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About the Treaty

The Antarctic Treaty is the foundation stone of the Antarctic Treaty System, which provides for the cooperative governance of the vast Antarctic continent and surrounding Southern Ocean. The Treaty has become a model for international cooperation.
ATCM XXXVI will further advance cooperation in Antarctic affairs, including on the important issue of protecting the Antarctic environment.

The Antarctic Treaty was signed in Washington on 1 December 1959 by twelve states: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States. These States had scientific research and other interests in and around Antarctica and had participated in the Antarctic components of the IGY (International Geophysical Year, 1957-1958).
They were keen to put in place a mechanism to ensure that the cooperation that had characterised the IGY continued in Antarctica.

The Treaty entered into force on 23 June 1961 and the 12 original signatories met at the first Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Canberra in July 1961. Since then 38 other countries have become Parties to the Treaty. In total, there are 50 Parties to the Antarctic Treaty. Article IX of the Treaty provides that Contracting Parties that have subsequently acceded to the Treaty are entitled to participate as Consultative Parties if they have demonstrated interest in Antarctica by conducting substantial scientific research activity there. As a result, the number of Consultative Parties is now 28.

The Treaty, which applies to the area south of 60° South, includes some very important principles that govern activities in Antarctica, including:

  • Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes,
  • freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica shall continue,
  • scientific plans, personnel and observations shall be freely exchanged,
  • the position of states with respect to territorial sovereignty is not prejudiced,
  • nuclear explosions and disposal of radioactive waste is prohibited,
  • parties may undertake inspection of others’ facilities at any time.

The Treaty is complemented by the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, which provides for comprehensive protection of the Antarctic environment and designates Antarctica as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science. The Protocol puts in place principles to guide the conduct of all activities in Antarctica. It also prohibits any activity relating to mineral resources, other than scientific research. The Protocol is accompanied by annexes relating to environmental impact assessment; conservation of fauna and flora; waste disposal and waste management; prevention of marine pollution; area protection and management; and liability arising from environmental emergencies.



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