Humans have been visiting, researching and working in Antarctica for over 200 years. Despite efforts to minimize our footprint, our presence has had an impact on this fragile wilderness.
Emerging threats such as the climate crisis, and growing industries like krill fisheries are destabilizing the delicate balance of Antarctic ecosystems. Expanding shipping in the Southern Ocean increases the risk of maritime incidents, including oil spills and maritime pollution.
Urgent protection is needed to build resilient ecosystems and prevent irreversible damage at this time of rapid change. ASOC advocates for a precautionary approach and strong, enforceable environmental protection at the highest level of Antarctic governance.
Why it’s important
Everything is connected.
Antarctic life interacts with the rest of the ocean in many ways that benefit humans. Tiny plants and animals living under seasonal sea ice absorb carbon dioxide, helping to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and keep the planet cool.
Whales that feed on the abundant krill in Antarctic waters migrate north in the winter, fertilizing the ocean with their nutrient-rich, lifegiving feces. These priceless ecosystem services are performed for free every day.
Exactly how changes in the Antarctic marine environment will affect humans remains a great unknown.
This uncertainty is part of why it is so important that we protect these fragile ecosystems from the unpredictable, irreversible changes caused by the climate crisis and other human activities.
What ASOC is doing
We continue to work with our members, partners and a global network of Antarctic advocates to raise the profile of the Southern Ocean, world-leading science and the urgent need for Antarctic protection, both on land and at sea.
ASOC advocates for strengthening liability and accountability for states and operators who cause damage to the Antarctic environment, threatening its land, waters, and species.
The question of who is liable for environmental damage in Antarctica is critical to its protection. An environmental emergency in Antarctica would be disastrous and costly to remedy, with grave consequences for fragile ecosystems in areas that are extremely difficult to access.
Despite decades of negotiation, the question of who is liable for damage caused in the Antarctic Treaty Area remains unanswered. If there was a major environmental incident in Antarctic waters, there are several unknowns: who is responsible for coordinating the cleanup response? Who pays for the repair work? Who ensures that it’s done, and done well? How is this enforced? And what happens if the responsible parties refuse to do the work? Without answers to these questions, an environmental crisis could turn into a global disaster.
As the Exxon Valdez oil spill showed us in the 1980s, environmental emergencies in remote areas are costly, time-consuming and resource-intensive to remediate. Establishing liability for environmental damage in Antarctica is essential, both to promote accountability among those operating in Antarctica, and to discourage high-risk activities.
ASOC continues to advocate for the adoption of preventative regulations that both deter parties and operators from taking risks that could cause environmental damage, and establish liability in advance of an incident.
ASOC supports the full and effective implementation of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty.
Antarctica’s Environmental Protocol provides a legally binding set of conservation measures that covers most activities in the Antarctic Treaty area. However, although it entered into force in 1998, some important provisions of the Protocol still haven’t been put in place. For example, we are still waiting for a system of protected areas to be created, and a liability regime to be established.
ASOC campaigns for full and effective implementation of the Environmental Protocol so Antarctica will be governed to the highest standard of environmental protection possible.
As the only official environmental NGO observer to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings, ASOC advocates for science-based policies within the existing Antarctic governance framework.
Our primary focus is on building Antarctic ecosystem resilience in the face of the climate crisis. We advocate for policies that reduce the stress on Antarctic ecosystems from human activities such as fishing, tourism, and scientific research. We strongly support deep cuts to global carbon emissions, which represent the greatest threat to the integrity of Antarctica today.
Photo credit: Bob Zuur
ASOC acknowledges and supports the world-class climate research conducted by Antarctic researchers.
We present timely, science-based policy proposals at meetings of Antarctic governance organizations, providing Treaty parties with reliable information on how to protect the Antarctic environment. We also share this information with the broader public, promoting actions that will secure a climate-safe future.
Photo credit: Marlo Garnsworthy / IODP