St Petersburg meeting reflects maturing of Protocol

A decade after signing the Environmental ('Madrid') Protocol, the structures and processes it put in place to protect Antarctic environmental values entered a new, more mature phase at the fourth meeting of the Committee for Environmental Protection in St Petersburg, Russia, in July.

There has been good intersessional progress on a number of important issues. Foreshadowing of a review of the Protocol's annexes, the meeting demonstrated that the Protocol's values are now well-integrated into the Treaty System.

Dr Tony Press, Director of the Australian Antarctic Division, Professor Michael Stoddart (Chief Scientist) and Tom Maggs (Head, Environmental Management and Audit Unit) attended the CEP meeting as part of the 24th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting.

Adherence to the Protocol continues to grow, with ratification reported by the Ukraine and good progress by Canada - significant because Canadian ratification will broaden Antarctic Treaty influence over activities of ship-based tourist organisations, many of which are Canadian. Continuing work by intersessional contact groups (ICGs) on issues concerning environmental impact, protection of species, management plans and historic sites management was endorsed by the Committee.

Significantly, the Committee also decided to begin a rolling, broad-scale review of the Protocol's annexes, starting next year with Annex II, Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora.

Environmental impact assessment

The Committee endorsed terms of reference for the Antarctic Environment Officers' Network (AEON) to analyse initial environmental evaluations (IEE), to improve understanding and consistency between parties of IEE processes. Details of this project are available on the CONMAP website, under 'Environment'. The Committee also established an ICG coordinated by the USA to look into cumulative environmental impacts, an issue which so far has eluded clear definition and an agreed process.

Conservation of Antarctic fauna and flora

The Protocol's Annex II provides for listing of specially protected species of mammals, birds and plants. An Argentine-led ICG was constituted in the 2000 CEP meeting to examine justification for this list, criteria for inclusion, and types and means of protection. It reported that the category is justified and recommended using International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) criteria for determining whether species were endangered.

The group was asked to to consider:

  • how the IUCN 'Red List' criteria could help identify species at risk;
  • legal and practical mechanisms for protecting such species; and
  • whether specially protected status should apply to species other than mammals, birds and plants.

Australia coordinated an ICG on human-introduced disease in Antarctic wildlife and presented two working papers on the subject. Australia is now to collate information from other Parties on the practical prevention measures they take, and present a report to a forthcoming meeting.

Prevention of marine pollution

The CEP has a strong interest in draft guidelines for Antarctic shipping being prepared by the International Maritime Organisation. A group of experts was set up at the request of the 23rd ATCM and their work was discussed at St Petersburg under the agenda of Working Group II (operational matters). Many CEP members will contribute to further intersessional work on environmental aspects of the guidelines, to be reported to the 25th ATCM in September 2002.

Area protection and management

Annex V of the Protocol, covering area protection and management, will come into force when Recommendation XVI-10 is approved by all appropriate Parties. India reported that it hopes to have made positive progress by the next CEP meeting. All current Specially Protected Areas and Sites of Special Scientific Interest will become Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPA) when Annex V comes into force. A new category, Antarctic Specially Managed Area (ASMA), will also be created.

Australia reported on progress to develop a management plan with China and Russia for an ASMA in the Larsemann Hills (100 km South of Davis station), with the intention to present a draft plan to CEP V.

The Committee referred several draft management plans to ICGs to look at them in detail and report to the next meeting. Citing the example of Parties' differing approaches to exclusion of poultry products from areas designated to protect bird values, Australia is seeking greater consistency between management plans on the protection of particular values. Other concerns were raised at the meeting about inconsistencies between the separation distances from wildlife specified for aircraft and vehicles. The Committee noted that its guidelines for preparing management plans may require review.

The United Kingdom will coordinate an ICG to review the Antarctic Historic Sites and Monuments list. Australia has six sites listed under the Antarctic Treaty, and will review their status under domestic heritage legislation, as well as whether any non-ATS sites listed under Australian law should be added to the ATS list.

Australia will prepare for the CEP V a draft management plan for the Cape Denison historic site, which contains the huts and other relics of the 1911-14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition led by Douglas Mawson. Officers of the AAD have worked for several years with the AAP Mawson's Hut Foundation, the Australian Heritage Commission and others to finalise a conservation management plan for the site.

Environmental monitoring

The Committee received a report on the preparation by the Antarctic Environment Officers' Network of guidelines for developing environmental monitoring programs at Antarctic stations. The work will continue through 2002 with Australia's participation, and the AEON will present draft guidelines to next year's CEP meeting. Details of this work are available in the 'Environment' section of the COMNAP website.

CEP officers

Australia congratulates the out-going vice chairs of the Committee, Ms Gillian Wratt of New Zealand and Ambassador Jorge Berguno of Chile, and warmly welcomes Mr Jose Maria (Tito) Acero of Argentina and Dr Joyce Jatko of the USA as their replacements. A new Chairman will be elected at CEP V to replace Dr Olav Orheim, whose second term as Chairman will expire at the end of that meeting.

The Committee's final report can be found at [resource no longer available].

Tom Maggs
AAD Environmental Manager
and Australian CEP contact point