Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) and meeting of the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP)

Working together to shape the future of Antarctica

Antarctica is the only one of the world’s continents which has no governments, parliaments or central organisations to take legally binding decisions. Instead, this task falls to the Consultative Parties to the Antarctic Treaty with voting rights, who discuss and take the relevant decisions annually at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM). For more information see “Tasks of the ATCM and CEP”.

Not all Parties to the Treaty taking part in the Consultative Meetings have voting rights. States that only acceded to the Treaty after it was signed in 1959 must to this end first demonstrate their “interest in Antarctica by conducting substantial scientific research activity there, such as the establishment of a scientific station or the despatch of a scientific expedition” (Article IX of the Antarctic Treaty). This rule was subsequently backed up with further criteria to be fulfilled by States. States meeting these criteria are then, like the original signatories, “Consultative Parties”. There are also Non‑Consultative Parties. A list of Parties, both Consultative and Non‑Consultative, can be found on the website of the Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty.

The ATCM is hosted by the Consultative Parties according to the alphabetical order of their English names. France organised ATCM XLIII in 2021. Owing to the COVID‑19 pandemic, this meeting was held for the first time online. The meeting planned for Finland in 2020 was cancelled because of the pandemic. Finland has therefore offered to host the 2023 meeting, which will probably be held in Helsinki.

Committee for Environmental Protection

The Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP), which provides the Contracting Parties with advice on environmental protection in Antarctica, meets concurrently with the annual ATCM. The CEP was established by Article 11 of the Protocol on Environmental Protection and its tasks are described in greater detail in Article 12, which says: “The functions of the Committee shall be to provide advice and formulate recommendations to the Parties in connection with the implementation of this Protocol, including the operation of its Annexes, for consideration at Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings, and to perform such other functions as may be referred to it by the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings.”

It provides advice, among other things, on measures taken pursuant to the Protocol, in particular whether they are effective or need to be updated or improved, as well as on environmental impact assessments, response action in environmental emergencies, protected areas, inspection procedures and the state of the Antarctic environment.

Each Party to the Environment Protocol is entitled to appoint a representative for the sessions. Observers and invited experts may also participate in the Committee’s sessions. Between meetings, the Parties exchange views in Intersessional Contact Groups (ICGs).

The ATCM is attended not only by the Contracting Parties, but also by observers and invited experts. These include representatives of other states, international organisations and non‑governmental organisations with expertise of relevance to the ATCM.