Ministerial-On-Ice

  • Simon Upton
Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade

New Zealand will host a meeting of Antarctic Ministers on the ice continent from 24-28 January 1999, the Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Hon Simon Upton, announced today.

The invitation has been extended to Ministers from all twenty-six other Consultative Parties to the Antarctic Treaty. Mr Upton, who will host and escort the group, said, "I hope that Ministers from most Consultative Parties will be able to attend. The Ministerial-on-ice will lend direction and impetus to the Antarctic Treaty System".

"In forty years there has been no ministerial meeting of the Treaty parties. The business has always been handled by officials. That has worked well up to now. But with new pressures on the Treaty and increasing scientific and tourist traffic to the continent, officials are going to need political direction and encouragement if the Treaty System is to cope with the twenty-first century's demands.

While the meeting is designed to be a fact-finding one, Mr Upton said he hoped the ice visit would provide some political momentum to the work of officials at future annual Consultative Meetings of Treaty Parties. Future work facing the Treaty Parties includes the agenda of the new Committee for Environmental Protection and the development of a Liability Annex to the Protocol.

The Ministers will be based at Scott Base and McMurdo Station. The visit will put the spotlight on the Ross Sea Region and New Zealand's role as a leading gateway to the continent.

MINISTERIAL-ON-ICE BACKGROUNDER

I-Visit Outline

In May 1997 the Prime Minister, Rt Hon Jim Bolger, announced at the XXIst Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Christchurch that New Zealand hoped to offer Ministers from Antarctic Treaty countries an opportunity to visit Antarctica. The aim of the visit would be to see at first hand the extraordinary importance of the continent and the success of the Antarctic Treaty System.

Since then, preparations for the so-called "Ministerial-on-ice" have been proceeding. Space constraints have made it necessary to limit invitations to a Minister and senior official from each of the twenty-seven Consultative Parties (inner or "voting" members of the Antarctic Treaty). Invitations were formally extended by the Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon Simon Upton, to counterpart Ministers in the 26 other ATCPs in May.

The dates of the Ministerial-on-ice are 24-28 January 1999. Ministers and accompanying officials will assemble in Christchurch in time for briefing and kitting out with Antarctic gear on Sunday 24 January 1999. The ice section of the visit will be from Monday 25 to Thursday 28 January. Weather and operational conditions may necessitate some adjustment to these dates.

The visitors will be hosted and escorted by the Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Hon Simon Upton.

The United States and Italian Antarctic programmes will be assisting with some of the arrangements for the visit in the spirit of international partnership that marks the collaboration of the programmes with the New Zealand programme on the ice.

Transport to Antarctica will be in an RNZAF C130 (Hercules) aircraft. Flying time from Christchurch will be approximately 8 1/2 hours.

Transport on the ice will be provided by land transport vehicles of the New Zealand and United States programmes. Air transport will be provided by helicopters of the New Zealand and United States Antarctic Programmes.

A party of approximately 60 persons is envisaged. Participants will be allocated accommodation either at Scott Base or McMurdo Station. For activities on the ice, the party will be divided into smaller groups. The groups will be rotated through activities in the vicinity of Ross Island (where New Zealand's Scott Base and the United States' McMurdo Station are located) that will be designed to highlight the areas outlined in Section II below.

For a limited number of participants it is hoped that a day-long visit can be arranged to the Italian research station at Terra Nova.

The visit and all activities will undergo a prior Environmental Impact Assessment process in accordance with the provisions of the Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty.

II-Aim/Goals/Policy/Substance

The overall aim of the programme on the ice is to give participants an understanding of the global importance of Antarctica and of the significance of the achievements of the Antarctic Treaty System on the eve of the new millennium.

This will be achieved through site visits and through specialist briefings and presentations. There will be opportunities for participants to experience the unique qualities of Antarctica. Safety considerations will be paramount in all activities on the ice. Adjustments to activities may be made at late notice for operational and weather reasons.

Briefings and presentations will take place at Christchurch (during pre-visit preparations on Sunday 24 January) and in Antarctica. These will support and supplement activities to reflect the three focus areas of the visit:

1. Peace and security - the visit will reflect the success of the Antarctic Treaty over the past forty years. It will also look forward to the new millennium.

The visit will also acknowledge the importance of the XXIIIrd Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, to be hosted by Peru in May 1999.

2. Science - the scientific importance and significance of Antarctica will be emphasised through scientific presentations and field visits. The critical focus will be on the climate/biosphere role of Antarctica and its surrounding ocean. This will include:

- ozone depletion
- paleoclimate/global warming/climate change (Cape Roberts Project)
- the Southern Ocean: how Antarctica controls the world's climate (ice formation, bottom water formation); ocean currents;
- marine resources
- geology
- biology - including the origins of life on earth; marine biology; dependent and associated ecosystems

The visit will also demonstrate international scientific collaboration on the ice, through acquaintance with the science, operations and logistics of the New Zealand, United States and Italian Antarctic programmes.

3. The environment - Ministers will have opportunities to experience the vastness of Antarctica through visits (including to the Dry Valleys and ice edge).

Visits to the Ross Island historic huts and sites (at Hut Point, Cape Royds and Cape Evans) from which much of the early exploration of the Antarctic continent was undertaken will be included in the itinerary. Participants will be briefed on the practicalities of environmental management under the Environmental Protocol - Environmental Impact Assessment, protected area management, including historic site management, and visitor management. Topical issues for the Treaty System,
including response to increasing human impacts through state-of-the-environment reporting and the protected area management system, and Antarctic fisheries may be touched upon.