The 29 countries party to the Antarctic Treaty unanimously agreed at the 39th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) on June 1 to a resolution to “retain and continue to implement” the ban on mining activities in the Antarctic, which is part of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, also called the Madrid Protocol.
The resolution is in part a response to media reports that the protocol or the treaty expire in 2048, when in fact this is only a date at which a review of the protocol could be requested, the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC) said.
“There is often speculation that countries involved in Antarctic governance intend to review and change the Protocol in 2048 to allow mining. This resolution sends a clear message that this is not in fact the case and that parties stand firm in their commitment that preserving the continent as a place of peace and science is more important than possible financial gain,” Claire Christian, Acting Executive Director of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC) said.
Prior to the signing of the protocol, the parties negotiated an agreement regulating mining in the Antarctic. However, the mining agreement never entered into force, as explained by ASOC.
The decision not to ratify the mining agreement was led by Australia and France, and came after years of campaigning for a “World Park Antarctica” by the ASOC and its member groups. Though the Protocol contains many important provisions, the mining ban is especially critical because there would be no way to conduct mineral resource extraction activities without causing irreversible damage to one of the world’s last great wildernesses, ASOC said.
With information indicating that the climate change and ocean acidification are already having an impact on Antarctica and its ecosystems, the Antarctic Treaty System has become increasingly focused on developing ways to monitor and respond to climate change.
“ASOC supports the swift designation of comprehensive networks of marine and terrestrial protected areas, a process which has proceeded very slowly despite urgent need,” Rodolfo Werner, ASOC’s senior advisor noted.
“Parties are developing a strategic vision for tourism, but there are key actions that should be taken now, such as prohibiting the development of land-based infrastructure, to preserve the unique values of the Antarctic region,” Ricardo Roura, ASOC’s tourism expert concluded.