Die Antarktis - Kontinent, Ozean und Laboratorium des Anthropozäns

January 30, 2024 | 18:15-19:45 | Lecture Hall III, Main Building University of Bonn

Far away and almost uninhabited, but increasingly important in international politics: Antarctica. Antarctica is not just ice, but a land mass covered by ice: it is the southernmost continent in the world. And this very continent is not only an indispensable building block in the fight against climate change. What's more, due to its suspected reserves of raw materials, the former "no man's land" has the potential to develop into a geopolitical arena in the medium and long term.
This is because the imminent melting of the ice as a result of climate change is already awakening new desires due to the suspected raw materials. However, the types of mineral resources, as well as their quality and quantity, have so far only been the subject of conjecture rather than reliable calculations. One reason for this is the icing of the continent and another is the ban on the extraction of raw materials under the Antarctic Treaty. Nevertheless, Antarctica is increasingly becoming the focus of global political players in the 21st century. The reason: unlike the Arctic Council, Antarctica is not a closed club: every state that operates a research station in Antarctica has the right to vote in the Antarctic Council. This enables broader participation. The three players that stand out due to their involvement in Antarctica are the USA, China and Russia. 
China in particular is strengthening its involvement in the Antarctic: the country has four research stations and a fifth is currently under construction. The majority of Chinese activities take place in the East Antarctic sector, where most of the research stations are located. This area is strategically relevant, as many resources such as iron ore are suspected. It is striking that the Chinese stations form a kind of corridor from the South Pole to the coast of East Antarctica. The People's Republic is repeatedly criticized for its lack of transparency in reporting on its Antarctic activities. For example, the country conceals the use of its military for supposedly scientific projects and allegedly violates international law. The country also uses many satellites that could potentially be of great use to the military as well as for civilian purposes. Economically, Antarctica is lucrative for China due to the krill fishery and the suspected mineral resources. China is interested in investing in the port city of Ushuaia and is enticing highly indebted Argentina with supposedly lucrative offers. The People's Republic needs such ports as a logistical gateway to realize its ambitions in Antarctica. Antarctica is an important building block for China in its quest to become a world power by 2049 - and not least in its competition with the West. The sixth continent is also still an example of peace today - thanks in part to the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, which is considered the first arms control treaty from the period after the Second World War. However, the time of the peacemaking Antarctic Treaty system could be coming to an end. Germany and Europe should be prepared for this and preserve Antarctica as a common good of the global community and a symbol of stability and sustainability.
This also includes working to preserve the unique natural environment of Antarctica. After all, the effects of climate change will have economic and security policy consequences in Antarctica. In addition, the diversity of the more than 8,000 animal species in the Antarctic is already under threat. Krill are of particular importance: without them, the entire Antarctic ecosystem would be in danger. Over the past 40 years, the krill population has declined by 70 to 80 percent. This is partly due to the loss of sea ice, which leads to acidification of the ocean. On the other hand, overfishing in the Antarctic is causing fish stocks to shrink. This is not least a result of organized and sometimes illegal fishing, for example by Chinese trawlers.



Inga von der Stein,

Editor and political scientist, Berlin


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