Milei in Antarctica: fighting plastic pollution | Polarjournal
Argentine President Javier Milei made his first official visit to Antarctica, landing at the Argentine scientific base of Marambio, located on Seymour Island in the Weddell Sea. Alongside the President was IAEA Director Rafael Grossi and his NUTEC Plastics project. Image: Presidencia

On his first official visit to Antarctica, Argentina’s new president was accompanied by Rafael Grossi, Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to launch a new project to fight microplastic pollution.

Barely a month after his inauguration as President of Argentina, Javier Milei made his first visit to the Antarctic continent. The delegation, comprising Javier Milei, Presidential Secretary Karina Milei, the Director of the IAEA, as well as the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, the Interior and the Defense, first landed at the Argentinean base of Marambio on Saturday, before moving on to the Esperanza station.

Rafael Grossi, director of the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA since 2019, had met the Argentine president the previous week to present the NUTEC Plastics project, which has since been incorporated into the Antarctic Annual Plan 2023-2024.

The result of an IAEA initiative launched in 2020, NUTEC Plastic is a program to study marine pollution by plastics, which until now has covered all the world’s seas with the exception of the Antarctic. Thanks to Argentina, NUTEC Plastics is now also present in the southernmost seas. NUTEC Plastics also aims to combat plastic pollution using nuclear technologies. Using nuclear and isotopic techniques, it is possible to produce data on the distribution of microplastics in the world’s seas.

In a press release, Milei stated that: “Thanks to this program, Argentina will begin a new chapter in its long and distinguished trajectory in Antarctic science. Through international cooperation agreements, we seek to improve our ability to provide quality scientific information for decision-making within the framework of the Antarctic Treaty”. “The exercise of science, cooperation and the preservation of the Antarctic environment are priority axes of our Antarctic foreign policy”, he added, before concluding: “Argentina renews its commitment to the international community, making its contribution for our common good and that of future generations”.

Along with the melting cryosphere caused by global warming, microplastic pollution is the other major environmental concern in the polar regions. Image: Sky News

Following this official visit, a two-person research team will spend a month assessing the impact of microplastics by studying their presence and distribution in the environment (seawater, lakes, sediments, sand, wastewater) and in the droppings of penguin colonies near the Argentine Carlini scientific station on King George Island in the South Shetlands.

Logistical support and transfer of researchers will be provided by the Ministry of Defence, while the IAEA will supply laboratory equipment and fund training. Analysis of the samples collected will be carried out by the Argentine Antarctic Institute (IAA), which will coordinate and disseminate the scientific and technological activity in cooperation with the IAEA’s laboratories.

While the reforms initiated by the president, who took office on December 10, are already the subject of mobilizations in the country, Javier Milei has also been criticized for his bills aimed at eliminating regulations on productive activities in areas with protected ecosystems. One example is a law dating back to 2010 that protects periglacial areas from mining, which the President’s bill could well amend.

The introduction of the NUTEC Plastics program raised a few questions, as the Argentine president is hardly known for his interest in environmental protection. During his presidential campaign, he had made no secret of his climate-skeptic views, believing that global warming was the manifestation of a natural cycle that had nothing to do with human activity, even calling the problem “a socialist lie”. With this official visit to Antarctica, is Milei trying to sweeten the pot by supporting an environmental project that addresses another major environmental issue for the polar regions: microplastic pollution? What is certain is that Antarctica is important to Argentina, and that maintaining Argentinean interests on the white continent will require scientific cooperation.

Link to the IAEA NUTEC Plastics project: https: //www.iaea.org/fr/services/nutec-plastics

Mirjana Binggeli, PolarJournal

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