Antarctic Social Science Session

There are not only questions built around Antarctica’s ice. Disciplines like biology, history or social science conduct research about other issues in Antarctica. And I am very lucky to know the right people to ask these questions… so here is the first guest blog post by Dr. Daniela Liggett.

1) “What is the current action being done to protect Antarctica ?”

The Antarctic Treaty System, with the 1959 Antarctic Treaty (the world’s first anti-nuclear agreement that set aside 10% of the earth’s surface area to peaceful activities and scientific cooperation) at its heart, is the current governance regime for the Antarctic.  For the states that have signed the relevant agreements (currently, 63 of them, with 29 states having decision-making powers), it regulates all human activity in the Antarctic and includes a number of instruments on environmental protection.

2) “To whom belongs Antarctica ?”

Antarctica is a global commons (like outer space and the deep sea bed) that belongs to all of humankind.  Seven states hold historic territorial claims to parts of the Antarctic that pre-date the Antarctic Treaty, but the Antarctic Treaty essentially puts these claims on hold, meaning that the claimant states cannot act on them.

3) “Who takes the most important decisions ? Is there a president of

the United States of Antarctica ?”

All decisions concerning top-level Antarctic governance are taken by the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties, ie those states with decision-making powers.  They have to be consensus decisions, ie if only one state votes “no” on something, it doesn’t pass.  There is no president, and there are no “United States of Antarctica”.  There is, however, an Antarctic Treaty Executive Secretary, currently Albert Lluberas from Uruguay, who heads the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Essentially, the secretariat is the administrative engine behind Antarctic politics.

4) “Are there any mining or drilling activities for fossil fuels ?”

Mineral resource exploitation is banned by the 1991 Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, so no, there are no mining or drilling activities for fossil fuels.  Technically, the Protocol, just like all other Antarctic Treaty System agreements, only bind those states that have signed them though.

5) “Who would Christian ask all for all these questions ?”

Daniela is a senior lecturer at Gateway Daniela_LiggettAntarctica, at the University of Canterbury, and is currently the co-chair of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research’s (SCAR) Humanities and Social Sciences Expert Group. Her research interests include environmental management and tourism regulation in extreme environments and decision-making on environmental and climate change issues. She is also the organizer of the Postgraduate Certificate in Antarctic Studies  (PCAS), where I had the pleasure to teach 15 students all about Antarctic glaciology and climate change during its field component at Scott Base (Class trip to Antarctica)
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