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Wednesday, January 27, 1999 Published at 22:55 GMT


Summit-on-ice saves Antarctic

Peru's minister for foreign affairs looks at Ross Ice Shelf

An international conference held for the first time in Antarctica has pledged to ensure that the frozen continent remains the world's last great wilderness.

The BBC's Richard Wilson: "Antarctica is changing and humanity is to blame"
Ministers from 24 governments took part in the 'Ministerial-on-ice' at the invitation of New Zealand, which is keen to highlight the threats posed by global warming, pollution and illegal fishing.

The continent's attraction as a tourist destination has also sparked concern over the growing numbers of cruise ships arriving at its shores.

In 1998, 10,000 tourists travelled to Antarctica and there have been warnings that its fragile ecosystem will be unable to sustain such numbers.

[ image: Visiting ministers were given a guided tour]
Visiting ministers were given a guided tour
All 24 countries are signatories to the Antarctic Treaty, designed to keep the continent free of military activity and commercial exploitation. But New Zealand Antarctic Minister Simon Upton warned that the treaty was hard to enforce in the world's only region without any countries or governments.

The BBC environment correspondent at the conference says the meeting is the start of a campaign to inject a sense of political urgency into protecting Antarctica.

BBC Environment correspondent Richard Wilson: "Antarctica has a freezingly hostile climate"
Environmental campaigners have urged the ministers to take concrete steps to help minimise the impact of global warming on the continent's environment, as well as carrying out their exercise in winning hearts and minds.

Scientists warned the assembled politicians that after 6,000 years of relative stability, the entire Western Antarctic Ice Sheet could be on the point of melting, causing a disastrous rise in sea-levels around the world within less than a century.

"It will be too late to do anything about it when we know for certain," said Dr Peter Barrett of Wellington's Victoria University after the meeting.

"We might be at that point now."

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