Worriers: 30 years from now Antarctic treaty will expire “plunging the future of the continent into uncertainty”

Three decades from now, several crucial elements of the Antarctic Treaty will come up for possible renewal, plunging the future of the continent into uncertainty.

Out in the field, a new generation of robots and drones are peering under ice shelves, probing the ocean depths and monitoring glaciers, ushering in the age of the “Smart Antarctic”. The ice sheets aren’t exactly flourishing – the Antarctic continent has lost three trillion tonnes of the stuff since 1992 – but scientific research is thriving.

For many polar researcher this is a reason for optimism – but in the political arena, the horizon is darkening. As it stands, the Antarctic Treaty acts as a safeguard for Antarctic science: an international bulwark against commercial or political interference. But as the years tick by, the treaty – and the cooperation that accompanies it – could begin to quietly fracture or even disintegrate completely.

Riches under the ice

In 1998, seven years after it was first signed into the treaty, the Protocol on Environmental Protection came into effect. Its purpose was to “enhance protection of the Antarctic environment and dependent and associated ecosytems” – a noble if poorly defined pledge that has proven difficult to uphold. But, tucked away among the acronyms and technical terminology, Article Seven of the Protocol consisted of a single important sentence, easily missed by the careless reader: “any activity relating to mineral resources, other than , shall be prohibited”. Simple and to the point. Antarctica’s natural resources, whatever they may be, are to remain pristine and untouched. At least for now.

Article 25 carries a caveat: “If, after the expiration of 50 years”, it reads “any of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties so requests, a conference shall be held as soon as practicable to review the operation of this Protocol”. In other words, 30 years from now in 2048, the ATCPs could reject anti-mining regulation and start stripping Antarctica of its mineral resources, diverting the continent towards a radically different future.

Many consider this undesirable, unworkable and unthinkable, but long-time observers know that the uncharted waters of polar politics can constantly surprise.

Read more at The Conversation


Many more people simply aren’t worried about what goes on in a frozen environment they’ll never visit, nor live on.

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32 thoughts on “Worriers: 30 years from now Antarctic treaty will expire “plunging the future of the continent into uncertainty”

  1. 50 years?
    Why are such things not reviewed every few years (say 3 or 5)?
    Things change. Why think they won’t?

    Same can be said for a few other agreements of international interest.

    • Just wait till China tries to claim Marie Byrd land and other countries object. Marie Byrd land in the 7 oclock to 9 oclock part of Antarctica is the largest piece of unclaimed land in the world. The US and Russia havent made a land claim specifically but both reserve the right to establish a research station wherever they want to. The question of land claims will be even more of a sticky subject than the mineral exploitation. Before any exploitation happens, all the countries have to agree to who owns what. Since there are many overlapping claims it is a very sticky wicket indeed.

  2. Wait, which is it? An earlier article said 3 billion tons of ice had been lost. Now these guys are claiming 3 trillion. That’s three orders of magnitude difference. That 0.011% becomes 11%.

    Somehow I don’t think Antarctica has lost 11% of its ice mass. But I don’t know. I could be wrong.

    • Peter;
      There’s a lot of discussion in that thread, but it looks like the proper amount was 3,000 billion, or 3 trillion. Not to worry, there’s still 27 million billion tons left.

    • Peter Morris,

      DJH has the correct figures. 3,000 Gt melt and 27,000,000 Gt ice cap.

      3,000/27,000,000 = 0.00011, or 0.011%.

  3. China will claim that Antarctica was part of their original South China Seas territories and install ‘peaceful’ military bases to enforce their claims.

  4. Do the penguins get a vote?

    I don’t trust them. I suspect they’ll try to stuff the ballot box. They should have a wing tip dipped in purple to make sure they only vote once.

    Allowing mineral exploration would be like the California Gold Rush all over again. I suspect claims will be established under the old “Might makes right” and “Possession is 9/10ths of the Law” rules. It could get ugly.

    • There are 21 million more voting penguins than they thought. A WUWT article told us they found them within last 2 years,
      .

      • How many of those penguins are actually citizens though? I’ve heard on good authority that there are millions of illegal penguins in Antarctica, mainly fleeing from polar bear oppression in the Arctic…

        • Shanghai Dan :
          With YOUR ” nom-de-plume” YOU should know better !
          “Shanghai :coerce or trick (someone) into a place or
          position or into doing something”
          No Dan ……..not only have you been “hoodwinked” but
          you completely misunderstand the military ambition of the
          indomitable penguins!
          Not only have they completely WIPED OUT the Southern
          Polar Bears but they have consigned the few thousand
          remaining Polar Bears to the hazardous Gulags of Siberia
          and the ephemeral Northern Polar Ice Cap where their very
          existence is now under threat !
          The penguins used the same method against the marauding
          Panda Bears! AND LOOK HOW SUCCESSFUL THAT
          HAS BEEN ! That method of “plumed persuasion” that
          Animals rights and Environmental Groups are using
          against Human Beings ; that is ; convincing and coercing
          Carrnivores into eating “Seeds and Weeds”,
          in the Panda’s case , grasses almost devoid of nutrition
          such as bamboo.
          Not only does this severely restrict their aggression and
          desire to live ( imagine that all you had to look forward to
          each morning when you wake up is another day forcing
          down bamboo , having a constant belly-ache , and perpetual
          flatus……..which makes them embarrassed and SOLITARY
          ANIMALS !) and worse still , absolutely NO sex life !
          WHAT A WONDERFUL OUTLOOK…….”we” NEED to
          MAKE DIFFERENT PLANS for the HUMAN RACE !!!

  5. I think the “climate change” community has it that climate refugees will be flooding into Antarctica. The rest of the planet will be too hot to live on. Oh, the horror!!! That’s right, it’s with 20 feet of water covering Canal Street in NYC.

  6. I thought there would only be a couple of breeding pairs of humans left and they would be there.

    If a breeding couple gets a divorce, who gets the house? If their mortgage is not paid can the bank foreclose? Will there be gender equality? Hubby breast feeds the kids while wifey stalks a penguin or whale?

    We need to work these things out now before it’s too late. We only have 5 more years!

    • How long does it take to build arks? Would the greenies build them out of wood. I guess so cause it is renewable. How many greenies know how to build an ark? Would they also take 2 of every species with them? There are a lot more species around nowadays. New ones found every day. They better take some aluminum fireproof suits (with kevlar stitching) with them when they make land, after the great flood caused by all of Antarctica melting. According to the computer models there will be great fires on all the lands and storms, and tornados and cyclones of every type and strength. Oh I guess this ark plan wont work because the world will become an unsustainable hell. So I guess on 2nd thought they should all catch Elon Musk’s one way rocket ship to Mars. It is one way because on Mars there is no lift off infrastructure but since earth will be finished, they wont want to come back anyway. Me I will stay here on earth. I like it warmer. It is too cold on Mars. Greenies like it cold I guess.

  7. “Stripping the mineral wealth” from a continent 99.82% covered by ice and only briefly accessible in summer (and often not even then) might be a tad difficult.

    Which is undoubtedly the main reason a 50 year treaty was agreed in the first place. It is rather like agreeing not to catch whales in Wyoming.

  8. I can see at least one more commercial teleport going in, the market for polar orbiting LEOs is going to demand high latitude ground stations. I don’t think TrollSat can expand enough to handle the traffic.

    Other commercial activities, beyond tourism aren’t jumping out at me.

    • Green virtue signalling, as Australian banks promise not to lend to enterprises mining in Antarctica.

  9. “In other words, 30 years from now in 2048, the ATCPs could reject anti-mining regulation and start stripping Antarctica of its mineral resources, diverting the continent towards a radically different future.”

    Meaningless bafflegab without any real dangers defined or even mentioned… Except fear harvesting mineral resources.

    These folks have new careers awaiting them. A career that involves front and back placards with messages of doom or repent.

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