International cooperation in Antarctica
No country has recognised territorial possessions in Antarctica. The management and governance of the continent and its surrounding sea areas take place through partner organisations and are anchored in a number of international treaties. Antarctic cooperation is founded on three cornerstones – peace, scientific research and environmental protection.
The Antarctic Treaty is the origin of various other international agreements that – along with the Treaty itself – are often referred to as the Antarctic Treaty System. This complex of arrangements includes the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals, the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources and the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty.
The Antarctic Treaty was adopted in 1959 as an overarching international framework for the management of Antarctica and sets out legislative articles for activities in the area south of 60°S. The essence of the Treaty is that Antarctica is to be used for peaceful purposes only:
- freedom for scientific research
- international scientific exchange shall be promoted
- territorial claims shall be held in abeyance while the Treaty is in force
A cooperative system involving annual meetings, the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM), has been established. The planning and hosting of the meetings rotate through the consultative parties. A separate Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP) has also been formed, to give advice and make recommendations to the ATCM on environmental matters.
The Treaty entered into force on 23 June 1961, and all UN member states may accede to it. In 2016, the Treaty had 29 consultative parties and 24 non-consultative parties.
The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty designates Antarctica as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science. The Protocol obligates the treaty states to cooperate on planning and conducting activities in Antarctica. The parties undertake to protect the environment and promote certain key environmental principles:
- limiting adverse environmental impacts of activities
- prioritising scientific research
- performing thorough impact assessments of all planned activities
- monitoring on-going activities
A separate Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP) has been formed to give advice and make recommendations to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) on environmental matters.
The Environmental Protocol was signed on 4 October 1991 and came into force on 14 January 1998.
Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) is a committee of the ICSU, charged with promoting, initiating and coordinating scientific research in Antarctica.
As of 2016, SCAR has members from 31 countries. The members are relevant bodies from the national academies of science or research councils which are members of the ICSU, and which are undertaking or planning Antarctic research in conjunction with a relevant ICSU body.
In SCAR, scientific activities are carried out by Standing Scientific Groups. They represent the various disciplines in Antarctic research and report to SCAR.
In addition to research, SCAR also has an important role in providing objective scientific advice to the consultative meetings under the Antarctic Treaty. SCAR also gives advice on the management of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean to organisations such as the UNFCCC and the IPCC.
SCAR holds biennial meetings. They are combined with SCAR's Open Science Conferences (SCAR OSC).
The Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (the CAMLR Convention) regulates the management of marine living resources (except whales and seals) in the Antarctic Treaty area and in sea areas south of the Antarctic Convergence (the area where the cold waters from the south meet the warmer waters from the more northerly seas). The Convention was adopted on 20 May 1980 and came into force in 1982.
The management takes place through the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). On the basis of scientific data reviewed by the CCAMLR's scientific committee, the Commission decides on catch quotas, regulations and marine reserves, among other things.
In 2015, the Commission had 25 members.
A separate monitoring programme (CEMP) has also been set up under CCAMLR, in which Norway participates, notably through the Norwegian Polar Institute's work on Bouvetøya. Since the mid-1990s, the Norwegian Polar Institute has investigated and monitored the seal and penguin colonies here. This monitoring is helping to understand the interaction between land-based predators and commercial fishing and is used in CCAMLR's management work. In 2011, the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research initiated a krill monitoring programme around the South Orkney Islands. These monitoring programmes are also an important aspect of environmental management in Antarctica.
In order to improve logistics coordination for research in Antarctica, in 1988 the COMNAP (Council of Operators and Managers of Antarctic Programs) was established. COMNAP's primary role is to exchange practical and operational information in order to facilitate the optimal undertaking of research-related tasks in Antarctica.
COMNAP has members from 30 national Antarctic organisations (2016) and the Norwegian Polar Institute is Norway's representative.
The Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (CCAS) was adopted in 1972 and regulates the hunting and management of Antarctic seal stocks. In the absence of economic justification and under pressure from international opinion, no sealing currently takes place in the Antarctic, and the Convention is therefore not in effect.