The Protocol was adopted in 1991 with the aim of harmonising and consolidating a wide range of provisions relating to protection of the Antarctic environment into a comprehensive and legally binding form.
- Designates Antarctica as a 'natural reserve, devoted to peace and science'
- Establishes environmental principles to govern the conduct of all activities
- Prohibits mining indefinitely
- Subjects all activities to prior assessment of their environmental impacts
- Establishes a new body, the Committee for Environmental Protection, to advise the Antarctic Treaty Parties on the effectiveness of implementation of the Protocol
- Requires the development of contingency plans to respond to environmental emergencies
The Protocol includes six Annexes that detail obligations relating to:
Annex I – Environmental Impact Assessment
All activities must be assessed in the planning stage to identify their possible impact on the environment. If the impacts are likely to be more than minor or transitory a Comprehensive Environment Evaluation must be prepared and opportunity provided for the Committee for Environmental Protection and the Antarctic Treaty Parties to comment on it.
Annex II - Conservation of Antarctic fauna and flora
This Annex requires a permit to be issued for taking or interfering with wildlife; provides for the designation of specially protected species, and prohibits the introduction of non-indigenous organisms.
Annex III - Waste disposal and waste management
This Annex specifies wastes that may be disposed of within the Antarctic Treaty area and wastes that must be removed. It also establishes rules relating to the disposal of human waste and the use of incinerators. The Annex requires the clean-up of sites of past activity and the development of waste management plans. Particularly harmful products such as PCBs, polystyrene packaging beads and pesticides are prohibited in the Antarctic.
Annex IV - Prevention of marine pollution
The discharge of potentially harmful substances from ships (including oily mixtures and garbage) is regulated, as is the disposal of ship-generated sewage. The Annex adopts provisions that are broadly consistent with those applying in the relevant annexes of the International Maritime Organisation’s Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. Disposal at sea of any plastics, garbage and noxious liquid substances is prohibited.
Annex V - Management of protected areas
This Annex establishes an improved protected area system that integrates earlier categories of protected areas into Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (entry into which requires a permit) and Antarctic Specially Managed Areas. Management plans are required for both categories. The protected area system also provides for the designation of historic sites and monuments, which must not be damaged or removed.
Annex VI - Liability Arising From Environmental Emergencies
Article 16 of the Environment Protocol requires the Parties to “elaborate rules and procedures relating to liability for damage arising from activities taking place in the Antarctic Treaty area and covered by this Protocol”. At the 28th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (Stockholm, 2005) an Annex was adopted on “Liability Arising from Environmental Emergencies”.
The Annex, which is not yet in force, requires operators to implement reasonable preventative measures and to establish contingency plans for responses to incidents with potential adverse impacts on the Antarctic environment. In case of environmental emergencies, operators will be required to take prompt and effective response action. An operator (whether governmental or non-governmental) that fails to take prompt and effective response actions to environmental emergencies arising from its activities, shall be liable to pay the costs of any response actions it should have taken or the costs of response actions taken by other Parties.