17, May, 2019

Passing of Bob Hawke

Category: Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition

The Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC) is saddened to learn of the passing of Bob Hawke, former Prime Minister of Australia (1983-1991) and we send our deepest condolences to his family.

We will remember Mr. Hawke as a visionary whose leadership was instrumental in one of the most important international conservation victories of all time, the creation of the Environment Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty. This Protocol banned mining in Antarctica and established numerous environmental protections for the continent and the surrounding ocean. While today this is rightly celebrated as a major accomplishment by all the countries party to the Antarctic Treaty, its negotiation and adoption were extremely contentious at the time. Thanks to Mr. Hawke’s leadership on behalf of Australia, what had been dismissed as impossible became enshrined in international law.

Throughout the 1980s, Antarctic Treaty (AT) governments had been negotiating an international treaty (known as the Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities, or CRAMRA) to govern the expected mining on the continent. NGO campaigners, including many ASOC colleagues, argued instead for the creation of a “World Park Antarctica.” Many of the AT governments, however, believed that extractive activities, though risky, were inevitable and that regulation was the only realistic option. By the late 1980s, CRAMRA discussions had concluded and the Convention awaited final signature by Antarctic Treaty Parties. It appeared that there would be no World Park Antarctica.

Fortunately, Mr. Hawke, along with Michel Rocard, then Prime Minister of France, decided to reject the status quo. They refused to sign CRAMRA, which could not take effect without signatures and eventual ratification from all parties to the Antarctic Treaty. Their efforts did not stop there as they worked to replace CRAMRA with meaningful protections for the region’s uniquely beautiful and fragile environment. By 1991, after much international outreach and negotiation, the Environment Protocol, with its indefinite ban on mineral resource activities, had been agreed. (It entered into force in 1998.)

This stunning turnaround is a testament to what can be achieved when leaders are willing to adopt bold new approaches to environmental issues. The thought of setting aside such a large area from a major resource activity was unprecedented at the time, and it required enormous effort to change course. We are forever grateful to Mr. Hawke for his political courage in realizing that the Antarctic wilderness was far too important to be put at risk.

May his legacy of acting in the best interests of humankind and the environment stand as a shining example for present and future leaders as they confront global environmental challenges.



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