On their annual meeting in Santiago de Chile, the 29 countries of the Antarctic Treaty unanimously decided to keep the ban on mining activities in the Antarctic. The resolution was initiated by the USA to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty.

Although large fields of natural resources in form of minerals and fossil fuels are expected beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, the Antarctic Treaty Parties have reissued their ban on mining and fuel exploration. Picture Michael Wenger
Although large fields of natural resources in form of minerals and fossil fuels are expected beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, the Antarctic Treaty Parties have reissued their ban on mining and fuel exploration. Picture Michael Wenger

In addition to commemorating the 25th Anniversary, the Resolution is in part a response to inaccurate media reports that the Protocol or the Antarctic Treaty “expire” in 2048, when in fact this is only a date at which a review of the Protocol could be requested. “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.” said Claire Christian, Acting Executive Director of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC), an organization that represents environmental NGOs at the meeting.

One of the closest areas for resource exploration is the Falkland Islands. There, large oil and gas fields are expected. Due to the low price for oil at the moment, all exploration has been on hold. Picture: Sottish Energy News
One of the closest areas for resource exploration is the Falkland Islands. There, large oil and gas fields are expected. Due to the low price for oil at the moment, all exploration has been on hold. Picture: Sottish Energy News

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.

The ATCM also issued the "Santiago Declaration on the Twenty Fifth Anniversary of the signing of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty" to confirm their commitment to all of the principles of the Protocol and to pledge further efforts to implement the Protocol and “preserve and protect the Antarctic terrestrial and marine environments.”

The Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings are the most important meetings concerning Antarctic politics and issues. Every signature nation has the possibility for sending an ambassador. During the meetings, all aspects of Antarctic issues are discussed and resolutions are passed for the good of the last wilderness on Earth.
The Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings are the most important meetings concerning Antarctic politics and issues. Every signature nation has the possibility for sending an ambassador. During the meetings, all aspects of Antarctic issues are discussed and resolutions are passed for the good of the last wilderness on Earth.

The ATCM also discussed Antarctic climate change and tourism, two issues with implications for the environmental protection of the region. With information indicating that the impact of climate change and ocean acidification is 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. On tourism, the ATCM discussed that tourism numbers are projected to increase to their highest level ever in the coming year. IAATO was invited as an expert to the meeting.

Source: Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC)