United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Environment Outlook-1 - The Web version

Chapter 3: Policy Responses and Directions

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Polar Regions

The Antarctic

International Agreements

With no internationally recognized state sovereignty in the Antarctic, the international agreements of the Antarctic Treaty System play the key role in controlling human activities in the region. The Antarctic Treaty is central among these agreements. It was adopted in Washington in 1959, by 12 States that had all actively participated in the 1957-58 Antarctica Programme of the International Geophysical Year (Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States). Together with an additional 14 States that have ratified the Treaty and are also conducting substantive research activities in the Antarctic (Brazil, China, Ecuador, Finland, Germany, India, Italy, Republic of Korea, Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and Uruguay), these States are known as the Consultative Parties. An Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) is convened annually to adopt recommendations relating to the management of the polar region south of latitude 60°S.

The objectives of the Antarctic Treaty are to ensure that Antarctica is used for peaceful purposes and for international co-operation in scientific research and that it does not become the scene and object of international discord. The Treaty prohibits military manoeuvres and weapons testing in Antarctica, ensures freedom of scientific research and information sharing, and freezes territorial claims by Parties. The Treaty also bans the disposal of radioactive waste within the Treaty area. Under the Antarctic Treaty, a recommendation was made in 1964 on Agreed Measures for the Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora. These are intended to protect indigenous mammals, birds, and plants on the continent and to prohibit the introduction of exotic species into the region. Provision is also made for the establishment of protected terrestrial and marine sites.

Although some seals were afforded protection under the Agreed Measures, the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals, which entered into force in 1978, extended that protection to all seals inhabiting seas south of 60°S. Concern over an unregulated fishery for Antarctic krill, along with past exploitations of whales and fur seals, resulted in the adoption of the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). CCAMLR entered into force in 1982, and stringent conservation measures to halt the further decline of fish stocks were implemented by 1989 (Kock, 1994). By protecting the lower species in the food chain and extending coverage beyond the areas addressed by the existing agreements, CCAMLR aims to encompass the whole Antarctic ecosystem.

Protection of the Antarctic environment is further strengthened by the Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty on Environmental Protection (the Madrid Protocol), adopted in 1991 by States Parties to the Antarctic Treaty. The protocol builds on and rationalizes existing measures with the aim to ensure comprehensive protection of the Antarctic environment and dependent and associated ecosystems, including its value as an area for the conduct of scientific research. The Madrid Protocol has been ratified by 23 of the States that were party to its negotiation. As of November 1996, three further states must ratify the agreement for it to enter into full international legal effect.

Key aspects of the Madrid Protocol include provisions for environmental impact assessment, conservation of Antarctic fauna and flora, waste disposal and waste management, prevention of marine pollution, and the protection and management of special areas. The Madrid Protocol prohibits mineral resource enterprises other than for scientific research. In the interim, while waiting for the Madrid Protocol to enter into force, States Parties to the Antarctic Treaty have agreed to implement voluntarily, and as far as practicable, the provisions of the agreement as adopted in 1991.

A number of global instruments that are not part of the Antarctic Treaty System also have relevance to the Antarctic. Of particular note is the 1946 International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling.

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