Background picture: Alfred-Wegener-Institut/Steuer
Environmental protection under the aegis of the Federal Government
The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection, German Environment Agency and Federal Agency for Nature Conservation
Germany’s environmental policy in Antarctica is generally shaped by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety. The experts at the Ministry have many years of experience with environmental protection in a broad range of areas. They also cooperate closely with experts from other federal ministries. The goal is a holistic approach to environmental protection and research in Antarctica.
Requirements of Germany’s environmental policy
As a rule the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (Federal Ministry for the Environment) defines the focus of Germany’s environmental policy in Antarctica. It is also responsible for legal issues concerning environmental protection in Antarctica. One central aspect is transposing international agreements and decisions into German law. For example, the Federal Ministry for the Environment was responsible for incorporating the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty into national law and for transposing Annex VI to the Protocol, the so-called Liability Annex, into the national Antarctica Liability Act. The Ministry also issues regulations. One example is the regulation under which the Independent Commission of Academic Experts on Antarctica is formed. The Ministry appoints the members of the Commission of Experts in consultation with the Federal Foreign Office and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The Federal Ministry for the Environment also plays a key role in environment-related research in Antarctica as it administers and makes available the funds earmarked for this research. In addition, the Ministry has technical and legal oversight over the following subordinate authorities:
The German Environment Agency
The German Environment Agency is the national competent authority for all activities that are to be undertaken in Antarctica and are organised in Germany or proceed from German territory. The legal basis for this is the Act Implementing the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (AIEP), which entered into force in 1998. Scientists wishing to conduct research in Antarctica, tour operators offering cruises, and media representatives must first apply to the German Environment Agency in Dessau-Roßlau for a permit. The permits granted by the German Environment Agency within the framework of the AIEP are based on the best available expertise and the relevant instruments of administrative law. In the approval process the German Environment Agency consults other agencies and institutions, such as the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation and the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency. One notable feature of the AIEP is the Commission of Experts. This Commission is consulted in the course of the national approval process whenever a planned scientific activity could have at least a minor or transitory impact on Antarctica’s environment. The German Environment Agency charges fees in accordance with the Special Fee Ordinance of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety for the issuing of all permits for non-scientific activities. For violations of the statutory regulations, the German Environment Agency may impose a fine.
Furthermore, the German Environment Agency has the task of working to promote and build on environmental protection in Antarctica. For example, it is the German contact point for the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP). The CEP advises the Contracting Parties to the Antarctic Treaty. It issues recommendations and proposes measures designed to help improve environmental protection in Antarctica. The staff of the German Environment Agency are part of the German delegation at the annual Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings (ATCM), for which they prepare working papers, information sheets and background papers. In the time between the consultative meetings, they chair working groups on current issues such as climate change, shipping and tourism. The Agency also cooperates closely with the competent authorities of other Contracting Parties in order to coordinate international approval practice and to rigorously pursue violations of the AIEP and the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, for example.
Having a say on marine protected areas and tourism
The German Environment Agency is also active in the context of the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CAMLR Convention). There, for example, it works to bring about the designation of marine protected areas and on selected priority topics of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR). Furthermore, German Environment Agency participates in the annual conferences of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO). In consultation with IAATO, the Agency deploys staff on observer missions on German cruise ships, for instance.
Consolidating the legal basis
Activities such as tourism, fishing and even research leave their mark on Antarctica. This is placing a growing burden on the South Pole region. The German Environment Agency is working to ensure long term, sustainable and comprehensive protection for Antarctica. Crucial factors in this include the effective implementation of the AIEP on the one hand and the consolidation of the Antarctic Treaty system on the other. While the drafting and revision of legal provisions is primarily the task of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, the German Environment Agency provides important input on fundamental questions concerning legal application and the further development of the AIEP. The Agency is also involved in the regular revision of the German legal framework and the transposition of international decisions into national law.
The German Environment Agency increasingly shares its scientific and legal expertise in international bodies. By so doing, it helps to establish a scientific basis which can be used to evaluate and predict the impact that certain activities will have on Antarctica. This is vital for a reliable impact assessment.
The tasks of the German Environment Agency also involve supplying information on Antarctica to the public. This includes press information, brochures, guidelines and seminars as well as the regular publication of research findings and new insights, which raises awareness among the general public of the need to protect Antarctica and provides the academic world with up-to-date scientific information. The Agency also outsources numerous research projects on measures and strategies designed to help protect Antarctica’s ecosystems in the long term.
The Federal Agency for Nature Conservation
The Federal Agency for Nature Conservation provides expertise and scientific advice to the Federal Ministry for the Environment on issues of nature conservation and landscape management as well as with regard to international cooperation. It also addresses the impact of potential projects on Antarctica’s flora and fauna in the context of AIEP approval processes. For cases in which exemptions from prohibitions by the AIEP need to be sought, the Agency has to grant its approval (consensual participation). This is the case, for example, if samples are to be taken from animal populations for scientific purposes.
Active in the designation of protected areas
The Federal Agency for Nature Conservation is also involved in the identification and designation of marine protected areas (MPA) within the framework of the CAMLR Convention. For example, it was involved in the designation of the MPA in the Ross Sea in 2016. The Agency also works intensively to identify additional protected areas – currently it is involved in drafting Germany’s proposal for a large marine protected area in the Weddell Sea. Within the context of this proposal, the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation assumed responsibility for drafting the management plan. This envisages a zoning concept for the area featuring various measures in order to allow effective protection. In this connection, the Agency supervises several research projects in order to prepare the scientific ground for the proposals and presents them in the relevant CCAMLR working groups.
The Agency also participates in the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings and is particularly active within the CEP. It is likewise responsible for the Convention for the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (CCAS) and issues permits for research projects which come under these regulations.