20, Apr, 2009

Antarctic Treaty Governments Fail on Climate Change, Make Progress on Marine Protected Areas and Tourism Regulation

Category: ECO Inc

April 17, 2009 - Baltimore, Maryland. The latest climate change findings from scientists were a key topic of discussions at the 50th anniversary meeting of the Antarctic Treaty. Scientific results from the International Polar Year (IPY) about the severe impacts on the Arctic and the Antarctic as a result of climate change were noted by all the governments. The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) presented an important report on Antarctic Climate Change and the Environment, a synthesis of the latest climate science from Antarctica.

Unfortunately, in spite of the evidence before them, the Antarctic Treaty Parties failed to agree on language in their Final Report on the urgent need for a good climate deal at the upcoming Copenhagen negotiations this December. Some representatives were hamstrung by their countries’ domestic responses to climate change, which prevented them from supporting strong climate action, despite the evidence and urgency of the situation. The governments did agree to hold a special meeting of climate experts in Norway in 2010, and forwarded the SCAR report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) for use in the Copenhagen negotiations. Ministers attending the opening of the meeting on April 6 agreed on two Declarations on the IPY and the 50th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty, both prominently featuring climate change.

“Parties to the Antarctic Treaty have missed an opportunity to honor their responsibility to protect and preserve the environment of Antarctica by not conveying a collective call for a fair, effective and science based climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol,” said Rob Nicoll (WWF).

“Seldom has the science been more compelling or unequivocal,” noted Jim Barnes, ASOC’s Executive Director. “This evidence should act as a rallying call to the world's governments to cut greenhouse gas emissions and put in place comprehensive protection for the Antarctic continent and the Southern Ocean.”

More positive was that Parties agreed to work in conjunction with the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) to establish a comprehensive and representative network of marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean. Although no clear targets or timelines were set, the 11 areas designated by CCAMLR for inclusion in the MPA network were endorsed – including the Ross Sea. Climate change, ocean acidification and escalating fishing and whaling activities in the Southern Ocean are placing this fragile ecosystem under increasing strain. Establishing a network of marine protected areas and marine reserves is crucial for building resilience in marine ecosystems, and serving as scientific reference areas for the study of climate change.

“Now that both CCAMLR and the ATCM are united in this effort, there is a possibility of putting real marine protection in place before it's too late,” noted Barnes.

“Parties have their next opportunity to put a network of life-saving protected areas in place at the CCAMLR meeting later this year, giving the Antarctic Treaty System something concrete to celebrate in their fiftieth anniversary year,” said Richard Page (Greenpeace International).

On tourism, the ATCM adopted a legally binding Measure preventing any landings in Antarctica from vessels carrying more than 500 passengers. In addition, the ATCM approved a Resolution containing general voluntary principles on Antarctic tourism, including that tourism should not contribute to the long-term degradation of the Antarctic environment, and should accord priority to scientific activities.

Industry sources indicated that more than 38,000 mostly ship-borne tourists traveled to Antarctica in the 2008-2009 austral summer. The projected numbers for the next season are estimated at around 43,000. Antarctic tourism numbers have been doubling every five years over the past decade.

“Over the past 8 years of tourism discussions Parties have been unwilling to address the basic nature of the Antarctic tourism industry and have allowed themselves to be distracted by minor manifestations of the tourism phenomena. In this context, the steps taken by this ATCM are positive,” said Ricardo Roura (Senior ASOC Advisor). “However, these steps have been a long time coming and constitute only the bare foundations of a tourism management regime. We hope that further concrete steps will be taken at future ATCMs and that from now on Parties will address tourism developments proactively,” said Roura.

For further information:
In New Zealand: Barry Weeber, ECO Co-Chairperson, Cell 021-738-807
ECO is a member of ASOC and Mr Weeber is an International Board member of ASOC.

At the meeting:
Jim Barnes, Executive Director, ASOC
US Cell: +1-202-413-0614; French Cell: 33-6-7418-1994; Email: jimbo0628@mac.com
Rob Nicoll, Manager, WWF Antarctic and Southern Oceans Initiative
Cell: +61-4-3893-8764; Email: rnicoll@wwf.org.au
Ricardo Roura, Senior ASOC Advisor
Cell: +31-650-964-033; +31 20 683 8133 Email: ricardo.roura@worldonline.nl
Richard Page, Greenpeace Oceans Campaigner
US Cell: +1-202-258-1653; Email: Richard.page@uk.greenpeace.org