Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Following protocol: celebrating the Environmental Protocol

The Antarctic environment is well protected, but how long can it remain that way? The Antarctic environment is well protected, but how long can it remain that way? Shutterstock
01 Oct
2016
This week marks the 25th anniversary of the Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty

The Antarctic Treaty, signed by the United Kingdom and 11 other countries in 1959, declared that ‘in the interest of all mankind, Antarctica shall continue for ever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord.’ However, three decades later, a debate began brewing over the opportunities available for mining and other such extractive activities on the continent. Instead, in the spirit of the Antarctic Treaty, the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty was signed on 4 October 1991 by 31 countries, which designated Antarctica as ‘a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science’.

‘It’s this one-off agreement – that all countries came together and agreed to protect a continent’s environment – which makes it unique,’ explains Stuart Doubleday, Deputy Head of the Polar Regions Department at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). ‘Everything from a ban on mining minerals, through to specific environmental protections for different animal species and particular protected areas, through to managing Antarctic heritage [such as Scott’s Hut].’ Without the Protocol, Doubleday believes there would at the very least be surveying currently taking place to explore the possibility of mining in Antarctica, whereas in reality it is banned forever.

The big issue is how long countries are going to be politically inclined to protect Antarctica

‘The fundamental basis of the Protocol requires that everything at Antarctica must be pre-planned, and its environmental impacts mitigated,’ says Jane Rumble, Head of the Polar Regions Department at FCO. She emphasises how increasing tourism or scientific research – while positive when done properly – could be severely damaging if not accompanied by the appropriate environmental guidelines outlined in the Protocol. The UK, one of seven claimants to a portion of the Antarctic (the others being Norway, France, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina), was a key player in establishing these guidelines, as well as in other environmental issues such as protected area management, non-native species development, and environmental impact assessments.

‘The big issue,’ Rumble asserts, ‘is how long countries are going to be politically inclined to protect Antarctica. That’s why it was so important to get all the countries to recommit to the Environmental Protocol, to say we shouldn’t have commercial mineral exploitation. If you can keep that going, then Antarctica should remain as pristine as it can. But we can’t get complacent; it’s going to continue to be an uphill battle.’

This was published in the October 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.

Related items

Subscribe and Save!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Oceans

A ship that ran aground early in February has been…

Wildlife

Two whale populations on either side of the African continent…

Geophoto

March traditionally heralds the beginning of spring, a time of…

Wildlife

An innovative project to utilise Laos’ elephant experts in service…

Polar

Despite common belief that Antarctica is vastly uninhabited, humans are…

Wildlife

Javan rhinos survived the recent Krakatoa tsunami, but the species…

Energy

As the world turns away from fossil fuels, one question…

Geophoto

The winners of the Outdoor Photographer of the Year 2018…

Climate

New legislation in Florida aims to solve various environmental issues,…

Polar

The world’s magnetic model is getting an early update, as…

Climate

Marco Magrini looks at the financial pressures spilling out into the…

Geophoto

Few sights are more dramatic than a star-filled sky at…

Polar

A region of Antarctica previously known for relative stability is…

Tectonics

Everything we thought we knew about eruptions could be wrong

Oceans

Sea levels are rising across the globe, but along the…

Polar

Seismometers buried in the Ross Ice Shelf have revealed that…

Wildlife

A tightening of restrictions on the insecticides known as neonicotinoids…

Wildlife

Bonnethead sharks, the second smallest member of the hammerhead family,…

Nature

There’s more than enough plastic in the world. That’s why,…

Wildlife

The recent discovery of more than 200 million termite mounds…