Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty

The Antarctic is protected by stringent environmental protection regulations.Click to enlarge
The Antarctic is protected by stringent environmental protection regulations.
Source: Fritz Hertel/UBA

The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, also named the Madrid Protocol after where it was signed, is – in addition to the Antarctic Treaty itself – an equally important element of the Antarctic Treaty system. The Protocol has been ratified by 33 states since May 2013.

In the 1980s the Consultative Parties worked to establish regulations to prohibit mining activities in the Antarctic. Ever since then environmental associations such as Greenpeace or the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) have striven to declare the Antarctic a world park. In 1989 the United Nations called for a resolution to establish the Antarctic as a world park for nature conservation since negotiations to adopt a Convention for the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities had failed shortly before.

The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty was adopted after extensive negotiations on 4 October 1991 in Madrid. The Protocol establishes the toughest and most comprehensive environmental regulations ever drawn up for any region of the world in an international agreement.

Devoted to peace and science

Upon its entry into force, the Protocol prohibits all commercial activities related to mineral resources. The parties to the treaty are also bound to preserve the Antarctic as a natural reserve which is "devoted to peace and science" and which it will protect as such for future generations. The legal framework of the treaty concretely identifies the environmental assets to be protected in the Antarctic, including plant and animal populations or its air and water quality.

The Protocol regulates all activities that might impact the environment of the territory covered by the treaty as well as its dependent and associated ecosystems. The Protocol establishes procedures and regulations valid for all parties to the Protocol which must be carried out or complied with before any activity in the Antarctic is granted. This is necessary in order to enable an assessment of the full impact of any activity on the Antarctic environment. The Protocol's five annexes lay down specific regulations on the preparation of environmental impact assessments, the conservation of Antarctic fauna and flora, waste disposal and waste management, the prevention of marine pollution and on the protection and management of specially protected areas. A sixth annex concerning liability was adopted by the ATCM back in 2005 but has not yet entered into force.

By the way: The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty will not simply expire in 2048. Negotiations can be taken up again 50 years after the Environment Protocol entered into force in 1998.