Liability for Environmental Damage

The question of who pays for environmental damage is controversial throughout the world. Establishing liability for environmental damage is even more essential in a place like Antarctica where the environment is fragile and easily disrupted. The occurrence of a man-made disaster such as an oil spill would be catastrophic for the Antarctic ecosystem and wildlife.

It is important to be prepared, have liability established and have deterrent factors against such events. ASOC supports the Antarctic Treaty’s Annex to the 1991 Environmental Protocol that establishes the responsibilities and liabilities of parties and operators in Antarctica that run a risk of causing an environmental disaster.

Article 16 of the 1991 Environment Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty required member countries to negotiate an annex on comprehensive liability for harm to the Antarctic environment. This obligation was not popular with several countries, and this slowed down negotiations. It took several more years for the countries to agree on the liability annex.

Rusting drums at the Russian Antarctic Base "Bellingshausen" on King George Island. Bellingshausen is one of Antarctica's most polluted places. Old vehicles, rusting barrels and other refuse litter the shoreline. Photographed by Loranchet in February 1992.

In 2005, the Antarctic Treaty System adopted the Annex to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty on Liability Arising from Environmental Emergencies (also known as Annex VI). The Annex contains provisions on preventative measures and contingency planning.

It creates responsibilities for state and non-state operators (such as tourist ship operators) regarding response action to any form of an environmental emergency. It also establishes what the liability would be for failure of the state or non-state to take action to respond to the emergency. The Annex established exceptions from liability and limits of liability were established.

Although ASOC supports and recommends that Antarctic Treaty establish a Liability Annex we feel that Annex VI is not comprehensive enough and is lacking important points and regulations that would make liability and accountability stricter, such as higher insurance to cover liability costs that could deter both states and operators from causing damage and harm in the first place.

Annex VI on Liability Arising From Environmental Emergencies was finally adopted in 2005 but it is still waiting for all the present Consultative Parties to ratify it. Once that happens it will go into force. Currently no countries have ratified the Annex.


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