Britain reaffirmed its commitment to preserve Antarctica for peaceful, scientific purposes and anticipated it would be presenting a “Strategic Vision for Antarctic Tourism” to help with conservation of its unique beauty.
The announcements were done during a reception on Wednesday to mark the 50th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty, hosted by Foreign Office Minister Gillian Merron.
The Unite Kingdom was the first State to ratify the Treaty, which was agreed in 1959 and has continued to play a prominent role in underpinning comprehensive environmental protection and conservation of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.
Ms. Merron underscored the UK's continuing commitment to the principles enshrined in the Treaty and looked forward to attending a celebratory event to be hosted by the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton in Washington DC on Monday 6th April.
“I would like to invite you to join me in celebrating what the UK has done in helping to give life to the Antarctic Treaty 50 years ago, and in continuing to support the sustainable management of Antarctica, which remains an important goal of this government” said Ms Merron during the celebration.
“We can be rightly proud of the expert work done by British scientists in understanding Antarctica, and particularly in using science to further our understanding of climatic and environmental change”, she added.
“We must also use this anniversary year to re-commit ourselves to the core principles set down by the treaty half a century ago. A treaty that declared, boldly, that it is in the interests of all mankind to preserve Antarctica for peaceful, scientific purposes – and so we will”.
MS. Merron underscored the determination of South Seas British explorers which captured the imagination of the world and gave birth to a continual presence in Antarctica since 1944.
“I want the UK to continue to play a leading role in Antarctica. Ours is a long term commitment with a simple aim – to protect this unique wilderness and preserve it for future generations”, she said.
Ms. Merron said the Antarctic treaty is a milestone in so far it put territorial claims over an entire continent in abeyance and dedicating signatories to preserve and protect a unique wilderness for peaceful and scientific purposes, as they have done.
She also pointed to British science and technology achievements in the region: discovery of the ozone hole in 1984; the role played by HMS Endurance and the UK Hydrographic Office in charting Antarctic waters; developing the framework for sustainable fisheries management; practical measures and guidelines to ensure environmentally responsible tourism and a Wildlife Awareness Manual for the planning of helicopter operations.
However Ms. Merron acknowledged the challenges faced: the threat posed by climate change; the need to protect the fragile Antarctic ecosystem from illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing; the challenge faced by increased and varied forms of tourism - to ensure that tourists don’t damage the very beauty they have come to see and the continuing need to protect Antarctica from commercial exploitation.
Finally the Foreign Office official announced that a draft Antarctic Bill will be published in Parliament later this year to implement a new framework for environmental liability.
“This will ensure that the UK continues to lead in the implementation of all measures agreed by the Antarctic Treaty Parties - and we will continue to press other States to do likewise”.
Furthermore at the forthcoming Treaty Meeting in Washington the UK will present a Strategic Vision for Antarctic Tourism, “a strategy that will ensure that visitors of the future will be able to experience the vast unspoilt beauty and wilderness of the continent”.
The Antarctic Treaty was signed in Washington on 1 December 1959 and entered into force on 23 June 1961. The Consultative parties comprise the original Parties and a further fourteen States that have become Consultative Parties by acceding to the Treaty and demonstrating their interest in Antarctica by carrying out substantial scientific activity there. The original Parties to the Treaty were the 12 nations active in the Antarctic during the International Geophysical Year of 1957-58.
To assess legacy lessons of the Antarctic Treaty on its 50th anniversary in the city where it was signed, the Antarctic Treaty Summit will take place from 30 November to 3 December 2009 at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.