Celebrating Antarctica with the SDGs: Antarctica Day 1 December

Celebrating Antarctica with the SDGs: Antarctica Day 1 December

Nov 26, 2018

On 1 December we celebrate Antarctica Day and the signing of the Antarctic Treaty. Why is this day important, I hear you ask? Meryl Batchelder explains the importance of Antarctica and how we can link the day (and Antarctica) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and then use this in your secondary lessons.

To induce a little healthy competition and to really engage pupils I sometime set a team challenge to link their learning to as many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as possible. It’s amazing how many valid, and sometimes entertainingly spurious, links that they can make even at just 11 or 12 years of age.

The task allows them to reflect on their learning and to deepen their understanding of how the Global Goals relate to almost every topic we cover in the curriculum. To undertake the challenge, pupils can have access to their notes or the internet.

Remembering the Antarctic Treaty on Antarctica Day

If you have been teaching about climate change or other sustainability issues you might want to celebrate Antarctica Day on the 1st of December (1). Antarctica Day was inaugurated in 2010 to celebrate the anniversary of the signature of the Antarctic Treaty on the 1st December 1959. It was adopted “with the interests of science and the progress of all mankind.” Antarctica Day is an annual event to build global awareness of this landmark institution, celebrating this milestone of peace in our civilisation with hope and inspiration for future generations. 

So to celebrate Antarctica Day, let’s try a challenge...

How many of the SDGs can we link to Antarctica?

SDG 13: The first one is really obvious. We need Climate Action to address the causes and consequences of global warming. Antarctica lost three trillion tonnes of ice in the past 25 years (2); Antarctic ice plays a vital role in reflecting solar radiation back out of our atmosphere – the less ice we have, the less heat is reflected. Freezing a tray of water and discussing how to keep it frozen for as long as possible will promote an understanding of the need for temperature regulation.

SDG 9 and 11: Ice losses from Antarctica are causing sea levels to rise faster today than at any time in the past 25 years (3). Cities are often cited on coastlines and are most susceptible to rises in sea level. Urban areas such as Osaka, Rio, Shanghai, Miami and London will all be at risk from flooding when the average global temperature reaches 3 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. The need for Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure to adapt is becoming imperative and planners must consider how to develop Sustainable Cities and Communities to prevent loss of life and damage to property.

SDG 12 and SDG 14: Antarctica's resources have been harvested for about 200 years. Levels of exploitation resulted in the severe depletion of fur and elephant seals in the 19th century and whales and finfish in the 20th century. Concerns raised in the mid-1970s that an increase in krill catches in the Southern Ocean could have a serious effect on birds, seals and fish up the food chain led to the adoption of the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) (4). In contrast to other multilateral fisheries conventions, CCAMLR is concerned not only with the regulation of fishing and Sustainable Consumption, but also has a mandate to conserve the ecosystem and protect Life Below Water.

SDG 15: There are no naturally occurring mammals, reptiles or amphibians, although humans have introduced a range of animals deliberately or accidentally (rats, mice, fish, chickens, rabbits, cats, pigs, sheep, cattle, reindeer) to the sub-Antarctic (5), many with deleterious impacts on native species. Further ecological stress and pressure on Life on Land will result from climate change and increasing tourism.

SDG 17: Antarctica is governed internationally through the Antarctic Treaty system (6). SDGs addressing climate, oceans, and terrestrial ecosystems that transcend national borders are among the concerns requiring significant motivation and inspiration on the global level to stimulate national-level actions (7). To protect the oceans and their biological and physical resources, progress has been made in developing voluntary commitments, sustainable fisheries management plans, implementation of international law, and increased coverage of marine protected areas. The mandate of the Antarctic Treaty helps to inspire protection of the global commons in other regions and can be considered as a Partnership for the Goals.

So, we’ve linked seven SDGs to Antarctica and learned a lot about the only permanently uninhabited continent at the same time.

Can you make any further connections between Antarctica and the SDGs? If you send pupils out of the classroom to think of any more links, they will continue to ponder their learning and sustainability for even longer.

Use the SDGs to help young people appreciate they can have a positive impact

The environmental systems on Planet Earth form an intrinsic web and can be difficult for young people to really appreciate the scale of complexity. By encouraging pupils to link different aspects of their learning to the Global Goals, you help them to appreciate the ripple effect that humans can have, whether it is in a positive way or a way that is detrimental.

Celebrating the importance of Antarctica, a continent which most humans are unlikely to ever visit but one which is fundamentally linked to human life, is a great way to raise awareness.



1. https://www.bas.ac.uk/media-post/antarctica-day-1st-december/

2. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-44470208

3. https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2749/ramp-up-in-antarctic-ice-loss-speeds-sea-level-rise/

4. https://www.unenvironment.org/explore-topics/oceans-seas/what-we-do/working-regional-seas/regional-seas-programmes/antarctic

5. https://www.bas.ac.uk/about/antarctica/wildlife/land-animals/

6. https://www.ats.aq/e/ats.htm

7. http://www.sciencediplomacy.org/editorial/2018/sdg-roadmaps