Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

The last continent must remain a pristine wilderness


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: 46th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM-46)

Mains level: Gaps in the Antarctics' Regulatory Framework

Why in the news?

The 46th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM-46), held in Kochi, Kerala last month, brought attention to the ongoing debate regarding Antarctic tourism.

Highlights of the 46th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM-46) in Kerala

  • Focus on Developing a Regulatory Framework: ATCM-46 emphasized the need for a comprehensive, flexible, and dynamic framework for regulating tourism and non-governmental activities in Antarctica. A new working group was established to lead this effort over the next year, highlighting a renewed commitment to addressing tourism challenges in the region.
  • Recognition of Environmental Concerns: The meeting acknowledged the significant environmental impacts of increasing tourism, including disruptions to wildlife, ecosystem damage, and pollution. There was a consensus on the urgency of mitigating these impacts through stronger regulatory measures and enhanced monitoring programs.
  • India’s Proactive Stance: India played a crucial role in emphasizing the importance of monitoring tourism impacts on Antarctic research, conservation, and the environment. India supported measures against constructing tourism-related structures with significant environmental impacts and showcased its commitment by enacting its own Antarctic Law in 2022 to regulate activities and protect the Antarctic environment.

Gaps in the Regulatory Framework

  • Lack of Specific Regulations: The current governance framework for Antarctic tourism is fragmented and lacks specific regulations. The Antarctic Treaty (1961) prioritises peaceful use and scientific research, while the Madrid Protocol offers broad environmental guidelines but lacks detailed tourism regulations.
  • Self-Regulation by IAATO: The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), a self-regulatory industry body, is primarily responsible for the day-to-day management of tourism. Many believe that IAATO’s guidelines are inadequate to address the growing environmental pressures.
  • Consensus Rule Limitations: The requirement for unanimous agreement from all consultative parties often slows down decision-making and allows national interests to impede progress. This has resulted in non-binding guidelines rather than comprehensive regulation.
  • Failed to make consensus on tourism: Discussions on tourism regulation have been ongoing since the 1960s. A proposed tourism annexe in 1991 failed to gain consensus, leading to the current reliance on IAATO’s self-regulation. Despite the increasing frequency of discussions since a 2004 expert meeting, comprehensive regulation has remained elusive.

India’s Stand on Tourism Issues

  • Emphasis on Monitoring: India has consistently emphasised the importance of monitoring the impacts of tourism on Antarctic research, conservation, and the environment. This was highlighted at ATCM 44 (2022) and reinforced at ATCM-46.
  • Opposition to Environmental Impact: India supported Resolution 5 (2022), which advised against building tourism-related structures with significant environmental impacts. This stance reflects India’s commitment to minimising the environmental footprint of tourism in Antarctica.
  • Call for Comprehensive Debate: Between ATCM 44 and ATCM 45, India continued to call for a comprehensive debate on Antarctic tourism, stressing the need for governance action.
  • Enactment of Antarctic Law: Despite the lack of international consensus, India took proactive steps by enacting its own Antarctic Law in 2022. This law aims to regulate activities and safeguard the Antarctic environment from the impacts of tourism.
  • Focus on Sustainable Future: At ATCM-46, India advocated for a multi-pronged approach to ensure a sustainable future for Antarctic tourism. This includes strengthening environmental protection, implementing robust monitoring programs, and fostering international cooperation to preserve Antarctica’s pristine wilderness.

Conclusion: Countries need to work together to create a robust international regulatory framework that addresses the unique challenges of Antarctic tourism. This involves building on the efforts initiated at ATCM-46 and ensuring that the newly established working group develops comprehensive, binding regulations that all parties can agree upon and implement.

Mains PYQ:

Q The states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are reaching the limits of econological carrying capacity due to tourism. Critically evaluate.(UPSC IAS/2015)

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