This year’s meetings of Antarctic Treaty Parties and the Committee for Environmental Protection, considered a range of issues and endorsed an online Antarctic Environments Portal to connect scientists and policy-makers.
The internationally-agreed arrangements for the management and protection of Antarctica are discussed and decided during the annual Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting. The countries with active Antarctic science programs take it in turn to host, with the 38th meeting being held in June this year in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Australia was represented by a delegation of officials from the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of the Environment, and representatives of the Tasmanian State Government and Australian non-government organisations.
The Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP) held its meeting in parallel, to discuss environmental matters and prepare a report containing advice and recommendations to the Antarctic Treaty Parties.
Some of the main outcomes from discussions included:
- Recognition of the value of international cooperation on high-priority scientific research, with an emphasis on encouraging initiatives such as the Southern Ocean Observing System (an Australia-led multi-national program) that will contribute to a greater understanding of Antarctica’s important role in global climate processes. The Parties also adopted a ‘Climate Change Response Work Programme’ to guide the work of the CEP to better understand and address the environmental implications of such change.
- Endorsement of two new information tools to inform effective environmental management. The Antarctic Environments Portal is an online source of high-quality scientific information relevant to the environmental challenges facing Antarctica. It has been developed over several years by New Zealand, in collaboration with the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, Australia, Belgium and Norway, and will be a valuable tool to underpin the work of the CEP. A report on ‘Important Bird Areas in Antarctica’ was also prepared by Birdlife International, using criteria that have been applied elsewhere in the world. The report identified over 200 locations that are important breeding habitat for Antarctic bird species. Among other applications, the report will be used to consider the extent to which these Important Bird Areas are, or should be, represented in the current series of Antarctic Specially Protected Areas.
- Agreement to hold a symposium in 2016 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Protocol on Environmental Protection (Madrid Protocol), which protects Antarctica as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science, and places a permanent ban on mining. The symposium will enable Parties to celebrate past successes and consider the environmental challenges facing Antarctica in the next 25 years.
The 39th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting and 19th meeting of the CEP will be held in Santiago, Chile, in May 2016
Senior Environmental Policy Adviser,
Australian Antarctic Division
and CEP Chair