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Antarctica: Protocol of Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty

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Addition to the Antarctic Treaty system

The Protocol of Environmental Protection of 1991 entered into force in 1998. With its five Annexes it supplements the Antarctic Treaty of 1959. While the latter is, above all, intended to guarantee the peaceful use of Antarctica and the freedom of research on the basis of international cooperation, the Protocol forms a comprehensive environmental protection regime for the 6th continent. This adds a new pillar to the existing Antarctic Treaty system and is an outstanding example of international cooperation in the field of environmental protection.

The substance

The regulations contained in the Protocol are primarily of a preventive nature: environmental damage should, as far as possible, be prevented or kept to an absolute minimum. As a unique nature reserve, the unspoilt nature of Antarctica is to be preserved (Article 2 (1) and (2) (a) and (b) of the Protocol). To this end, Article 3 of the Protocol for the first time provides rules for all human activities on the 6th continent which take into account the outstanding ecological significance of this region for the global climate and the environmental interests of humanity as a whole. The Protocol contains a ban on mineral resource activities (Art. 7 of the Protocol) and the implementation of timely and comprehensive environmental impact assessments for proposed activities (Art. 8 in conjunction with Annex I to the Protocol). Strong emphasis is placed on international cooperation and on mutual information (Art. 6 of the Protocol), as well as on international inspections (Art. 14 of the Protocol) and on rules on contingency plans (Art. 15 of the Protocol). As the Protocol itself does not contain any material liability rules, the Consultative Parties are negotiating a supplementary Annex which Germany has been working hard to promote.

The regulations contained in the Protocol are primarily of a preventive nature: environmental damage should, as far as possible, be prevented or kept to an absolute minimum. As a unique nature reserve, the unspoilt nature of Antarctica is to be preserved (Article 2 (1) and (2) (a) and (b) of the Protocol). To this end, Article 3 of the Protocol for the first time provides rules for all human activities on the 6th continent which take into account the outstanding ecological significance of this region for the global climate and the environmental interests of humanity as a whole. The Protocol contains a ban on mineral resource activities (Art. 7 of the Protocol) and the implementation of timely and comprehensive environmental impact assessments for proposed activities (Art. 8 in conjunction with Annex I to the Protocol). Strong emphasis is placed on international cooperation and on mutual information (Art. 6 of the Protocol), as well as on international inspections (Art. 14 of the Protocol) and on rules on contingency plans (Art. 15 of the Protocol). As the Protocol itself does not contain any material liability rules, the Consultative Parties are negotiating a supplementary Annex which Germany has been working hard to promote.

The five Annexes to the Protocol contain detailed provisions on impact assessment, the conservation of Antarctic fauna and flora, prevention of marine pollution, waste disposal and waste management, as well as area protection and management. For instance, the killing of animals or the removal of plants is prohibited and is only permissible under strict conditions if it is absolutely necessary for research purposes and does not endanger the diversity of species (Art. 3 of Annex II to the Protocol; Section 17 of the Implementing Act). Nor, as a rule, is the import of animals and plants possible (Art. 4 of Annex II to the Protocol; Section 18 (2) of the Implementing Act), in order to avoid jeopardizing the indigenous animal and plant world. The creation and removal of waste in Antarctica must be avoided as far as possible (Annex III to the Protocol; Sections 21 ff. of the Implementing Act).

The Committee for Environmental Protection

After the entry into force of the Protocol, the Committee for Environmental Protection was established (Art. 11 of the Protocol). It serves as the advisory body for the implementation and observance of the Protocol and examines the effectiveness of environmental protection measures and possible improvements, the carrying out of impact assessments and inspections, as well as the collation and evaluation of exchanged information (Art. 12 of the Protocol). Committee meetings take place during the annual Consultative Meetings to the Antarctic Treaty at which, also on the basis of Committee recommendations, general environmental measures are adopted (Art. 10 of the Protocol).

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