Worriers: 30 years from now Antarctic treaty will expire “plunging the future of the continent into uncertainty”

Three decades from now, several crucial elements of the Antarctic Treaty will come up for possible renewal, plunging the future of the continent into uncertainty.

Out in the field, a new generation of robots and drones are peering under ice shelves, probing the ocean depths and monitoring glaciers, ushering in the age of the “Smart Antarctic”. The ice sheets aren’t exactly flourishing – the Antarctic continent has lost three trillion tonnes of the stuff since 1992 – but scientific research is thriving.

For many polar researcher this is a reason for optimism – but in the political arena, the horizon is darkening. As it stands, the Antarctic Treaty acts as a safeguard for Antarctic science: an international bulwark against commercial or political interference. But as the years tick by, the treaty – and the cooperation that accompanies it – could begin to quietly fracture or even disintegrate completely.

Riches under the ice

In 1998, seven years after it was first signed into the treaty, the Protocol on Environmental Protection came into effect. Its purpose was to “enhance protection of the Antarctic environment and dependent and associated ecosytems” – a noble if poorly defined pledge that has proven difficult to uphold. But, tucked away among the acronyms and technical terminology, Article Seven of the Protocol consisted of a single important sentence, easily missed by the careless reader: “any activity relating to mineral resources, other than , shall be prohibited”. Simple and to the point. Antarctica’s natural resources, whatever they may be, are to remain pristine and untouched. At least for now.

Article 25 carries a caveat: “If, after the expiration of 50 years”, it reads “any of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties so requests, a conference shall be held as soon as practicable to review the operation of this Protocol”. In other words, 30 years from now in 2048, the ATCPs could reject anti-mining regulation and start stripping Antarctica of its mineral resources, diverting the continent towards a radically different future.

Many consider this undesirable, unworkable and unthinkable, but long-time observers know that the uncharted waters of polar politics can constantly surprise.

Read more at The Conversation

Many more people simply aren’t worried about what goes on in a frozen environment they’ll never visit, nor live on.

via Watts Up With That?


July 12, 2018 at 05:04PM

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