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Radical Climate Adaptation in Antarctica

Oct 02, 2022

Charles R. Corbett & Edward A. Parson

Volume 49 (2022) - Issue 1

As the climate crisis intensifies, there is growing interest in policies that might supplement emissions reduction and adaptation, such as carbon removal systems and solar radiation modification. One newly prominent class of proposed interventions, which we call “radical adaptation,” would aim to stabilize Antarctic ice sheets, the loss of which threatens significant sea-level rise worldwide. Ice-sheet stabilization does not fit neatly within the conventional taxonomy of climate responses. Like adaptation, it would target the consequences of climate change, not the causes. But it would do so through spatially concentrated, high leverage developments to reduce harms worldwide, rather than by separate actions in thousands of threatened coastal regions. Furthermore, these interventions would have to be researched, assessed, and executed in the unique geopolitical, legal, and administrative context of Antarctica.

This Article examines how radical adaptation might interact with the governance and geopolitics of the Antarctic Treaty System. It argues that early research into ice-sheet stabilization could readily proceed under the present system. Operational deployment would require substantial governance changes, but these may be less extreme than they initially appear and may even benefit Antarctic governance more broadly. Researching and developing ice-sheet stabilization could provide an avenue to sustain the System’s core values of peace, science, and environmental protection, while also strengthening its global legitimacy. The governance challenges under the Antarctic Treaty System are substantial, but they are ultimately surmountable.