The Antarctic, one of the last, unspoiled parts of the natural world, will, like the Amazon, face man's destructive onslaught unless states take action quickly.
BUENOS AIRES — Beijing recently hosted the 40th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, a chance for signatory states to agree on how to better protect what may be the last bit of the planet with vast, pristine natural territories. It is no easy task.
The reader may or may not know that Antarctica (and the waters, ice and islands around it, collectively known as The Antarctic) is "governed" in a collaborative fashion through two legal instruments foreseen in the Antarctic Treaty system. Those instruments are based on the fundamental principles of promoting international peace, scientific investigation and environmental protection.
Why is the Antarctic important?
As the last continent on which humanity is casting its interested gaze, Antarctica has an emblematic role one might qualify as a "last chance" for humans to do the right thing in terms of their own survival, the survival of other species and protecting a shared planet.
This stimulus could also mean realizing what seemed utopian for so long, namely for humans to cooperate around a clearly stated common good, and take responsibility for the survival and welfare of other creatures affected by our actions. This could be one of the most important geo-political challenges of our generation.
On the other hand, as it is difficult to "love" what you do not know, it is crucial for people to know Antarctica as it is, a continent full of complex systems whose balance is yet to be fully understood. Scientific investigations are essential for this, as they give us data on species and places that remain enigmatic to this day.
For this research to develop and yield us its complex fruits, cooperation is fundamental. It's also a cardinal objective of the Antarctic Treaty. The annual consultation cited above, alongside the Conference on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), seek to enhance conservation efforts, establish rational use of resources and stimulate scientific activity through coordination of different national Antarctic programs. This requires top levels of collaboration and diplomacy among the various actors including our country, Argentina.
Returning to the question of the Antarctic's importance, let's review three fundamental facts that are essential for cooperation:
1. The Antarctic plays a key role in regulating the world's climate. It helps maintain the health of surrounding seas and their biodiversity, which affect the lives of so many species not necessarily of this area. That includes humans.
2. Its ice cap represents around 90% of the world's freshwater.
3. Human activities — through climate change, overfishing and pollution of Antarctic seawaters and parts of its landmass — are endangering its delicate system and balance.
Regarding the Antarctic's health, scientists now agree that the seawaters play a central role, whence the common efforts of governments and non-governmental organizations in creating Marine Protected Areas (MPA) in the waters surrounding the Antarctic, like the recently inaugurated Ross Sea.
This is not a perfect world
An MPA is basically a space wherein some or all human activity that could disrupt the natural order is suspended, allowing its waters and species living there to keep their pristine condition.
Argentina, Chile and other Treaty members are studying the feasibility of creating such areas on the Antarctic Peninsula, which would be our contribution to conservation efforts.
Of course, we do not live in a perfect world and we are well aware of both the geopolitical pressures and economic interests that would seek to exploit Antarctic resources. Yet so far, the collaborative and conservationist spirit that has driven the Antarctic Treaty system is working to achieve the best result for the region, and the planet.