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

Regional Data Collection and Information Sharing

The Antarctic Treaty provides for the unrestricted exchange and access of data and information on the Antarctic. This need was endorsed by the consensus text of Chapter 17 of Agenda 21, on the protection of oceans, seas, and their living resources.

Several collaborative, long-term data collection and exchange programmes are under way in the Antarctic. States Parties to the Antarctic Treaty convened the First Meeting of Experts on Environmental Monitoring in Antarctica in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in June 1992. The group made recommendations, among other matters, on the representation of monitoring sites, data management, the need to develop data standards, and international co-ordination. A further workshop has since been held in two sessions (17-20 October 1995 in Oslo, Norway, and 25-29 March 1996 in College Station, Texas, United States), the report of which will be submitted to the 1997 session of the ATCM.

Another item on the ATCM agenda is the preparation of a comprehensive state of the environment report for the Antarctic. At the Twentieth ATCM in May 1996, it was suggested that the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) consider and provide advice on this matter. At the August 1996 SCAR Meeting, the production of a state of the Antarctic environment report was discussed. It was considered both appropriate and essential that SCAR should support efforts in concert with other interested parties to produce an authoritative assessment of this key region. SCAR expects to appoint a small steering committee in the very near future to initiate discussions with other organizations on the scope and content of such a report. SCAR will report back on these discussions to the 1997 ATCM.

Such a report would for the first time draw together into an accessible and easily interpreted form a wide variety of data dispersed throughout the Antarctic literature and environmental databases world-wide. Such a report would also provide a means of communicating with all members of the global community and informing them about Antarctica.

A second long-term data collection programme involves the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO, which has a Regional Committee for the Southern Ocean that addresses a variety of issues including pollution and human impact. The IOC is strengthening international research programmes in co-operation with other organizations (ICSU/Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research/SCAR, CCAMLR, the International Whaling Commission [IWC], World Meteorological Organization [WMO], and UNEP) to improve ocean observations and data exchange in the Southern Ocean. The IOC aims to meet requirements of Agenda 21 (Chapter 17), the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Madrid Protocol.

CCAMLR has a Working Group on Ecosystem Monitoring and Management. This group has constructed a framework that will allow information collected from established monitoring programmes to be integrated into management advice (CCAMLR, 1996).<%0>

In 1996, the IWC broadened the scope of its monitoring programme with the introduction of the Southern Ocean Whale and Ecosystem Research Programme, which will include research into the effects of environmental change on cetaceans. Other research programmes in the Southern Ocean target blue, humpback, and southern right whales. The IWC also aims to improve collaboration with organizations working on related issues in the Southern Ocean, such as CCAMLR, SCAR, the IOC, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

With 37 land-based stations operated by 15 countries, the Antarctic is an important component of WMO observing systems. The stations contribute to the World Weather Watch programme and some of them also monitor trace gas constituents such as carbon dioxide and ozone as part of the Global Atmosphere Watch. WMO has noted that financial constraints may threaten the continuity of some stations with valuable long-term climatic records.

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