REVIEW: Article

Is The Arctic Melting? Can We Stop Global Warming?

Scientists around the world agree that the temperature of the Earth has increased due in large part to decades of human activity and the use of fossil fuels. Consequences can be seen in particular in the strength and number of hurricanes and various acute weather conditions. The change in weather conditions is most sensitive and severe in the Arctic region and in Antarctica. And it is here that the rapid deterioration of our planet is most dramatically visible to every visitor.

I would like to share with the reader my experiences and personal concerns from my recent expeditions to the Arctic regions of Spitzberg and the North Pole. I also wish to add my voice, to assist those renowned and respected people, who are committed to changing the human relationship with Planet Earth. 

As Head of State of Monaco, which is a small developed European country, I have the privilege and the responsibility to participate in the international policymaking process and an opportunity to contribute to actions about which I am personally concerned.

My Recent Experiences in the Great North

In July 2005 and again in April 2006, I led two expeditions, which provided me the opportunity for introspection on the footsteps taken by Prince Albert Ist, my great-great grandfather. Prince Albert Ist was a pioneering oceanographer, who conducted his keen observations and research between 1898 and 1907. He made four scientific explorations in these same regions close to the North Pole, at a time when the area was largely unexplored.

From July 25-31, 2005, I visited the same sites along the coast of the Norwegian Svalbard Archipelago, which my forebear explored in 1906, precisely one century later.

Accompanied by professional divers and acclaimed scientists from the World Wildlife Fund Polar program, the Marine Environment Laboratory of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, we collected specimens in order to study and to analyze chemicals and pollutants absorbed by species (arctic clams) and in sediments.

The IAEA Marine Environment Laboratory in Monaco is using isotopic techniques to reconstruct a 200-year trend of temperature and pollution as recorded in the shell layers of arctic clams collected by Prince Albert Ist early last century and re-sampled last year on my expedition. 

The accumulation of persistent industrial pollutants is being analyzed by the IAEA in the tissues of these biological “chronometers.” This will shed new light on the long-range transport pollutants to the Arctic ecosystem.
The Marine Environment Laboratory of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is headquartered in the Principality, continues to conduct long and difficult analyses. We sincerely hope that the data collected will shed some light regarding one century of the poorly known history of two increasing dangers: climate change and pollution which threaten one of the most isolated Arctic regions.

I could not help but notice the melting of the glaciers, with one simple comparison! Pictures shot in the exact location in 1906 and again shot in 2005 show the regression of the glaciers. The Lillihöök Glacier, which has melted back six kilometers, is striking. Arctic specialists noted this decrease represents a 40 percent melting over one century. 

After the “preparatory trip” to the Norwegian Svalbard Archipelago, the time had arrived for the “Polar Mission.”

On April 10, 2006, the “Monaco North Pole Expedition,” with its 20-member crew, met in Kiruna, a northern Swedish town situated high above the Polar Circle. Two days later on April 12, the core “North Pole Team” of eight members along with 42 Alaskan Huskies arrived at the floating Russian base of Barneo, approximately 100 kilometers from the North Pole.

We set out on the journey to the North Pole the following day. The first several kilometers were tricky due to compressions and cracks in the ice bed. On April 14, progress proved to be extremely difficult given the harsh weather conditions. The first day there were high winds with poor visibility, deep snow drifts and a southerly drifting of the ice cap. On April 15, weather conditions improved allowing us to make good progress, which eventually enabled us to reach the geographic North Pole on April 16, a span of almost 150 kilometers via dog sled.

Standing on the rooftop of the world, I experienced incredible feelings of accomplishment, of friendship, and naturally I thought of Prince Albert Ist, and what his thoughts might have been at the northern-most latitude and what he would have thought of the scientists who are now calculating that within 30 years, it will be necessary to travel to the Pole, not by dog sled but by boat.

After returning from the “Arctic Expedition,” I hoped in some way that I had contributed in drawing the world’s attention to the ecological threats that weigh upon our planet, which affect our lives, wherever we may live. The “North Pole Expedition” was therefore not just a tribute to an historic event, nor was it a simple matter of a sporting adventure. It became paramount to me personally to discuss our findings and observations. Upon departure from the Arctic region, I flew directly to Moscow to discuss our observations with Russian President Putin, who shares these same concerns.

My Commitment to the Protection of the Environment and Sustainable Development

In my investiture speech last year, I insisted on the collective will to preserve the environment as one of the Principality’s contributions to the international community. I also declared that I intended to ensure that Monaco ratifies the Kyoto Protocol as soon as possible.

I do consider the participation in the goals of this international legal instrument, as an essential contribution to the protection of the environment toward sustainable develop-ment. This is not only a moral obligation but it is also a realistic necessity. Recognizing nevertheless that multilateral treaties cannot solve all the problems, I therefore recently established a Foundation for the protection of the environment and for sustainable and responsible economic development.

Monaco ratified the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change on February 27, 2006, thus accepting the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” of the countries of the world.

We shall remember that the process to address climate change was launched years before, in 1992, when the UN General Assembly adopted the Framework Convention before the Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro. This important gathering, where I accompanied my late Father, Prince Rainier III, was a founding moment in raising public consciousness about the protection of the environment. 

The Convention on biological diversity was also adopted that same year. Monaco is Party to those instruments, and I believe that the common ground agreed upon, after lengthy and open negotiations, needs to be respected.

The World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002, where I represented Monaco, recognized that linkage between environment and development.

By committing their countries and ratifying treaties, Heads of State and Governments started a process. Implementing the rules and regulations can be politically difficult. This appears to be the case for the Kyoto Protocol because of the clean develop-ment mechanism it institutes. Nevertheless, I believe it is worth the cost to honor its goals even if we do need to work beyond that—even reconsidering a change in our own lifestyles without counting on others to do it first. Without discarding the polluter-pays principle that should prevail, we need to help find new ways to produce and consume. We need also to continue to work with non-signatory states to help them bring their practices and policies into conformity with the objectives of the treaty.

Globalization has changed the perception we have of one another. However, we must not forget our common ground to build upon, our planet. We cannot impose values of ethics and morals, yet they can be instilled in leading the way. 

I inherited from my American origins the need to act and to share my goals with like-minded individuals and entities. Therefore, I intend the ‘Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation’ to be a permanent source of dynamic and innovative actions for environmental protection and sustainable development, promoting action and mobilizing people and resources across borders.

Concerning the Foundation’s actions in the field of climate change, the Foundation will support, amongst others, projects to develop the use of bio fuels as well as to recycle methane gas emissions from dumps. It will also promote cultural and sporting events, ecologically neutral, particularly concerning the emission of greenhouse gases, in order to enhance public knowledge of these problems.

I particularly welcome the courageous step recently taken in California to curb carbon dioxide emissions. Business leaders will eventually understand that it is in their own interest to accept incentives and work on clean-energy technologies. It is in no State’s interest to stay on the margin of this shift, in the common conscience of better-informed citizens.

I don’t believe in utopia but in the willingness of every inhabitant of this planet to contribute his or her share of collective responsibility. The more we are given, the more we are expected to accomplish. It is this vision that will guide my actions as the Sovereign of the Principality. A vision, which I firmly believe will take seed and will benefit not only those who live in Monaco, yet will be rooted across borders and will evolve. Information is key with respect to our habits; the more each of us learns the more progress we can make to change for the better. I am committed not only to be a voice to ensure that humanity stands up and takes notice of environmental concerns, I will also do my part as a leader to show the way. 


Under the auspices of the United Nations, the world community has adopted an impressive legal corpus to protect the environment and to try to remedy human-induced degradations. Among them I would like to cite the Vienna Convention for the protection of the ozone layer and its subsequent protocols. Even if the ozone layer will take more time than expected to recover, the dangerous depletion that forced us to regulate the toxic chlorofluorocarbon gases did work. So let’s mobilize our energies to bring about such a successful outcome with the Kyoto Protocol.

I have the firm belief that we can, by working together, reverse the dangerous trend of altering forever our environment. But we must act promptly and courageously in promoting a more respectful use of our common resources and preserving our common heritage.

Issue Date


Head of State of Monaco