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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Antarctic Treaty; Wilkins ice shelf; climate change

Newsradio with Marius Benson from Washington
7 April 2009

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GLEN BARTHOLOMEW: Speaking of the US, the Environment Minister, Peter Garrett is now in Washington, where he's meeting Obama administration officials, and attending a conference marking the 50th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty.

The visit coincides with the news that a giant slab of the ice shelf, about a quarter of the size of Tasmania, has sheared off from the Antarctic mass.

Peter Garrett joins us from Washington, he's speaking with Marius Benson.

BENSON: Peter Garrett, at the Treaty's 50th anniversary, it looks like the Antarctic itself, the ice mass, is a bit of a dwindling resource.

GARRETT: Well there's no doubt that we did meet in Washington, Marius, with the images of the Wilkins Shelf pretty firmly imprinted on peoples' minds, given how graphic and how big it was, and I think the consensus both from the scientists that spoke, and also from the other nation states there was that the Treaty itself has been a great success, and there's some incredibly good work that's been undertaken.

It's a bit of a model for governance where you've got different countries wanting to work together in an environment where you're placing a high value on natural eco systems and science, and so on, and at the same time, because of those images, the climate change work (a) that's being done there, and (b) the necessity to think carefully about managing those impacts is even more important.

BENSON: The Treaty is viewed as a success, but this meeting itself, is there a specific objective to come out of this meeting, or is it simply words that you're looking for?

GARRETT: No, there will be specific decisions that come out from the meeting. The ministers today reaffirmed the Treaty, recognised that a number of other countries had joined in the Treaty over the last period of time, and that seemed to be very positive. It came at the conclusion of what was described as the International Polar Year, and that's actually a two year period of research that's been undertaken by countries, both in the Arctic and the Antarctic.

But in terms of what is going to come next, officials and scientists will be meeting now for the next two weeks in Baltimore. They'll be looking at a range of issues, threshold issues, that need to be considered by the states, that includes questions about tourism, and tourism's impact on the environment there, future research potentials, and also ways in which we can better organise between countries, logistic operations down there of the Antarctic still, you know, the most remote and inhospitable part of the planet, even though it's incredibly important as a science laboratory.

So looking at ways, particularly when budgets are always going to be an issue for countries, as to how we can better share logistics, will also be discussed.

BENSON: Just on this ice shelf collapse that's been reported in the past 24 hours or so, you said yourself that there's no doubt in your mind that it's due to global warming?

GARRETT: No, there isn't, and we had a presentation by the President's chief scientific adviser, Dr John Holdren, bringing forward some research that has just come through very recently, showing that there's been greater warming than anticipated experienced in the Antarctic. The same goes for the Arctic, the scientists are very clear that that's where you do see at its most pronounced levels warming, and the warming is happening, it's measurable. Scientists have said previously that the ice shelf will be vulnerable to increased warming events, they've happened, and we've seen the results.

BENSON: Those warnings from scientists are nothing new, they've been consistent, but when you look at world action, there doesn't seem to have been anything like the urgency about global warming that has been seen in the case of the economic crisis, where trillions have been found within days.

GARRETT: Well look, Marius, I do know that the most important thing that a number of our nations clearly feel that they need to deal with, is the global financial crisis, and you know, along with others, Australia has enacted in fact earlier than most, pretty significant stimulus packages.

Notwithstanding what I just said though, there was a strong feeling in Washington that whilst the global financial crisis is immediate and pressing, that climate change and what we've seen with the Wilkins Ice Shelf remains far and away the most urgent medium and long term issue, but short term too, that we do face.

BENSON: Okay, I'll leave it there. Peter Garrett, many thanks for joining us from Washington.

GARRETT: Thanks, Marius.

BARTHOLOMEW: The Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, on the road with Marius Benson there, speaking from Washington DC.


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