Protocol on Environmental Protection

Comprehensive protection for Antarctic habitats

A reserve devoted to peace and science

The Protocol on Environmental Protection (EP) to the Antarctic Treaty, signed in October 1991, sets out regulations for the comprehensive protection of Antarctic habitats. It entered into force on 14 January 1998 following ratification by the Consultative Parties. It states that: “The Parties commit themselves to the comprehensive protection of the Antarctic environment and dependent and associated ecosystems and hereby designate Antarctica as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science.” Article 3 of the EP specifies that the Antarctic environment must be protected and “the intrinsic value of Antarctica, including its wilderness and aesthetic values and its value as an area for the conduct of scientific research,” must be preserved during all activities carried out there. The Protocol also stipulates that the Parties must work closely with the bodies established by other international conventions on environmental protection in order to achieve these aims. The relevant bodies include in particular the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) and the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR). Article 13 requires the Parties to take appropriate measures such as the adoption of national laws in order to ensure compliance with the EP and environmental protection decisions. The Parties also undertake to cooperate closely in the planning and conduct of activities in Antarctica (Article 6).

Ban on Mining

The provisions of the EP are highly detailed. For example, Article 7 prohibits “any activity relating to mineral resources, other than scientific research”. This ban on mining is one of the Protocol’s core provisions.

The importance of Article 7 is also reflected in Article 25 (5) (a), which governs modifications or amendments to the EP. If the Protocol is modified or amended, the ban on mining will remain in force pursuant to Article 25 (5) (a) until a binding regulation takes effect which establishes whether mining would be acceptable and, if so, subject to what conditions. This provision is designed to prevent unregulated mining in the area covered by the Treaty in the future.

Six Annexes containing detailed provisions for environmental protection

The Protocol currently has six Annexes, which set out detailed regulations on various environmental issues. Five of the Annexes are already in force. The sixth has not yet been ratified by all of the Parties required for it to take effect. The following list summarises the Annexes to the EP:

1.            Environmental Impact Assessment

2.            Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora

3.            Waste Disposal and Waste Management

4.            Prevention of Marine Pollution

5.            Area Protection and Management

6.            Liability Arising from Environmental Emergencies

Due to their particular significance, the environmental impact assessment, emergency response action and environmental liability are covered by dedicated articles in the EP (Articles 8, 15 and 16, respectively) as well as in the relevant Annexes. The environmental impact assessment is designed to ensure that all activities in Antarctica are assessed before they are carried out. This is intended to guarantee the comprehensive protection of the Antarctic environment. The concept of environmental liability is designed to ensure that environmental damage caused by crises such as shipping incidents is remedied as fully as possible, or at least significantly mitigated.

Article 11 establishes the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP), whose functions are set out in Article 12. They include drawing up recommendations and providing advice on environmental protection issues to the Contracting Parties at Consultative Meetings, on the basis of the best available scientific and technical expertise. Article 14, meanwhile, contains an important addition which requires the Parties to arrange for inspections in Antarctica to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Protocol. This article refers back to the provisions of the Antarctic Treaty. Articles 18 to 23 of the EP concern dispute settlement as well as the signature of the Protocol, its ratification by the Signatory states and its entry into force.