Madrid Protocol: what do the critics say?

As a non-government observer on the Australian delegation negotiating the Madrid Protocol, I went through a nail biting six months in 1991, including three trips to Madrid, leading up to its signing on 4 October 1991. It was worth it. The negotiation of an agreement specifically prohibiting minerals activities was a fantastic achievement.

Environmental groups welcomed it after a decade of opposition to the previously-proposed Minerals Convention, but even at the height of our euphoria we were realistic about what had been agreed. Protocol compliance looked a problem without a more developed inspection system (which we still don't have) or a Secretariat (which we hope we will have soon). Critically, the Protocol did not include the liability regime which we and others saw as the necessary ‘teeth’ for the new creation. And of course, we were aware that adoption was a long way from ratification.

While welcoming the achievement of Treaty states, particularly of Australia and France which led the drive for a new agreement, the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition knew the Protocol still had to be ‘bolted-down’, a process which took until 1998. We have also seen the long drawn-out and so far inconclusive process of establishing a liability regime. While we never thought that such a regime would readily follow the commitment to developing it, we have found the slow progress depressing.

More encouraging has been the development of the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP). It is clearly not been without problems, but the CEP has been blessed with a remarkably able first Chair in Olaf Orheim.

I have been involved in campaigning for protection of our last great continental wilderness for over two decades now. 1991 was a very special year for me, but the vigilance must continue – and it will!

Lyn Goldsworthy
Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition