Diplomacy on ice: OES promotes collaboration in Antarctica.
Antarctica is a land of superlatives, averaging the coldest, windiest and driest climate and the highest average elevation of any other landmass. The earth's southernmost continent is also gigantic, 50 percent larger than the continental United States. It is also significantly affected by climate change; some parts of it are among the fastest-warming regions on the planet, and others are seeing increases in sea-ice cover.
In the past 12 months, the Department led two important diplomatic efforts in Antarctica. First, at October's meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), the United States proposed establishing the world's largest marine protected area (MPA), in Antarctica's Ross Sea. Second, a team of U.S. policy and science officials joined their Russian counterparts to conduct joint inspections of nine third-country Antarctic research bases.
Antarctica is notable for being the only continent governed cooperatively under a consensus-based multilateral treaty system. The foundation for Antarctica's governance, exploration and use is the Antarctic Treaty, negotiated and signed in Washington in 1959, and its 1991 Protocol on Environmental Protection. The treaty, signed by 50 nations, was the first multilateral agreement to allow onsite unannounced inspections, and bans mineral exploration by designating Antarctica as a natural reserve. Two agreements protect Antarctic fauna: the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources and the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals.
Within the State Department, the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES) has the lead on foreign relations related to the polar regions. Within OES, the Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs (OPA) coordinates U.S. policy on Antarctica, working closely with the National Science Foundation (NSF), which administers the U.S. Antarctic Program; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); and other U.S. agencies. The Department leads U.S. delegations to the annual Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting and meetings of CCAMLR, which acts on the management and governance of the continent and surrounding ocean. OPA plays a key role, in particular, in regulating tourism in Antarctica, including determining (in consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency and NSF) whether expedition organizers are subject to U.S. regulations that implement the Environmental Protocol.
In recent years, scientists and marine policy experts from OES and other agencies have worked to develop a proposal to CCAMLR to create a marine protected area in the Ross Sea that will provide critical long-term protection to this unique ecosystem and maintain a reference area for scientific research and monitoring of the impacts of climate change and fishing. One of the last great ocean wilderness areas on the planet, the Ross Sea region supports one of the most productive ecosystems in the Southern Ocean and is high in biodiversity. It is home to more than a third of the world's Adelie penguins, a quarter of the world's Emperor penguins and half of the world's Type C killer whales. It is also the site of some of the world's longest-running polar observations and research.
Although the Ross Sea's ecosystem is still largely intact, it faces an increasingly uncertain future. Climate change and ocean acidification, coupled with fishing pressures, threaten to irreversibly alter the ecosystem. For instance, the fish marketed as Chilean sea bass most often actually originates in Antarctic waters. The United States does not fish in the Ross Sea, but other countries do, making any MPA proposal to restrict fishing there the subject of much scrutiny by those concerned about the potential economic impacts.
At the CCAMLR meeting, negotiations over the U.S. MPA proposal, and one from New Zealand, led to a joint proposal that balances ecosystem protection, scientific research and fishing objectives. The proposed MPA would protect roughly 876,000 square miles of the Ross Sea, an area larger than Alaska.
Agreement with New Zealand was a major diplomatic success. Unfortunately, due to opposition from a small number of member countries, the joint plan was not approved during the meeting, so the CCAMLR will hold a special meeting in July to decide on the proposal. OES and key regional bureaus and embassies are working together to build support among CCAMLR countries to protect this global treasure.
Separately, in January and November of 2012, OPA Director Evan Bloom, Senior Advisor Susannah Cooper, U.S. Navy Commander Darin Liston and Dr. Robert Nelson from the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, joined an NSF colleague and four Russian counterparts for a two-phase U.S.-Russia joint inspection of foreign facilities, under rights provided in the Antarctic Treaty. The team inspected research stations operated by Belgium, China, France, India, Italy, Japan, New Zealand and Norway to review Antarctic Treaty compliance. This included verification that the stations were implementing environmental regulations and were being used only for peaceful purposes. The stations were located in the Ross Sea region and spread across East Antarctica. The inspections in East Antarctica required the team to travel more than 3,500 miles over six days by plane, truck, boat, helicopter, tracked vehicle and snowmobile.
The inspections, representing the first time either country had conducted a joint inspection in Antarctica, were called for in an agreement that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton signed with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in September 2012. The United States and Russia were architects of the Antarctic Treaty of 1959 and today conduct some of the most extensive and diverse scientific activities in Antarctica. Importantly, both countries reject territorial claims by other parties and are strong supporters of the Antarctic Treaty system. Working closely with our Russian counterparts provided an excellent opportunity to reinforce our shared objectives for the peace and science in Antarctica. The results of the inspection will be presented to all treaty parties at the May Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting.
Antarctica is an outstanding example of multilateral diplomatic success. Fifty years after the signing of the Antarctic Treaty, the continent is a global example of policy and scientific collaboration. The multinational science conducted in Antarctica informs global understanding of the Earth's history, processes and change, and policy and logistical cooperation there creates stronger ties among treaty parties. In the coming decades, the Antarctic Treaty system will continue to prove the resilience and value of multilateral cooperation.
By Jonathan Kelsey, foreign affairs officer, and Susannah Cooper, senior advisor, Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
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|Date:||Mar 1, 2013|
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