ITS is good news that Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General, intends to visit Antarctica early next month after attending an Ibero-American summit meeting in Chile. Although the world has enough crises to be going on with, Antarctica seems to be warming-up (if that phrase is appropriate) as an early addition to the list. Britain's recent claim to extend its existing Antarctic territory by one million square kilometres is only one of a number of similar claims submitted to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf which has the responsibility for ruling on their validity. Australia, Brazil, Chile, France, the Irish Republic, Norway, Russia and Spain have staked their claims while Argentina, the Czech Republic, South Korea and Uruguay already have research stations or facilities.

Mr Ban Ki Moon visit will be timely because the UN Commission has set May 2009 as a deadline for applications to be submitted, after which it will begin the difficult task of assessing which are soundly based. The potential for conflict in the settlement of these claims is obvious since in some cases two or more countries are claiming the same part of Antarctica. (Argentina and Britain may be such a case.) So the UN's role will be important in ensuring that Antarctica does not become yet another potential global flash-point. There are already too many of these.