Global governance: Global Commons - Antarctica


Antarctica has Unique Environment and Climate

1) Antarctica = 14 million km squared = 90% of all ice and 70% of all fresh water

2) Very little water available for plants - less than 166mm precipitation a year, mostly frozen - low enough to classify a desert

3) Very cold, -49 degrees, little sunshine

4) Very few plants and species survive there - ones that can are specially adapted

5) Land ecosystem is fragile - easily damaged, takes a long time to recover.

6) Microscopic phytoplankton provide plenty of food for krill and forms basis of Southern Ocean food chain

7) Abundant sea life which albatrosses and penguins survive on. Marine ecosystem is fragile - one species decreases = affects other species

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Threats to Antarctica - Climate Change

1) Past 5 years West Coast Antarctica warmed by 3 degrees - fastest temp rise on earth

2) Warming cause ice shelves to melt. Ice shelves retreated = environment changed dramatically

3) Species of penguin adapted to sea ice (Adelie) have declined as ice melted. Been replaced in some places by Chinstrap which are more adapted to open sea

4) Antarctic krill depend on sea ice environment - krill population declined 80% since 70's - decline in krill leads to decline in other species

5) Global sea levels have risen 3mm a year since 90s - edges of ice shelves become unstable = more melting 

6) Climate change = ocean acidification - devastating to Antarcticas Plankton.

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Threats to Antarctica - Fishing and Whaling

1) Overfishing threatens many species - toothfish are fished unsustainably - reduced fish and krill have knock on effect of other species in food chain

2) Legal limits on how much you can catch to keep it sustainable, however, lots of illegal fishing takes place which is hard to control 

3) Other species affected by fishing - albatrosses and petrels get caught in fishing lines and drown 

4) Whaling declined since regulations banned commercial whaling - some countries continue to kill whales for 'scientific purposes'

5) Whaling decreased the population, now slowly recovering. However, whales are slow breeders so it will take a long time for the population to fully recover

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Threats to Antarctica - Mining and OIil

1) Believed to be lots of minerals in Antarctica - coal and iron ors under Transantartic Mountains 

2) Large reserves of oil under Southern Ocean 

3) Mining is currently banned - landscape, climate would make it difficult anyway 

4) This may change due to increasing demand for minerals and oil - mining would damage the environment 

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Threats to the Environment - Tourism

1) Tourism increases shipping and air travel leading to water and air pollution. Big risk of boats causing oil spills

2) Tourists disturb breeding colonies. Trampling damages fragile vegetation and erodes the landscape. Litter and waste disposal damages habitats and can harm wildlife - decomposition rates in cold environment are slow

3) Non-native species may be introduced 

4) Antarctica is important for scientific and environmental research - until 80's waste created in bases was burned, thrown in sea or dumped

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International Laws Protect Antarctica

1) Antarctic Treaty (1959) = agreement on how to sustainably manage antarctica - signed by 53 countries. Rules in the treaty include: only used for peaceful reasons, countries should cooperate on scientific research, antarctica should remain a global common 

2) Inspections don't occur often but under the treaty all bases and equipment can be inspected at any time 

3) Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty signed in 1991 - focuses on protecting Antarcticas fragile environment

4) 1991 all mining banned - also rules protecting plants, animals, regulating waste disposal and pollution prevention. Environmental Impact Assessment required for any new activity

5) However, no system to ensure all countries abide the rules. Disputes between countries = encouraged to negeotiate. Otherwise, disputes are taken to International court of Justice

6) Countries much reach consensus - tackling problems can be slow and difficult

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Antarctica is Governed by Global Institutions

IWC - International Whaling Commission

  • Responsible for regulating whaling - ensuring whale population remains sustainable level
  • 1994 set up a sanctuary for whales in Southern Ocean
  • However, criticised the IWC for not properly maintaining no. of whales in sanctuary

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

  • UN agency - main institution that governs world environment - UNEP responsible for reporting activity in Antarctica to UN
  • Run by Commisson for the Conversation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) aims to stop illegal fishing and conserve Antarctic Ecosystem
  • Effectiveness is limited by individual countried protecting their own interests
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