Committee for environmental protection meets

The Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP) held its 5th annual meeting in parallel with the 25th ATCM in Warsaw, Poland in September. The Committee provides advice to the ATCM on environmental matters, particularly in relation to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (the Madrid Protocol).

Both Romania and the Czech Republic advised that they were close to completing domestic arrangements to ratify the Madrid Protocol, bringing the number of Treaty parties which have ratified the Protocol to 31.

There was a substantial agenda for the CEP with items largely based around each Annex of the Madrid Protocol: (I) Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA); (II) Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora; (III) Waste Disposal and Waste Management; (IV) Prevention of Marine Pollution (no matters were raised on the agenda); and (V) Area Protection and Management. The CEP also discussed State of the Antarctic Environment reporting, tourism, and biological prospecting; these latter two issues will be given more detailed consideration at CEP VI.

Work of the Committee was substantially assisted by the use of intersessional contact groups established at the last meeting to ensure that Antarctic Treaty parties could consider matters in detail in order to be better able to discuss the many substantive issues at CEP V.

Intersessional consultation will develop policy and position papers such as the review of Annex II, discuss Russia’s Comprehensive Environmental Evaluation for drilling into the sub-glacial Lake Vostok, and consider draft protected area plans.

Environmental Impact Assessment (Protocol Annex I)

There were no Comprehensive Environmental Evaluations (CEEs) submitted for consideration at CEP V in Warsaw, but delegations indicated that three CEEs are scheduled for submission at CEP VI which will address:

  • penetration to enable water sampling of the sub-glacial Lake Vostok, the largest known sub-glacial lake in Antarctica and the first to be penetrated (Russian Federation);
  • the ANDRILL stratigraphic drilling program in McMurdo Sound to investigate Antarctica’s role in global climate change over the last 65 million years (New Zealand); and
  • a proposed summer research station at Brandy Bay, James Ross Island (Czech Republic).

The Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP) presented a review of Initial Environmental Evaluations (IEEs) for the construction of Antarctic station living facilities, bulk fuel storage, and scientific ice core drilling. The review was conducted to achieve a better understanding of how environmental impact assessment is being used by national programs, and to identify the strengths and weaknesses of past assessments. The analysis noted that the identification of impacts was often a weakness in IEEs. Further details of the analysis will be discussed at the next meeting of the CEP in Madrid next year.

Work by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) reviewed the literature on marine acoustic technology and the Antarctic environment. Australia’s domestic guidelines for marine acoustic technology associated with the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, may provide a useful benchmark for consideration of this and future work on this matter.

Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora (Protocol Annex II)

Substantial progress was made on improving the working of Annex II of the Madrid Protocol on Environmental Protection, and in agreeing to commence assessments of the conservation status of Antarctic species based upon the International Union of Nature Conservation (IUCN) criteria, starting with birds and seals.

The CEP has sought to encourage further work on the conservation of marine species through a common approach with the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (CCAS), and other relevant bodies.

Waste Disposal and Waste Management (Protocol Annex III)

Australia’s information paper on the clean-up of waste from Heard Island was well received and complemented similar papers from the UK and Russia on clean-up activities at two of their Antarctic stations. These papers presented a variety of clean-up activities, which were undertaken in different ways.

Australia intends to present at CEP VI papers describing the clean-up of the abandoned Thala Valley tip site at Casey station, and Australia’s approach to the clean-up provisions of Annex III through a comprehensive waste management strategy. The AAD will be undertaking further research into clean-up and remediation techniques at Thala Valley this summer.

Area Protection and Management (Protocol Annex V)

As with other matters of Antarctic Treaty work, much inter-sessional activity enabled 13 management plans for Antarctic Specially Protected Areas to be forwarded for adoption by the ATCM. A further nine revised or new management plans will be considered in intersessional work reporting to CEP VI. These include Australia’s draft management plan for the Frazier Islands and the revised plans for ASPA 135 (Bailey Peninsula, Casey) & 143 (Marine Plain, Davis).

Antarctic Specially Managed Areas (ASMA) are intended to facilitate cooperation amongst parties with a view to minimising environmental impacts. Three management plans are in draft for ASMAs; by Brazil and Poland (Admiralty Bay), the USA and New Zealand (Dry Valleys), and Australia, China and Russia (Larsemann Hills).

The CEP took note of Australia’s planned 2002–03 conservation expedition to Mawson’s Huts at Cape Denison, and our proposal to bring a Protected Area Management Plan for this important historic site to the CEP VI meeting in Madrid in 2003.

Guidelines for consultation on management plans (previously agreed at CEP III) will be revised intersessionally to clarify the process for seeking approval from the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) for any relevant proposed Antarctic Specially Protected Area and its management plan.

State of the Antarctic Environment Report

The Committee considered three papers on state of the environment reporting, including an Australian paper on the recently launched System for Indicator Monitoring and Reporting (SIMR). The Committee endorsed Australia and New Zealand as joint convenors of intersessional work to develop the concept towards a continent-wide application, and report to CEP VI.

Simon Smalley & Tom Maggs,
Environmental Management and Audit Unit, AAD