The Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM), which the Consultative Parties have convened since 1993 on an annual basis, is the governing body of the Antarctic Treaty system. Only Consultative Parties have the power to make decisions provided for in Article IX of the Antarctic Treaty. Countries can only gain consultative status if they demonstrate their special interest in Antarctica by “conducting substantial research activity there” – in other words by operating stations or undertaking expeditions at regular intervals.
There is a broad-based exchange of information at the ATCM meetings between the currently 53 Parties to the Treaty, of which 37 have also ratified the Protocol on Environmental Protection and 29 have consultative status. The meeting also includes observers (Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research – SCAR, Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs – COMNAP, and the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources – CCAMLR) and invited experts (Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition – ASOC, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources – IUCN, International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators – IAATO).
The purpose of the meetings is to agree on measures for the protection of the Antarctic and recommend their implementation to the respective governments of the Consultative Parties. Article XI of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty establishes the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP), which also meets once a year during the ATCM and formulates recommendations to the Contracting Parties in connection with the implementation of the Protocol and operation of its Annexes in national law. The decisions taken at the CEP sessions are subject to approval by the ATCM.
Topics at the meetings
The participants of the annual meetings focus on a wide variety of topics in various Working Groups. The permanent Working Groups are: "Legal and Institutional Matters", "Operational Matters" and "Tourism". Other Working Groups are established to address specific topics such as search and rescue activities or the designation of Specially Protected or Specially Managed Areas.
The ATCM adopts measures, decisions and resolutions based on the principle of unanimity and which have different degrees of enforceability on their own. Measures become binding for all the Contracting Parties once they have been ratified by all the Consultative Parties at national level. Decisions concern internal organisational matters and automatically come into effect once they are adopted at the ATCM. Resolutions are understood as recommendations of a motivational character but are not legally binding for the Contracting Parties. Measures, decisions and resolutions serve the implementation of the principles of the Antarctic Treaty and the Protocol on Environmental Protection and act as the regulations and guidelines for the management of the territory covered by the Treaty and the mandate of the ATCM.
The ATCM has been held annually since 1994, alternately hosted by the countries in alphabetical order of their English names. Germany is scheduled to host the ATCM for the second time in 2021. Special meetings of ATMEs (Antarctic Treaty Meeting of Experts) are occasionally convened to discuss specific issues of current importance. In the time period between two conferences the Contracting Parties engage in exchange in Intersessional Contact Groups (ICGs) to prepare discussions on certain issues.