The Antarctic Treaty System



The Antarctic System is a complex of multilateral agreements aimed at coordinating the administration of resources in Antarctica. The system comprises:

the 1959 Antarctic Treaty and the recommendations adopted at the Meeting of the Consultative Parties;
the 1991 Madrid Protocol on Environmental Protection;
the 1972 London Convention for the Protection of Arctic seals;
the 1980 Canberra Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources;
the 1988 Wellington Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities. This has not yet come into force despite being part of the system's regulatory framework.

The Antarctic Treaty

The Washington Treaty constitutes the legal basis and foundation of the entire Antarctic treaty system. The Treaty was signed in Washington on 1 December 1959 and went into force on 23 June 1961, and laid down the guiding principles for the regulation of the continent's resources. Italy signed it on 18 March 1981.

The Antarctic Treaty is a Framework Treaty, in that it outlines a general regulatory discipline for the Antarctic region hinging on a regime of internationalisation without, however, prescribing the specific activities permitted in that context.


The Treaty of Washington upholds the principle of freedom of scientific research for peaceful purposes, and prohibits any activity of a military nature, testing involving nuclear explosions and the deposit of radioactive materials. In order to achieve this objective, the Treaty proposes to encourage freedom of research and international cooperation between signatories through the continuous exchange of information and scientific personnel between the various logistical bases. Finally, the Treaty calls for a freezing of claims of territorial sovereignty over the Antarctic by signatories in the service of a peaceful use of the continent.


The Treaty's success is witnessed by the growing membership of its States Party. To date 45 countries have signed, which are subdivided as follows:

27 Consultative Parties, with voting rights, decision making power bound to unanimous vote, and control over observance of the Treaty. This status is open to all Parties who, having proven particular interest regarding the matters covered in the Treaty, are involved in concrete research activities in the Antarctic.
18 Acceding States, countries that, as they are not involved in any kind of activity in the Antarctic, have not acquired the abovementioned rights.

Member States of the Antarctic Treaty include:

Consultative Parties --> Date of Signature
Argentina --> 23 June 1961
Australia --> 23 June 1961
Belgium --> 26 July 1960
Brazil --> 16 May 1975
Bulgaria --> 11 September 1978
Chile --> 23 June 1961
China --> 8 June 1983
Ecuador --> 15 September 1987
Finland --> 15 May 1984
France --> 16 September 1960
Germany --> 5 February 1979
Japan --> 4 August 1960
India --> 19 August 1983
Italy --> 18 March 1981
North Korea --> 28 November 1986
Norway --> 24 August 1960
New Zealand --> 1 November 1960
Holland --> 30 March 1967
Peru --> 10 April 1981
Poland --> 8 June 1961
United Kingdom --> 31 May 1960
Russia --> 2 November 1960
Spain --> 31 March 1982
South Africa --> 21 June 1960
Sweden --> 24 April 1984
U.S.A. --> 18 August 1960
Uruguay --> 10 January 1980

Acceding States --> Date of Signature
Austria --> 25 August 1987
Canada --> 4 May 1988
Denmark --> 23 May 1965
Ukraine --> 28 October 1992
Turkey --> 25 January 1996
Colombia --> 31 January 1989
Cuba --> 16 August 1984
Guatemala --> 31 July 1991
Romania --> 15 September 1971
Hungary --> 29 January 1984
Greece --> 8 January 1987
Switzerland --> 15 November 1990
South Korea --> 21 January 1987
Czech Republic --> 14 June 1962
Estonia --> 17 May 2001
Slovakia --> 14 June 1962
New Guinea --> 16 March 1981
Venezuela --> 24 May 1999


The sole body envisaged by the Antarctic Treaty is the Consultative Meeting (of States Party) (ATCM), whose function is to foster:

exchanges of information on issues of common interest;
the formulation and adoption of recommendations that, in order to become effective internally, need to be approved by their governments;
vigilance over respect for the Treaty's principles.

Only the Consultative Parties have the right to vote in the Meeting and are committed to taking decisions by consensus.

The following list is indicative of the matters subject to recommendation:

the use of the Antarctic for peaceful purposes;
facilitation of scientific research;
cooperation with, and exercise of the right to, inspection;
i problemi relativi all’esercizio della giurisdizione.

problems related to the exercise of jurisdiction. The ATCM permanent secretariat was set up in 2003 in Buenos Aires for the purpose of providing coordination and support and to be headed by an Executive Secretary - a task for which Dutchman Jan Huber of the Cape Town ATCM was elected in 2004.

Protocol on Environmental Protection

The protocol on Environmental Protection, signed in Madrid on 4 October 1991 and in force as of 18 January 1998, indicates the guiding principles set down in the Treaty of Washington, with the following five annexes:

Environmental impact assessment;
Conservation of Antarctic flora and fauna;
Waste disposal and management;
Prevention of marine pollution;
Management of protected areas.

The 28th Meeting of the Consultative Parties held in Stockholm from 6 to 17 June 2005 adopted a sixth annex regarding responsibility for environmental damage.


The Protocol promotes respect for and protection of the environment of Antarctica through the adoption of concrete measures, highlighting the responsibility of the Consultative Parties to ensure that all activities undertaken conform to the Antarctic Treaty and are carried out in the interests of the international community. To this end the Protocol calls for:

the express prohibition of mining activities;
the development of cooperation between the Parties through the introduction of an environmental impact assessment, to be carried out through information exchanges and mutual assistance.

The goal of the regulations is to reduce to a minimum the actual incidents that do take place in the Antarctic and in the ecosystems associated with it.


The Consultative States Party to the Treaty of Washington are the State signatories of the Protocol, to whom the Protocol attributes a Consultative Role (other Parties are assigned the status of Observer).


An integral part of the Antarctic Treaty System, the Protocol entrusts decision-making and control functions to the ATCM.
The Protocol establishes the Committee for Environmental Protection as its sole permanent body with consultative functions, which does not alter the already existing control and decision-making mechanism.

The Committee's function is to:

formulate opinions and recommendations with regard to the implementation of the Protocol and its Annexes;
give opinions on measures taken in accordance with environmental protection regulations;
pronounce itself on the advisability of using means and procedures for minimising environmental impact, as well as on emergency intervention modalities;
carry out all additional activities assigned to it by the ATMC.

The Committee is made up of the Protocol's State signatories, each of which appoints its own representative.

The Convention for the Conservation of Arctic Seals

The Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Seals was signed in London on 9 June 1972 and went into effect on 11 March 1978. This convention is among the most significant attempts ever made to regulate the use of the Antarctic's live marine resources, through the creation of a system of controls and authorisations. In general, the London Convention incorporates the general principles contained in the Treaty of Washington.


The Convention, which establishes a specific regime of protection for all the species of seals found in the sea south of the 60° south latitude, proposes to :

prohibit the hunt for some species of seal in danger of extinction;
set capture limits;
establish three nature reserves within which seals can neither be killed nor captured.

In addition to the protection of seals, the Convention fosters the scientific study of several species, but moreover, pursues the aim of harmonising the principles underlying the conservation of the Antarctic's natural resources with the rational need to exploit them.


The Convention has been ratified by the following countries:

Member State --> Date of Signature --> Date of Ratification
Argentina --> 9 June 1972 --> 7 March 1978
Australia --> 5 October 1972 --> 1 July 1987
Belgium --> 9 June 1972 --> 9 February 1978
Brazil --> --> 11 February 1991
Canada --> --> 4 October 1991
Chile --> 28 December 1972 --> 7 February 1980
France --> 19 December 1972 --> 19 February 1975
Germany --> --> 30 September 1987
Japan --> 28 December 1972 --> 28 August 1980
Italy --> --> 2 April 1992
Norway --> 9 June 1972 --> 10 December 1973
New Zealand --> 9 June 1972 --> Not Ratified
Poland --> --> 15 August 1980
United Kingdom --> 9 June 1972 --> 10 September 1974
Russia --> 9 June 1972 --> 8 February 1978
South Africa --> 9 June 1972 --> 15 August 1972
USA --> 28 June 1972 --> 28 December 1976


The juridical model ushered in by the Convention does not prescribe the creation of permanent bodies, but rather institutes a system of information exchanges based on annual reports made by contracting states and periodic inspections carried out by observers from the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR). Moreover, there is a mechanism for notifying Member States of cases where the Convention's regulations are being violated.

The Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR)

The Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources in Antarctica, signed in Canberra on 20 May 1980 and in force since 1982, marks the passage from one form of collaboration aimed at protecting the environment and safeguarding flora and fauna, to a new type of collaboration based on the economical and rational use of natural resources and on a new eco-systemic approach.


The Convention is a conservation cooperation agreement open also to States not part of the Washington Treaty but involved in fishing activities and research into the Antarctic seas.
The Convention pursues goals that include:

ensuring the sustainability of the Antarctic system through the demographic control of exploited species;
maintaining an ecological equilibrium between fished species;
minimising the risks of eco-systemic alterations reversible only over the long term.


As the following chart illustrates, the Convention has 32 Member Countries, 7 of which are not members of the Commission.

Member States Party to the Commission --> Date of Signature --> Date of Ratification
Argentina --> 11 September 1980 --> 28 May 1982
Australia --> 11 September 1980 --> 6 May 1981
Belgium --> 11 September 1980 --> 22 February 1984
Brazil --> --> 28 January 1986
Chile --> 11 September 1980 --> 22 July 1981
European Community --> --> 21 April 1982
France --> 16 September 1980 --> 16 September 1982
Germany --> 11 September 1980 --> 23 April 1982
Japan --> 12 September 1980 --> 26 May 1981
India --> --> 17 June 1985
Italy --> --> 29 March 1989
North Korea --> --> 29 March 1985
Namibia --> --> 29 June 2000
Norway --> 11 September 1980 --> 6 December 1983
New Zealand --> 11 September 1980 --> 8 March 1982
Poland --> 11 September 1980 --> 28 March 1984
United Kingdom --> 11 September 1980 --> 31 August 1981
Russia --> 11 September 1980 --> 28 May 1981
Spain --> --> 9 April 1982
South Africa --> 1 September 1980 --> 23 July 1981
Sweden --> --> 7 June 1984
USA --> 11 September 1980 --> 18 February 1982
Ukraine --> --> 22 April 1984
Uruguay --> --> 22 March 1985

Member States not party to the Commission --> Date of Ratification
Bulgaria --> 1 September 1992
Canada --> 1 July 1988
Finland --> 6 September 1989
Greece --> 12 February 1987
Mauritius -->
Holland --> 23 February 1990
Peru --> 23 June 1989
Vanuatu --> 20 June 2001


The Convention establishes three organisations:
The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR): the main body foreseen by the Convention, endowed with decision-making and executive powers. Decisions taken within the Commission are adopted by consensus. It is this body's general responsibility to take the necessary measures to implement the aims and principles of the Convention.

The Commission:

regulates and supervises fishing, research and scientific activities that involve the conservation of living resources and the Antarctic ocean's marine ecosystem;
formulates and adopts specific conservation, observation and inspection measures, aimed at the respect and pursuit of the Convention's objectives (the specific observation and inspection tasks are, in any case, allocated to the individual contracting parties).
In case of violation of the above-mentioned measures, Member States operators are prosecutable according to the laws of their home State. The Commission must nevertheless be informed of the sanctions imposed.

The Scientific Committee - the Commission's consultative body - is responsible for all scientific questions regarding the Antarctic ecosystem:

it gathers, catalogues and analyses data on the Antarctic fauna and flora;
on the basis of the information collected, it provides suggestions and advice to the Commission with the support of its Permanent Working Groups.
The Permanent Secretariat supplies logistical and practical support to the two other bodies, in particular through the figure of the Executive Secretary.

Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resources

Despite the fact that it never entered into force due to a lack of sufficient ratifications, the Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resources, signed in Wellington in 1988, was a turning point in the evolution of the Antarctic Treaty. Contested from the start of negotiations by Third States that had claimed the right to take part with full rights in the formulation process, the Convention soon became the object of criticism also by certain of the countries that had participated in the drafting of the text. The Convention's failure to enter into force cannot be explained solely by the conflicts that emerged concerning the 'right' to take part in negotiations or by the content of the regulation for the operation of the Convention or by the proclamation, in certain key countries, of new environmental policies. The Convention's failure concerns more generally the legal definition of Antarctica's international status, which has remained vague due to ambiguity on the question of the individual claims to sovereignty.

Extending the Treaty to encompass this aspect of cooperation in the Antarctic would have forced the parties to confront the legal-political problem of territorial claims on Antarctica and its resources, thereby laying to rest the age-old sovereignty question.

Prospects for Italy

The Italian National Program for Antarctic Research (PNRA) is the legal basis for our presence in the Antarctic continent and was approved in 1985 with Law no. 84/1985, and overall allocations of approximately 504 million euros were made between 1985 and 2004. The Law instituting the PNRA placed the programme under the aegis of the Ministry of Education, Universities and Scientific Research, creating within it a National Scientific Commission for Antarctica responsible for designing and updating research programmes. A decree of the Ministry of Education, Universities and Scientific Research of February 2002, set up a consortium for the implementation of the PNRA, whose members include ENEA- the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and the Environment, CNR, the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) and the National Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics (OGS).
At present, Italian research in Antarctica is divided into five sectors:

geological evolution of the Antarctic continent and the Southern Ocean;
Global Change;
geographic observatories and information;
environmental conservation methods;
robotics and sensoristics.

The first of the 19 expeditions to Antarctica that have taken place to date dates back to the Southern summer of 1985-86. With the second expedition (1986-87) construction began on the Newfoundland Bay base in the Ross Sea region. Under ice-free conditions, the base can be reached by air and by sea and hosts approximately 70 persons. At present, it is only used during the summer, but it can easily be converted for winter activities. The base is named after Mario Zucchelli, who was in charge of the PNRA from 1983 to 2003, the year of his death.

A second research base (Concordia), established as a result of an Italian-French cooperation agreement, was activated in 2002 in Dome C on the Antarctic Plateau about 1,100 km from the coast, and therefore under extreme environmental conditions. It is able to host 30 to 35 persons. On 4 October 2005 a bilateral agreement was signed between Italy and France for the management of this station.

Three Italian projects were approved at the 24th meeting of the CCAMLR, held in Hobart, Tasmania from 23 October to 4 November 2005: the creation of a new protected marine reserve in the area of Edmonson Point, located on Wood Bay (1) and two research projects led by Genoa University and Ancona's CNR respectively, which fall within the activities of 2007's International Polar Year (2) .


(1): As per art. 3,2 of Annex V of the 1991 Madrid Protocol, Italy has proposed, the creation of a protection system for the entire Wood Bay area from Cape Washington to Coulman Island. This area is deemed uniquely significant for its flora and fauna, and its particular conformation imposes the need for protection against exploitation by humans. The project, which was viewed very favourably by the CCAMLR Commission in its 2004 meeting, was not approved due to a procedural flaw.

(2): The University of Genoa project aims to analyse the effects of climate changes on the Antarctic ecosystem. The main concern in this context is to discover how alterations in the frozen sea caused by climatic variations influence the life-cycle of several marine species. Studies are being done on how much fish population levels depend on climatic changes, on the one hand, and their predators on the other. This project is being carried out in collaboration with New Zealand and the United States, both of which are particularly active in the Ross Sea region. The proposal advanced by the CNR of Ancona aims to analyse and compare the historical-biological characteristics of two Arctic areas - the Antarctic Peninsula and the Ross Sea region - that present the most obvious differences from this point of view. While the resources of the former have been heavily exploited by humans, the latter is the last marine ecosystem not to have undergone changes in this sense. The study of the past in these two contrasting areas can offer useful elements for predicting future evolutionary trends throughout the Antarctic area, which will aid in global environmental conservation. Coordination is foreseen also in this case between countries operating in the Ross Sea region, particularly New Zealand and the United States.

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