Binding measures for the protection of Antarctica

Article IX of the Antarctic Treaty of 1959 stipulates that the Contracting Parties shall meet at suitable intervals for the purpose of exchanging information and consulting together on matters of common interest. It also states that they are to formulate, consider and recommend to their Governments measures in furtherance of the principles and objectives of the Treaty, including measures regarding:

a) use of Antarctica for peaceful purposes only;

b) facilitation of scientific research in Antarctica;

c) facilitation of international scientific cooperation in Antarctica;

d) facilitation of the exercise of the rights of inspection;

e) questions relating to the exercise of jurisdiction in Antarctica;

f) preservation and conservation of living resources in Antarctica.

It must be emphasised that all decisions by the Antarctic Treaty Consultative meeting (ATCM) are taken by consensus. In other words, even if just one Consultative Party disagrees, a measure will not be approved. From 1961 till 1994, the Parties met every two years. Since then, meetings have been held annually. Up until 1995, decisions were taken in the form of Recommendations that had to be ratified by all Consultative Parties in order to enter into force. With the increasing number of Contracting Parties, particularly in the 1980s, this system became too cumbersome. Today there are three types of decision: Measures, Decisions and Resolutions. Measures are texts containing provisions that become legally binding once they have been approved by all Consultative Parties. Decisions, on the other hand, address internal organisational matters and take effect as soon as they are adopted. Resolutions are not legally binding, but are intended to spur the Parties on to introduce legal regulations. All Recommendations, Measures, Decisions and Resolutions adopted since 1961 can be found in a database on the website of the Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty.

Advice and support from the Committee for Environmental Protection

The Antarctic Treaty was supplemented by the Protocol on Environmental Protection in 1991. The Protocol established the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP) and defined its tasks. Specifically, it 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.”

At their meetings or in Intersessional Contact Groups, the members of the Committee discuss, among other things, the effectiveness of measures and instruments pursuant to the Protocol and the need to update or improve them, as well as environmental impact assessments, the establishment or enhancement of protected areas, management of risks associated with non-native species, the impact of tourism and other non-governmental activities, and responses to the environmental consequences of climate change in the Antarctic region.

To coordinate its work, the Committee draws up a five‑year work plan, which focuses on high‑priority environmental issues. The Committee meets annually before the ATCM. Parties to the Environment Protocol are entitled to send representatives to the Committee meetings. The meetings are also attended by observers such as non‑governmental organisations or the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators as well as by invited experts. Germany’s CEP Contact Point is the German Environment Agency.