Antarctica is a very special continent. It is the coldest, driest and stormiest of all continents. It is almost forty times as large as Germany – but is uninhabited. Even in the Antarctic summer, 99% of its area is covered in ice. So it has a huge impact on the global climate and on marine ecosystems. For if parts of the Antarctic ice cap melt, sea levels rise. This would have a dramatic effect felt even on Europe’s coasts.
As Antarctica is not subject to national sovereignty, its use by the international community and international relations on the continent are regulated by a special international treaty system. At the heart of this system is the Antarctic Treaty. Representatives of the participating nations meet annually. This year the 44th ATCM will take place in Berlin – the first time in over 30 years that the city has hosted this gathering.
Research, regulation and protection
The main activity conducted in Antarctica is research. There are currently over 40 research stations operating all year round. Scientists often collaborate in international research projects. Polar research is playing a key role in understanding historic climate shifts and improving prognoses on future climate change. The research findings serve as a basis for political decision-making and thus for environmental protection on the continent. That is why the motto for this year’s ATCM is “From Science via Policy to Protection”. The focus will be on concrete measures to preserve Antarctica’s unique ecosystem, for instance by establishing specially protected areas, looking at uniform guidelines for Antarctic tourists, or improving the protection of the Emperor penguin.