reader may or may not know that Antarctica (and the waters, ice and islands around it, collectively known as The Antarctic) is "governed" in a collaborative fashion through two legal instruments foreseen in the Antarctic Treaty system. Those instruments are based on the fundamental principles of promoting international peace, scientific investigation and environmental protection.

Why is the Antarctic important?

As the last continent on which humanity is casting its interested gaze, Antarctica has an emblematic role one might qualify as a "last chance" for humans to do the right thing in terms of their own survival, the survival of other species and protecting a shared planet.

This stimulus could also mean realizing what seemed utopian for so long, namely for humans to cooperate around a clearly stated common good, and take responsibility for the survival and welfare of other creatures affected by our actions. This could be one of the most important geo-political challenges of our generation.

On the other hand, as it is difficult to "love" what you do not know, it is crucial for people to know Antarctica as it is, a continent full of complex systems whose balance is yet to be fully understood. Scientific investigations are essential for this, as they give us data on species and places that remain enigmatic to this day.

For this research to develop and yield us its complex fruits, cooperation is fundamental. It's also a cardinal objective of the Antarctic Treaty. The annual consultation cited above, alongside the Conference on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), seek to enhance conservation efforts, establish rational use of resources and stimulate scientific activity through coordination of different national Antarctic programs. This requires top levels of collaboration and diplomacy among the various actors including our country, Argentina.

Returning to the question of the Antarctic's importance, let's review three fundamental facts that are essential for cooperation:

1. The Antarctic plays a key role in regulating the world's climate. It helps maintain the health of surrounding seas and their biodiversity, which affect the lives of so many species not necessarily of this area. That includes humans.

2. Its ice cap represents around 90% of the world's freshwater.

3. Human activities — through climate change, overfishing and pollution of Antarctic seawaters and parts of its landmass — are endangering its delicate system and balance.

Regarding the Antarctic's health, scientists now agree that the seawaters play a central role, whence the common efforts of governments and non-governmental organizations in creating Marine Protected Areas (MPA) in the waters surrounding the Antarctic, like the recently inaugurated Ross Sea.

This is not a perfect world

An MPA is basically a space wherein some or all human activity that could disrupt the natural order is suspended, allowing its waters and species living there to keep their pristine condition.

Argentina, Chile and other Treaty members are studying the feasibility of creating such areas on the Antarctic Peninsula, which would be our contribution to conservation efforts.

Of course, we do not live in a perfect world and we are well aware of both the geopolitical pressures and economic interests that would seek to exploit Antarctic resources. Yet so far, the collaborative and conservationist spirit that has driven the Antarctic Treaty system is working to achieve the best result for the region, and the planet.

Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!