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Governance of the Antarctic

The Antarctic Treaty

During the first half of the twentieth century, several countries made territorial claims to various parts of the Antarctic. The International Geophysical Year (1957-58) presented an opportunity to discuss ways to avoid possible problems with conflicting claims and establish a means to facilitate continued international scientific collaboration. It led to the development of the Antarctic Treaty, which was signed in 1959 and entered into force in 1961. The goal of the Antarctic Treaty is to ensure "in the interests of all mankind that Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord." The Treaty's main features include: prohibition of all military activities; freedom and international cooperation in scientific research and exchange of information; suspension of claims of territorial sovereignty; and prohibitions of nuclear explosions or disposal of radioactive waste.

Elephant seals spar in the midst of king penguins
Photographer: Mike Usher
National Science Foundation
Date Taken: February 3, 2005

Since 1961, Parties to the Antarctic Treaty have negotiated several international agreements and more than 200 resolutions and decisions dealing with the governance and management of Antarctica. The key international agreements are: the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (CCAS), 1972; the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), 1980; and the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, 1991 (Madrid Protocol). Collectively, the Treaty, the Protocol and Conventions, and the measures adopted under those agreements constitute the Antarctic Treaty System. Canada is a non-consultative party to the Antarctic Treaty which means that it participates only as an observer in consultative meetings. Canada is a member to all of the agreements of the Antarctic Treaty System, having ratified the Madrid Protocol in 2003, the CCAS in 1990 and CCAMLR in 1988.

Related link: The Antarctic Treaty

The Madrid Protocol

The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, commonly called the Madrid Protocol came into force in 1998 and has been ratified by more than thirty countries. Parties are required to oversee the activities of expeditions organized in or proceeding from their territory, as well as the activities of their vessels, aircraft and stations in the Antarctic. In order to ratify this Protocol, Canada enacted the Antarctic Environmental Protection Act (AEPA) and its regulations in 2003.

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