15th June 2012
The Antarctic Treaty system ensures protecting the unique Antarctic environment is a fundamental consideration in the planning and conduct of all activities in Antarctica.
The Protocol on Environment Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (Madrid Protocol), which was adopted in 1991 and entered into force in 1998, provides comprehensive protection of the Antarctic environment and designates Antarctica as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science.
It puts in place environmental principles to guide all activities in Antarctica, prohibits mining and mineral exploration and includes annexes relating to:
- environmental impact assessment
- conservation of fauna and flora
- waste disposal and waste management
- prevention of marine pollution
- area protection and management
- liability arising from environmental emergencies.
The Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP), established under the Madrid Protocol, provides advice and formulates recommendations to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) in connection with the implementation of the Protocol.
Current priorities of the CEP include:
- preventing the introduction of non-native species to Antarctica
- managing the environmental implications of climate change
- improving understanding of how Antarctic tourism interacts with the environment
- addressing ongoing environmental challenges from activities conducted before the Madrid Protocol entered into force, including the clean-up of past waste disposal sites and abandoned facilities
- the methodical development of a suite of Antarctic protected areas
The CEP meets every year in conjunction with the ATCM and is holding its meeting in Hobart this week.
Learn more about the Madrid Protocol, the CEP and the Australian Antarctic Division’s environmental research in the video below.
Australian Antarctic Division Senior Environmental Policy Officer Ewan McIvor
Since the Treaty was signed in 1959 there was increasing recognition amongst the parties of the need to establish measures to protect the Antarctic environment. They all came to a head in 1991 when the Antarctic Treaty parties signed the Madrid protocol and that’s really the fundamental international frame-work for protecting the Antarctic environment.
It designates Antarctica as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science. It bans mining importantly it basically requires that care for the environment is a fundamental consideration in all activities that are planned and conducted in Antarctica.
The Committee for Environment Protection or the CEP was established by the Madrid protocol. So the CEP is the main environmental advisory body under the Antarctic Treaty. It develops and provides advice to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) and Antarctic Treaty parties on how to achieve those environmental objectives.
The CEP is comprised of representatives from each of the 35 countries that are a party to the protocol and it also includes expert advisers from various other international organisations with environmental, scientific and technical expertise.
So there’s a number of checks and balances that assist - a process to exchange information annually, that’s made publicly available, on how countries are meeting their obligations under the Madrid protocol. And then there is also a system of conducting inspections under the Treaty and the Madrid Protocol. So generally countries operating in Antarctica have a good understanding of what other countries are doing including their environmental practices.
Australian Antarctic Division Program Leader Dr Martin Riddle
The research that we do is to support Australia’s efforts to protect the Antarctic environment and to feed into the Antarctic treaty system’s Committee for Environmental Protection.
Our key priorities are to establish an observing system for identifying change in the Antarctic environment and the ecosystems and to attribute that change, to separate change that might be natural variability from that caused by the presence of people in the Antarctic, from that change that might be a consequence of global processes such as climate change or ocean acidification.
Second priority is to provide the scientific foundation for a truly representative, adequate and comprehensive system of protected areas for the Antarctic under the environmental protocol.
To provide the scientific foundation requires understanding what values we are trying to protect these include biodiversity, the special geology, special land formations, even the aesthetic and wilderness values of the Antarctic.
Our third priority is to prevent, mitigate and remediate impacts caused by people there. Particular priorities for us are the risk of introduced non-native species and remediating contaminated sites. We’ve been undertaking research to develop in situ remediation technologies.
The Antarctic Treaty Meeting has a very important role in sharing information. Different parties develop expertise in different areas of science and technology for protecting the Antarctic environment. So if one party has developed some technique that works we share that, we don’t repeat the research to ensure that all parties and particular the environment gets the benefit of that research.