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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs > Oceans > U.S. Antarctic Policy > Treaties and Conventions

Antarctic Treaty

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Following World War II there was an upsurge in research activity in Antarctica culminating in the cooperative scientific program in Antarctica undertaken as part of the International Geophysical Year (IGY) in 1957-58. Twelve states with scientific research and other interests in Antarctica participated in the IGY program: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Soviet Union, the United States and the United Kingdom. These countries devised informal arrangements to avoid disruptions resulting from differing territorial claims -- positions that worked well and formed the basis of a U.S. initiative to provide a more formal basis for long-term cooperation in Antarctica. This initiative resulted in conclusion of the Antarctic Treaty, signed by these same 12 states in 1959.

The Antarctic Treaty, which entered into force in 1961, applies to the area south of 60°south latitude including all ice shelves. The Treaty guarantees freedom of scientific research in Antarctica, placing on a permanent basis the system of peaceful international cooperation that evolved during the IGY. It calls for plans for scientific investigations to be shared in advance and the results of scientific investigations to be shared and made freely available.

The Treaty establishes Antarctica as a zone of peace, reserved exclusively for peaceful purposes. It bans all military activities, including the testing of weapons, and prohibits nuclear explosions and the disposal of radioactive waste. In addition, it provides an absolute right of on-site inspection of all stations and installations in Antarctica to promote the objectives of the Treaty and ensure compliance with its provisions.

To achieve these purposes, the Antarctic Treaty had to deal with the basic legal and political differences over territorial sovereignty in Antarctica. It provides that no acts or activities carried out while the Treaty is in force will constitute a basis for a claim. Seven countries have made claims to parts of Antarctica (Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and UK). The claims of Argentina, Chile and the UK all overlap in the Antarctic Peninsula. One sector of Antarctica, comprising about 15% of the land area, is unclaimed. Other states active in Antarctica neither assert nor recognize such claims, though both the United States and the Russian Federation, as successor to the Soviet Union, have maintained the basis to a claim. The Treaty also preserves the previously established U.S. basis of a claim.

The Antarctic Treaty did not deal with all possible activities in Antarctica. Its substantive provisions, including the juridical accommodation, apply to activities relating to scientific research and the reservation of Antarctica exclusively for peaceful purposes. They do not, for example, extend to resource activities.

At the same time, the Treaty provides a mechanism for dealing with new activities and new circumstances. This mechanism, which is contained in Article IX of the Treaty, provides for meetings of the 12 original contracting Parties, first within two months of entry into force of the Treaty and at suitable intervals thereafter, for the purpose of exchanging information, consulting together on matters of common interest pertaining to Antarctica and recommending to their governments measures in furtherance of the principles and objectives of the Treaty.

The Treaty also provides that these Consultative Meetings, as they are now called, are open not only to full participation by representatives of the 12 original contracting Parties but also to representatives of any acceding Party during such time as that party demonstrates its interest in Antarctica by the conduct of substantial scientific research there. There are now 27 Parties (Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties or ATCPs) with full rights of participation in these meetings: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Poland, the Russian Federation, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States and Uruguay. In addition, representatives of all other Parties to the Antarctic Treaty also participate in Consultative Meetings. There are 18 such non-Consultative Parties (NCPs): Austria, , Canada, Colombia, Cuba, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Papua-New Guinea, Romania, the Slovak Republic, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and Venezuela.

There have been 24 Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings (ATCMs) since the Antarctic Treaty entered into force. As a result of these ATCMs, approximately 200 agreed recommendations have been adopted by the Consultative Parties.

The agreed recommendations adopted at the ATCMs incorporate a wide range of measures to give effect and elaborate the principles and purposes of the Antarctic Treaty. A significant proportion of these recommendations deals with protection of the Antarctic environment.

Equally important from the environmental perspective, the ATCMs have provided the mechanism for the ATCPs to delineate and respond to the challenge of possible resource activities in Antarctica. Recommendations adopted at ATCMs have included initiatives that have led to the conclusion of separate agreements that in whole or in part seek to address resource issues. Three of these are in force:

The Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (CCAS)

This Convention establishes limitations upon, and provides a mechanism to deal with, commercial sealing in Antarctica. It was negotiated primarily as a precautionary measure in light of concern over the possible re-initiation of pelagic commercial sealing in Antarctica. Interest in such sealing has not materialized, as was confirmed at the meeting of Parties to CCAS in September 1988.

The Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR)

This Convention resulted from an initiative taken at Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting IX in London in 1977. The Convention represents a precedent-setting effort to develop and apply an ecosystem approach to management of resources in the waters surrounding Antarctica. Its objective is to ensure that any harvesting of Antarctic marine living resources is consistent not only with the health of target populations but also with that of dependent and related species and with maintenance of ecological relationships.

Consistent with its conservation objectives, the Convention applies to a geographic area defined to approximate the full extent of the Antarctic marine ecosystem. This area, defined by specific coordinates, extends to those waters found south of the Antarctic Convergence, or polar front, which is the transition zone between Antarctic waters to the south and warmer sub-Antarctic waters to the north. It should be noted that the Convention area is considerably larger than that covered by the Antarctic Treaty (which applies to the area south of 60 ° south latitude).

The Convention establishes the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, headquartered in Hobart, Tasmania; the Scientific Committee for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, charged with providing objective scientific assessments and recommendations to the Commission; and a Secretariat to serve both the Commission and Scientific Committee. The Convention provides that the Commission will operate on the basis of a consensus -- or no-objection – procedure, which has been characteristic of the Antarctic Treaty system. There are currently 24 Commission members and 7 additional parties to the Convention.

The Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities (CRAMRA)

The Convention was concluded at Wellington, New Zealand in 1988, after six years of negotiation. There are no known mineral resources in Antarctica, but Parties decided to establish a regime to govern the activities surrounding exploration and possible exploitation before any discoveries took place. With the adoption of the Protocol in 1991, all activities relating to Antarctic mineral resources were prohibited, except for scientific research. No countries have ratified the Convention.

The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty

The Protocol was concluded in Madrid on October 4, 1991 and entered into force, together with Annexes I-IV, on January 14, 1998. It has been accepted by all 27 Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties and two other countries. It builds upon the Antarctic Treaty to extend and improve the Treaty's effectiveness as a mechanism for ensuring the protection of the Antarctic environment. It designates Antarctica as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science, and sets forth basic principles and detailed, mandatory rules applicable to human activities in Antarctica, including obligations to accord priority to scientific research.

The Protocol prohibits all activities relating to Antarctic mineral resources, except for scientific research, and provides that this prohibition cannot be amended by less than unanimous agreement for at least 50 years following entry into force of the Protocol.

The Protocol requires Parties to protect Antarctic fauna and flora and imposes strict limitations on disposal of wastes in Antarctica and discharge of pollutants into Antarctic waters. It also requires application of environmental impact assessment procedures to activities undertaken in Antarctica, including non-governmental activities, for which advance notice is required under the Antarctic Treaty. Parties are further required to provide for response to environmental emergencies, including through the development of joint contingency plans.

Detailed mandatory rules for environmental protection pursuant to these requirements are incorporated in a system of annexes, forming an integral part of the Protocol. Specific annexes on environmental impact assessment, conservation of Antarctic fauna and flora, waste disposal and waste management and the prevention of marine pollution were adopted with the Protocol. A fifth annex on area protection and management was adopted October 17, 1991 by the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties. Provision is also made for additional annexes to be incorporated following entry into force of the Protocol.

Dispute settlement procedures are included in the Protocol. These include compulsory and binding procedures for disputes over the interpretation or application of, and compliance with, the provisions of the Protocol relating to mineral resource activities, environmental impact assessment and response action, as well as most provisions included in the Annexes.

The Protocol establishes a Committee for Environmental Protection, as an expert advisory body to provide advice and formulate recommendations to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings in connection with the implementation of this Protocol.


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