It is little more than one hundred years since humans first set foot on Antarctica and even today few people have visited the frozen and hostile southern continent. Although nine countries have territorial claims on the continent, several of them overlapping, these political disagreements were suspended in The Antarctic Treaty of 1959. In the Treaty (covering all areas south of 60 degrees South Latitude), it was agreed that Antarctica should be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and that military activities would be prohibited. It also guaranteed continued freedom for scientific research and promoted international scientific cooperation (antarctica.ac.uk).
Successive treaties have built upon this foundation, providing strong protection for the Antarctic environment and strictly regulating fishing, for example. These culminated in the 1991 Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. It prohibits mining, arguments over which caused the failure of a proposed Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities (CRAMRA) in the late 1980s. CRAMRA would have potentially allowed future exploitation of Antarctic resources, subject to the agreement of all treaty signatories, but it ran into strong opposition from the international environmental movement, which convinced several of the treaty nations to refuse to sign it (sedac.ciesin.columbia.edu). Instead, the ‘Madrid Protocol’ was adopted in 1998, which designates Antarctica as a ‘natural reserve, devoted to peace and science’ and establishes environmental principles to govern the conduct of all activities (antarctica.ac.uk). Annexes to the treaty were added in 2002 and 2005. The treaty is treated as indefinite; however the prohibition can be modified at any time if all parties agree. If requested, after 50 years a review conference may decide to modify the mining prohibition, provided that at least ¾ of the current Consultative Parties agree, a legal regime for controlling mining is in force, and the sovereign interests of parties are safeguarded. Currently, no commercial drilling has been allowed to take place in Antarctica, so we are unsure of the level of resources, such as oil and gas, that it contains.
The proposal maintains it is right to maintain Antarctica purely as a ‘natural reserve, devoted to peace and science’ (antartica.ac.uk).
The Antarctic Treaty 1959, British Antarctic Survey: Natural Environment Research Council, http://www.antarctica.ac.uk/about_antarctica/geopolitical/treaty/update_1959.php (Last Accessed 06/09/2011)Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (1991), British Antarctic Survey: Natural Environment Research Council, http://www.antarctica.ac.uk/about_antarctica/geopolitical/treaty/update_1991.php (Last Accessed 06/09/2011)The Madrid Protocol, Australian Antarctic Division, http://www.antarctica.gov.au/antarctic-law-and-treaty/the-madrid-protocol (Last Accessed 06/09/2011)Environmental Treaties and Resource Indicators (ENTRI), Socioeconomic Data and Applications Centre, http://sedac.ciesin.columbia.edu/entri/texts/acrc/cramra.txt.html (Last Accessed 06/09/2011)Tourism Overview, The International Association of Antarctic Tourism Operators, http://iaato.org/tourism_overview.html#stats (Last Accessed 06/09/2011)Brahic, Catherine, ‘Melting Ice Caps May Trigger More Volcanic Eruptions’ (03/04/2008), New Scientist Online, http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn13583-melting-ice-caps-may-trigger-more-volcanic-eruptions.html (Last Accessed 06/09/2011)Global Warming put the Antarctic on thin ice (22/11/2005), Natural Resources Defence Council, http://www.nrdc.org/globalwarming/qthinice.asp (Last Accessed 06/09/2011)Antarctic- Global Warming, Cool Antarctica, http://www.coolantarctica.com/Antarctica%20fact%20file/science/global_warming.htm (Last Accessed 06/09/2011)Antarctic Climate Change and the Environment (11/2009), Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, http://www.antarctica.ac.uk/met/SCAR_ssg_ps/ACCE_25_Nov_2009.pdf(Last Accessed 06/09/2011)‘Antarctica’s Ice is Melting Faster’, BBC News Online, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4228411.stm (Last Accessed 06/09/2011)Owen, James, ‘Antarctic Wildlife at Risk from Overfishing, Experts Say’ (05/08/2003), National Geographic, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/08/0805_030805_antarctic.html (Last Accessed 06/09/2011)