The Consultative Parties of the Antarctic Treaty met for their annual Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) from May 23, 2022–June 2, 2022, in Berlin, Germany. The Consultative Parties consist of the original 12 signatory parties to the Antarctic Treaty and other parties that demonstrate a substantial research interest in Antarctica. These meetings are authorized under article IX of the Antarctic Treaty.
The Antarctic Treaty, under which Antarctica is administered, is a 1959 agreement intended to foster cooperation for scientific advances for the good of humanity. Of note, provisions in the treaty explicitly prohibit military action and infrastructure on the continent. (Antarctic Treaty art. I.) Fifty-four countries in total have ratified or acceded to the agreement.
Meeting at the same time was the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP), an entity created from the 1998 Environment Protocol to the treaty. The CEP oversees environmental protection and management and advises the other parties on these topics.
CEP Antarctic Specially Protected Areas and Antarctic Specially Managed Areas
The CEP reviewed management plans for 16 Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPAs). ASPAs are designated through Annex V to the 1998 protocol as areas with outstanding environmental, scientific, historic, aesthetic, or wilderness values. (Protocol, Annex V, art. 3.) Once an area has been designated as an ASPA, entry is prohibited without a special permit. During the recent meeting, the CEP updated the management plan for ASPA No. 124, also known as the Cape Crozier Antarctic Specially Protected Area. This area is described as very remote, and is subject to entry restrictions and new overflight restrictions due to the sensitive nature of penguin populations. (Revised Management Plan for Antarctic Specially Protected Area No. 124.)
Similar to an ASPA, an Antarctic Specially Managed Area (ASMA) is a designated area under special management, with far fewer restrictions than an ASPA. (Protocol, Annex V, art. 5.) ASMAs do not require a permit for entry and include areas where activities risk having an adverse impact on the environment and on sites with historical value. In the recent meeting, the CEP reviewed the management plan for ASMA No. 7, which covers Southwest Anvers Island and Palmer Basin. In its review, the CEP found that restrictions on certain zones within the ASMA could be loosened, specifically regarding the introduction of tourists and other personnel into what were previously researcher-only areas. These zones were under restrictions due to concerns about human contact with the local penguin population. (Revised Management Plan and Maps for Antarctic Specially Managed Area No. 7.)
Resolutions and Decisions Adopted by the Consultative Parties
The Consultative Parties have the power to adopt resolutions and otherwise provide for the administration of Antarctica through the treaty. The Rules and Procedures of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting and the Committee for Environmental Protection state that new measures, decisions, resolutions, and the final report of the ATCM are to be voted on by the 12 Consultative Parties. The current process to institute rules and procedures was agreed to under Decision 1 of 1995. This decision provides that measures and decisions agreed to at the ATCM are legally binding when agreed to by all of the parties.
At the 2022 meeting, several decisions, measures, and resolutions were adopted — of note, a resolution on air safety and a decision on environmental emergencies.
In Resolution 3 of 2022, the ATCM determined that due to an increase in nongovernmental aircraft operations or flights around Antarctica, an update to safety standards was needed. Included in the resolution were provisions for operators to identify alternative landing sites and carry designated safety equipment in case of emergencies. Decision 2 of 2022 focused on liability for environmental damage. In this decision, the ATCM continued evaluating progress on implementing Annex VI of the Environmental Protocol and reaffirmed the obligation to establish a liability regime.
Other BusinessThe 2022 ATCM also discussed many other issues, including climate change, protection of flora and fauna, and tourism. Presentations were also given on a variety of topics, many related to updates on scientific experiments and other similar endeavors. (Results of the 44th ATCM.)