Authored by Wendy Pring


Our Homeward Bound sessions here in Antarctica have nudged me to think about leadership, responsibility, and collective actions for peace. Now that we are actually in Antarctica, we have been exploring the Antarctic Treaty, protection of the environment, governance, and the increased urgency of climate action. These discussions have made me aware of the similarities between the Antarctic Treaty and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDG) for Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. The leadership lens has reminded me how we all have individual agency to role-model collective action and demonstrate how to maintain a balanced peaceful approach for climate adaptation actions.

Looking at these individual measures, we learned that the Antarctic Treaty commits participating countries to “the comprehensive protection of the Antarctic environment and dependent and associated ecosystems and …designate Antarctica as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science”. The UN SDG #16 is about “promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”. There are clear synergies between them, and wide-ranging benefits, beyond Antarctica.

Peace is a fundamental precondition for social and economic development. Strong institutions with compassionate and inclusive approaches will ensure equal access to justice. Conflict is divisive, exclusionary, and weakens our ability to manage the limited resources that we have. Building and maintaining peace requires a complex balance of managing all actors, and strong, consistent, and inclusive leadership behaviours.

The clear need for the Antarctic Treaty has escalated as it has now grown from involving just 12 countries to 59. The larger number of parties and multiple emerging global issues, including climate change, possible exploitation of natural resources, and surging tourism numbers, represent potential risks to the Treaty. By 2048 there will be a renewal of Treaty protocols. With many countries expressing targets of ‘net zero’ by 2050, the importance, visibility, and success of the renewal of protocols could either support or derail sustainable futures. In addition, gaps in governance and purpose of the Treaty may be exploited through conflict beyond the boundaries of Antarctica.

Why do we need the Antarctic Treaty; why do we need to protect Antarctica? One key reason is Antarctica’s critical role in global weather and climate. Sea ice is crucial in regulating global temperatures. The Treaty’s focus on peacebuilding also supports wider social and economic development, as this reduces vulnerabilities and increases resilience. In recognising the interconnectedness of peace and climate, particularly in relation to access to resources and damage to land, we need to adopt new mindsets and leadership approaches, involving genuine collaboration, holding space for others, and a recognition of the importance of custodianship versus ownership.

We ask ourselves more questions: is regulation failing to call out the remains of bad behaviour for fear of setting off future repercussions? Is there misuse of power amongst the parties involved and can the wider objectives and targets of the UN SDGS start to simplify the ability to regulate parties involved in a peaceful and collaborative way? How can we simulate, extend, and nurture role modelling the necessary behaviours to tackle the wicked problem of climate change?

The Antarctic Treaty now has 29 consultive countries and 27 non-consultive countries. Our Homeward Bound community on the Island Sky ship represents 19 countries. How can we demonstrate through our own leadership behaviours a continued focus on climate change? We know we should apply constructive leadership styles as explored in our Life Styles Inventory (LSI) assessments. What can our Homeward Bound cohorts bring to the table in generating global purpose and change? It challenges us to recognise where our leadership styles are and where they need to be to operate empathetically to the environment in Antarctica and beyond. Is there room for a Homeward Bound Treaty? What would that look like?