Major step forward for protecting the environment

17 June 2005

Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, today announced a new Antarctic Treaty agreement to provide a more effective response to environmental emergencies on the frozen continent.

Senator Campbell said the new set of rules would require anyone who caused an environmental accident in Antarctica to take action to clean up the pollution and prevent further environmental damage.

Compensation could be claimed from the polluter if someone else has to take clean up action. This fills a big gap, as there is now a strong incentive to make sure there is a proper response to such emergencies.

"This agreement marks the end of 12 years of extensive discussions and intense negotiations and Australia has played an active role from the beginning. I am pleased our persistence has paid off," he said.

"We have a big stake in Antarctica and take our caretaker role seriously. The continent's unique qualities – its icy expanses, extreme climate and abundant marine wildlife including seals, penguins and whales – are attracting increasing numbers of visitors and this requires us to be increasingly vigilant in our protection of the environment.

"If there is an environmental emergency in the Antarctic we are going to make sure that there is a proper response and those responsible are held accountable."

The set of rules on responding to environmental emergencies in Antarctica was adopted at the annual Antarctic Treaty consultative meeting, currently in session in Stockholm, Sweden.

The two-week meeting, which ends today, has shared information and set rules for activities in Antarctica to address a broad range of environmental protection matters, including scientific expeditions and tourism.

"My delegation has worked around the clock to ensure that we achieved this agreement - Australia's top priority for the meeting," Senator Campbell said.

"However, we remain committed to the development of an even more comprehensive regime on responding to environmental damage in the Antarctic.

"We have made excellent progress, but Antarctic Treaty parties need to continue to develop measures to protect this unique environment."

Other issues addressed at the meeting included improved management of Antarctic tourism and how to look after areas in need of special protection.

Attending every consultative meeting since the Antarctic Treaty was drawn up in 1959, Australia now joins 45 countries as signatories to the treaty.


Media contact: Renae Stoikos (02) 6277 7640 or 0418 568 434