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Antarctic treaty meeting begins tomorrow

tech reviews Updated: May 31, 2007 11:05 IST
Antarctic treaty meeting

India's case for setting up another research base in Antarctica and concerns about tourism and its effects on the environment are some of the issues that will come up at the 30th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meet (ATCM) beginning in New Delhi on Monday

Scientists, policy-makers and legal experts from 45 nations will deliberate the establishment of new protected areas and historic sites and the safety of Antarctic operations at the 12-day meeting being held in the country for the first time.

India wants to set up a research station in the Larsemann Hills region on the continent but the proposal has run into opposition from some countries who want to keep the area free from human activity.

The mandatory Comprehensive Environmental Evaluation Report (CEER) for the region has been submitted and the matter will come up for discussion at the ATCM.

Tourism in the icy continent is another issue that is expected to be hotly debated at the meeting.

A few countries have been ferrying tourists to Antarctica, which according to scientists is affecting the region's delicate and unique environment.

India has already voiced its strong opposition to the commercial exploitation of Antarctica through tourism as the trend is aggravating global warming and leading to a rise in the sea level.

Earth Sciences Minister Kapil Sibal said the matter will be taken up during the ATCM.

Sibal also pointed out that the inter-governmental panel on climate change had warned of the disastrous consequences of human interference in the icy continent.

Other key issues that will be discussed at the meeting pertains to the marking of new protected areas and historic sites and the safety of Antarctic operations.

India currently has the research station Maitri in Antarctica where studies are being carried out for several years. The country's first research base, Dakshin Gangotri, had to be abandoned after it was buried in snow.

The country had launched a special expedition last year to carry out a thorough survey of the Larsemann Hills area.
Scientists argue that the site offers distinct scientific advantages and research in the region will help them understand how India broke away from Antarctica.

The Larsemann Hills are a rare stretch of ice-free rock around Prydz Bay on the eastern shores of Antarctica.

The three nations with bases already in the area -- Russia, China and Australia -- pleaded with India at the last Antarctic treaty meeting in Edinburgh in June 2006 not to go ahead with the base as "the area had already suffered human impacts".

The Antarctic Treaty and related agreements, collectively called the Antarctic Treaty System or ATS, regulate international relations with respect to the continent.

The treaty, signed by 45 countries, set aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve, established freedom of scientific investigation and banned military activity on the continent. This was the first arms control agreement established during the Cold War.

The main treaty was opened for signature on December 1, 1959 and officially entered into force on June 23, 1961. The Antarctic Treaty System's annual meet is the global forum for administration and management of the region.

Only 28 of the 45 parties to the agreements are consultative members and have the right to participate in decision-making at these meetings. The other 18 are acceding members and are allowed to attend the meeting.

Consultative members include the seven nations that claim portions of Antarctica as national territory. The 21 non- claimant nations do not recognise the claims of others. India, a consultative member, signed the treaty in 1983.