Thursday, June 12, 2008

Latest News from the 31st Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting

At this year's Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM), the international environmental community is hoping that several substantive issues will be addressed. These include:

-Antarctic tourism. Tourism in Antarctica over the past decade has been characterised by steep annual increases, diversification, and geographic expansion. ASOC fears that tourism is becoming entrenched as the main Antarctic activity in terms of scale and influence, resulting inevitably in the erosion of the intrinsic values of Antarctica and the primary roles of science
and environmental protection in the Antarctic Treaty System. The particularly negative forms of tourism currently emerging should be constrained before their scale is beyond the capacity of the Antarctic Treaty System to control them.

Sadly, in spite of a robust debate on the basis of important papers introduced by the UK, US, New Zealand, France, Germany, ASOC and IAATO, the governments didn't manage to reach consensus on anything - not even a Resolution (which is purely hortatory and not legally binding).

-Climate change. Climate change is no longer an issue limited to the developed and more populated parts of the world. The Consultative Parties to the Antarctic Treaty have committed themselves to provide comprehensive protection to the Antarctic environment and its dependent ecosystems under the Environmental Protocol. Therefore, and based on the precautionary principle, Consultative Parties should recognize the adverse impacts of climate change on Antarctica and the Southern Ocean and take proactive action within the framework of the Treaty System to contribute towards climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.

Regrettably, no agreement could be reached on anything relating to climate change. The US minimized the impacts of GHG emissions in the Antarctica, terming them 'insignificant' on a local level. It's bases at the South Pole and McMurdo are the largest facilities in the Antarctic.
-Marine Protected Areas. ASOC introduced a comprehensive paper on creation of marine protected areas in the Antarctica, noting the commitments made by governments to set up a representative system by 2012. But there has been virtually no progress on this during the past several years. ASOC suggested the governments agree to a Resolution re-committing themselves to protecting 30% of the Southern Ocean by 2018, with a particular focus on protecting the Ross Sea as the world's largest MPA.
Although many governments supported ASOC's position, in the end there was no consensus on setting any targets for dates or percentages.

To read more about some of the important issues ASOC and others are raising at the ATCM, click here. The international NGO community publishes the ECO newspaper from the ATCM to provide regular updates on meeting progress. ASOC publishes these newspapers here.

We welcome comments from the public. Please use the comments below to provide feedback on the ATCM or other Antarctic issues.

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