Climate change champion Kerry to visit Antarctica next week

In a new bid to highlight the threat of climate change, Secretary of State John Kerry will make an unusual official visit to barely populated Antarctica next week. The State Department said Friday that Kerry would travel from Nov. 10 to Nov. 12 to the McMurdo research station on Antarctica’s Ross Island and the South Pole. Kerry will be the first secretary of state and highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Antarctica.

He hopes to draw attention to the decline in polar ice and its impact on sea levels, although most of the world will likely still be fixated on the results of Tuesday’s presidential election.

Kerry has made climate change a priority as America’s top diplomat. He led the U.S. delegation to the final negotiations over last year’s Paris climate change agreement, has attended numerous conferences on limiting greenhouse gas and carbon emissions and traveled to the Arctic Circle this spring while visiting Denmark and Greenland. However, unlike Denmark and Greenland, which have large permanent human populations, governments, politicians and specific foreign policy positions, Antarctica is home to 1,000 people in the winter with a summer surge to 4,500 scientists and support staff, has no resident politicians and is ungoverned in the traditional sense.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said the timing of Kerry’s trip was dictated by weather conditions and accessibility to the world’s southern-most continent and not the contentious 2016 election. He said Kerry had already cast his ballot.

Kirby said Kerry did not plan any personal interaction with the millions of penguins that live in the Antarctic, but would be meeting with scientists and researchers who are studying the Earth’s extreme south and the impact of climate change in the region. Kerry will also have the chance to fly over the world’s largest marine protected area, which was declared in the Ross Sea last week by the European Union and 24 nations that have decision-making power in the Antarctic.

In addition to the McMurdo facility, Kerry will visit the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, another U.S. base that is run by the federally funded National Science Foundation. State Department officials said Kerry’s travel to and from Antarctic would be on regularly scheduled foundation flights from its base in Christchurch, New Zealand.

His Antarctic stop comes at the start of an environmentally heavy round-the-world journey that will also take Kerry to New Zealand’s capital of Wellington, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, a global climate conference in Morocco and Peru, where he will join President Barack Obama at an Asia-Pacific economic summit.