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Antarctic Treaty

During the 1940s and 1950s, Antarctica was the subject of international tension caused by overlapping sovereign claims to the Antarctic Peninsula (from UK, Argentina and Chile) and between the Cold War Super-powers of the US and USSR. A successful International Geophysical Year in 1957/58, however, laid the foundations for an international conference to develop a long-term framework for peaceful co-existence and scientific co-operation in Antarctica. This subsequently led to the development of the Antarctic Treaty, which was adopted in 1959 and came into force on 23 June 1961. Originally signed by 12 countries, there are currently 27 Consultative (voting) Parties and 18 Non-Consultative Parties to the Antarctic Treaty, which together represent over 80% of the World's population.

The Treaty itself is very short (only 14 Articles), but it established a framework to set aside territorial disputes and demilitarise Antarctica. Covering all land and ice-shelves south of 60° South Latitude, the Treaty also ensures that Antarctica is used only for peaceful purposes and secures scientific co-operation and transparency of operations among Treaty Parties.

Under the umbrella of the Antarctic Treaty, further Conventions and Protocols have been developed to address the issues of Antarctic resources and protection of the Antarctic environment. Most of note is the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). This was agreed in 1980; to conserve all Antarctic marine living resources south of the Polar front (the boundary between cold Antarctic seas and the warmer waters of the Atlantic). Also of note, is the Environmental Protocol, which came into force in 1998 and establishes a framework for the comprehensive protection of Antarctica, including:

  • A complete ban on all commercial mining;
  • A mechanism to ensure that the environmental impact of all activities undertaken in Antarctica is considered and mitigated as far as practicable;
  • Comprehensive protection of Antarctic plants and animals;
  • Stringent waste management procedures;
  • Prevention of marine pollution;
  • A system to protect the most sensitive and scientifically important areas of Antarctica.

The provisions of the Environmental Protocol have subsequently been adopted into UK law through the Antarctic Act 1994. This establishes a permitting system for all British activities in Antarctica. Any British expeditions to Antarctica, as well any British registered ships and aircraft wishing to enter Antarctica must first apply for a permit from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.

For more information about the Antarctic Treaty, visit:

Foreign & Commonwealth Office

British Anyartic Survey 1

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