Sunday 19 April 2009

Antarctic Treaty More Relevant Than Ever

In December 1959 twelve nations including Australia signed a remarkable document known as the Antarctic Treaty.

The Treaty declared that "Antarctica should be used exclusively for peaceful purposes", promoting scientific research and international cooperation. Rather remarkably, even though it was drawn up and signed at the height of the cold war, the Treaty specifically prohibits "military activities, such as the establishment of military bases or weapons testing" including "nuclear explosions and the disposal of radioactive waste". Among the signatories were the United States of America and the then Soviet Union.

The Treaty applies from 60 degrees South latitude and includes the entire Antarctic continent. Even the Antarctic Circle, at about 66 degrees 33 minutes South, lies well inside the Treaty zone.

There are now 46 signatories to the Treaty.  Since the signing of the Antarctic Treaty a number of additional agreements have been developed including the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (1972), the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (1982) and the Madrid Protocol (1991).

April 2009 sees the 32nd Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting being held in Washington DC. In her address to the Consultative Meeting on 6 April, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged the "far-sighted, visionary leaders" who drew up the document half a century ago. Proposals for consideration include more comprehensive regulations to manage marine pollution and tourism. Recent events in waters off the south-east coast of Queensland provide a timely warning of the potential for environmental disaster from shipping incidents. Representing Australia at the opening of the meeting, Environment Minister Peter Garrett announced that Australia will host the 2012 Consultative Meeting. Workshops and working group meetings continue until 17 April.

The Smithsonian Institution will host an Antarctic Treaty Summit from November 30 to December 3, 2009, again in Washington DC.


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