Some say Antarctica is the last pristine wilderness left on the planet. It is the only place in the world where the environment and science are prioritised both on the continent and in the surrounding Southern Ocean. How did this region escape war, human destruction, mineral exploitation and rampant development?
The answer is that Antarctica is home to one of the most successful international agreements: The Protocol of Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. The agreement bans mining in Antarctica and sets it aside as, “…a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science.” This year marks 25 years since its signing and its success is in no small part attributed to former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard, who died on July 2, 2016 at age 85.
How did it happen?
Here’s a quick version of events leading up to this remarkable agreement:
- Until the 1950s, several states were jostling for control of slices of Antarctica. They had explored the region, made sovereign claims and set-up scientific bases. While some claims remain, the Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1959 establishing Antarctica as a region for peace and cooperation.
- In 1982, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) was established with the aim of conserving marine life in Antarctica’s Southern Ocean.