The International Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting is currently being held in Stockholm and top of the agenda is the host nation’s plan for polar pollution.

Around 300 government representatives, researchers and experts from some 50 countries and international organisations will attend the conference, which runs until June 17, to negotiate the protection of the icy southern continent.

The treaty is an international agreement that has guaranteed the demilitarisation of the Antarctic for over 40 years, reserving its use for peaceful purposes since 1959.

But while the Cold War may be over, the continent faces new threats from scientific exploitation and tourists looking for adventure off the beaten track.

Two main themes of the conference are environmental issues and an international agreement on liability and compensation in the event of environmental disasters.

Because of the unusual status of Antarctica, with so many conflicting claims of sovereignty and no clear legal framework, there is currently no structure in place to determine who is legally accountable should the worst happen.

The Stockholm agreement, were it adopted, would clear up the grey areas and establish responsibility for pollution incidents.

Antarctica is seen as a vital weathervane by those studying climate change and the state of the environment.

It is home to more than 90% of the world’s ice and this combined with its polar location make it particularly vulnerable to climate change.

The scientific community would like to see it afforded greater protection as most believe it is a largely untapped resource for ‘bio-prospecting’ – searching for organisms that could have medical or industrial uses.

By Sam Bond

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