New Zealand leader Ardern makes rare trip to Antarctica

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern looked stunned Thursday as she stood in explorer Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic cabin.

“I think when you’re a kid and you read stories about Shackleton, you would never imagine you would have the opportunity to come. So I feel pretty lucky,” she said from inside the hut which was built over a century ago. “It’s a cool place.”

Ardern is making a rare visit by a world leader to Antarctica this week, to see first-hand ongoing research into global warming and to mark the 65th anniversary of New Zealand’s Scott Base, which will be demolished in a few years to make way for a rebuild.

Ardern’s visit comes as delegations from 26 countries and the European Union meet in Australia to decide the future of Antarctica’s pristine waters.

Environmentalists say new marine protected areas and rules to prevent overfishing in Antarctica are desperately needed, but Russia could use its veto powers to block progress again.

Last year, Russia rejected toothfish catch limits proposed by commission scientists, and the United States this year says Russia and China have blocked progress on creating new marine protected areas, although the United States aims to work towards a resolution with China. The motivation of Russia, which did not respond to requests for comment this week, remains unclear.

Ardern’s journey highlighted some of the challenges of visiting the frozen continent. Her first flight in a military cargo plane was canceled after about two hours on Tuesday due to high winds and deteriorating weather, making her part of what is informally known as the “boomerang club”.

She traveled to Antarctica the next day, accompanied by a single reporter whose photos and videos can take several hours to transmit overnight due to low internet capacity. She has to go home on Saturday.

Ardern said Antarctic scientists and crew have noticed the effects of global warming over the past five years, including observing sea ice cracking and shifting, and changing glaciers and icebergs.

She said it was important for New Zealand to maintain a leadership role on the continent.

“We’re in a period where internationally you see that certain parts of the world are increasingly being contested, and Antarctica is one of them as well,” Ardern said.

Standing in the hut, Ardern said the Irish-born Shackleton and his British expedition tried to reach the South Pole, but he was best remembered for his extraordinary leadership and for saving the lives of his men. She said she didn’t exactly draw a parallel with her own leadership.

“I don’t think I can quite compare government with the hardship and endurance of Antarctic exploration,” she said, adding with a laugh, “But some days.”

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