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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.
For six decades, the treaty has been the cornerstone of governance for our most southerly, harshest and most pristine continent. It has fostered scientific research, promoted international cooperation, ensured non-militarisation, suspended territorial claims and strengthened environmental protections. Its guardians are the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties (ATCPs) – chief among them the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Norway, Germany, Chile and Argentina.
Field - Generation - Robots - Drones - Ice
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.
Years - Treaty - Protocol - Environmental - Protection
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 scientific research, shall be prohibited". Simple and to the point. Antarctica's natural...
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