Antarctic Treaty comes up for review
is the last remaining unspoilt wilderness; untouched by the massive
industrialisation common everywhere else on the planet. It covers an
area of 13.7 million sq km (5.3 million sq miles) and is covered by
an ice sheet 4 km (2.5 miles) deep. It has no human inhabitants, other
than a small number of scientists in research stations.
icy continent is governed by the terms of the Antarctic Treaty, which
came into effect in 1961. This was signed by Argentina, Australia, Chile,
France, New Zealand, Norway, the UK, Belgium, Japan, South Africa, the
USA and Russia. The first seven of these countries have historic claims
to the continent (none of which are generally recognised) and the Treaty
preserves the status quo, neither recognising nor repudiating the old
claims, but forbidding their expansion in any way. The terms of the
Treaty also forbid the assertion of new claims.
of a hole in the ozone layer, and other concerns, led to the addition
of a new environmental protocol agreed in 1991. This entered force in
1998. It was intended to protect Antarctica's environment and ecosystems,
and included a total ban on the exploitation of mineral and energy resources,
as well as strict regulation of pollution and other damaging activities.
The protocol is open for review in 2048, exactly 50 years after it was implemented.*
changed in the last half century. Earth's population is over 50% larger, placing a substantial drain on the Earth's resources which
has become alarmingly obvious by now. Metal and mineral supplies continue to be an issue, even with large-scale recycling systems in place.* Despite objections from environmentalists, there is general consensus
among the international community that some limited exploitation of
Antarctica should be permitted, within certain specially controlled areas.
Over the next few years, a new treaty is drawn up with modified clauses, though disputes continue over territorial boundaries.
significant logistical challenges to mining and mineral extraction in
the region – such as the isolation, extreme cold, rough seas and thick
ice sheet. However, new technologies look set to mitigate these problems,
including the use of robots, heavy automation and alternative methods
of drilling. In addition, climate change and the melting of ice is making
it possible to exploit some previously inaccessible areas of the western
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