Imagining and Planning for Antarctic Futures

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The Antarctic Treaty System has, for nearly six decades, maintained peace and security across Antarctica and the Southern Ocean and fostered international cooperation with an emphasis on scientific research and environmental protection.

A particular aspect of the success of the Antarctic Treaty System has been the ability of the Treaty Parties to anticipate future challenges and to put in place measures to deal with them in advance of them becoming major threats: within just three years of the Antarctic Treaty entering into force, the Parties had negotiated measures to promote the conservation of Antarctic fauna and flora, and several years were devoted to negotiating a regime to regulate mineral resource activities in Antarctica prior to any such activity taking place (although the prohibition on such activities introduced in 1991 negated the need for such a regime to be implemented).

Arguably, that foresight of the Parties is needed now more than ever before. The future for Antarctica is uncertain and the region and its governance regime are facing a number of challenges including a changing Antarctic climate and environment, increasing human activity and shifting values among Antarctic states.

Recently, a few of us gave some thought to possible futures for the region and the Antarctic Treaty System based on a range of possibilities – some more plausible, others more preferable.

We surmised that a number of interdependent drivers are likely to influence Antarctica’s future over the next 25 years: global environmental and socio-economic developments; the effectiveness of the Antarctic governance regime; Antarctic research, including national Antarctic programme operations, and Antarctic tourism. We developed a number of future scenarios four of which were developed further based on interactions between these drivers.

The findings were published in Polar Record  https://doi.org/10.1017/S0032247417000390

The findings provide a dynamic, evolving possibility space to be explored as a means of understanding where Antarctic issues might evolve, depending on the growth or diminishing importance of drivers. It is crucial is that such analyses and dialogue continue, to ensure that the Antarctic governance regime can adapt and evolve so that it can be held up as a model example of successful international cooperation for the next sixty years.