In respect of international law and the protection of the global commons, the Antarctic Treaty’s mining ban outlaws “any activity relating to mineral resources, other than scientific research”.
More precisely, it is a prohibition of mineral resource activities to protect Antarctica’s unique and vulnerable environment.
However, Article 25 permits the majority of the parties to vote for a review of the mining ban, 50 years after the entry into force of the Madrid Protocol, which is 2048. It is, therefore, imperative for the signatory states to commit to never starting hydrocarbon extraction in Antarctica, especially in light of existing indications that some countries, like Russia and China, are already considering exploring the forbidden activities.
This revision would be totally dangerous not only for the preservation of the region as a “natural reserve, devoted to peace and science”. This would put an obstacle to the decarbonization of the global energy mix. Climate change and its catastrophic impacts are a pressing matter that highlights the importance of the ban: the exploration of fossil fuels, like oil and gas, that could be resumed, would cause the Paris Agreement targets to fail.
The 44th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in May/June 2022 gives Germany a “once in 30 years” opportunity to pave the road towards this necessary mining prohibition and contribute to the global ambition of climate neutrality. Let’s see what the future holds.
- The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, https://www.ats.aq/e/protocol.html
- Tiara Walters (2021). Heatpocrisy: The ‘mining ban’ exposing Antarctica to Big Oil’s blind ambition, Daily Maverick, https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2021-11-07-heatpocrisy-the-mining-ban-exposing-antarctica-to-big-oils-blind-ambition/
- Nengye Liu & Chen Jiliang (2021). China and the future of the Antarctic mining ban, https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/china-and-future-antarctic-mining-ban
- Tim Stickings (2022). Antarctic carve-up looms as climate change leads to race for resources, https://www.thenationalnews.com/world/2022/02/08/antarctic-carve-up-looms-as-climate-change-leads-to-race-for-resources/
- Patrick Flamm & Alan Hemmings (2022). Now And Never: Banning Hydrocarbon Extraction in Antarctica Forever, The Polar Connection, https://polarconnection.org/banning-hydrocarbon-extraction-antarctica/
- Louis de Gouyon Matignon (2019). The Lawfulness of Mining Activities in Antarctica, Space Legal Issues, https://www.spacelegalissues.com/space-law-the-lawfulness-of-mining-activities-in-antarctica/
Image source: NOW AND NEVER: BANNING HYDROCARBON EXTRACTION IN ANTARCTICA FOREVER, Polar Research and Policy Initiative, https://polarconnection.org/banning-hydrocarbon-extraction-antarctica/