Meeting in Berlin: What is possible in Antarctica

Frequently Asked Questions

Status: 05/25/2022 03:43 am

People in the Antarctica make frequent visits to the area for research, fishing and tourism. In Berlin, delegates from more than 50 countries are advising on who is allowed to do what in the world’s largest natural reserve.

What is the meeting about?

The main focus of the consultative conferences on the Antarctic Treaty in Berlin was environmental and climate protection. For example, protecting the Emperor Penguins is a long-term goal. The safety of the newly discovered, large fish breeding area in the Antarctic Ocean will also become an issue. Biodiversity in the continental polar oceans is large and needs to be protected, and fishing is only allowed here to a very limited extent.

The treaty states of the Antarctic Treaty are advised by their own committee on environmental protection. Research is also viewed in Berlin. Regular discussions should be held on who wants to research where and how it affects other countries and other local researchers. Tourism will also be a major topic this year. It is growing rapidly, but is only allowed as long as it does not disturb Antarctic flora and fauna. The meeting runs until June 2.

What is the Antarctic Treaty?

Although the Antarctic Treaty is not particularly well known, it is considered one of the most successful intergovernmental agreements and regulates how a continent without government, without parliament, can be used fairly by all interested parties.

One can understand its great political value by going back to the late 1950s. At that time the world was at the height of the Cold War. Several states have declared territorial claims to Antarctica. Chile argues that they are the closest riverine states or that they were the first to officially enter any particular part of Antarctica. This is what Great Britain argues for. Antarctica was therefore at high risk of partially overlapping for the mosaic of regional claims. My mind was full of fear of the atomic bomb test.

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This is how science worked. On his advice, the International Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research was formed, in which the Antarctic Treaty was formed. This blocked new territorial claims and disabled existing ones. He also bans military exercises or the extraction of mineral resources.

Instead, Antarctica can only be used for peaceful purposes such as research and tourism, and its ecological balance will always be preserved. In 1961, the Antarctic Treaty became the first treaty after World War II to regulate states in peaceful coexistence. Today there is a wide network of international agreements related to this basic agreement.

Who is the signatory of the Antarctic Treaty?

On December 1, 1959, twelve nations, including Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, Great Britain, New Zealand and Norway, signed the Antarctic Treaty, which made territorial claims in Antarctica, as well as South Africa, the United States and the former Soviet Union.

More than 50 states have now signed up, but if Tania von Uslar-Gleichen, president of the Berlin Consultative Conference, is on her way, there may be more. The larger the community that gathers for Antarctic protection, the better. Not all countries have the right to vote. To achieve that, serious involvement around the Antarctica and ground research is required. Germany joined the Antarctic Treaty in 1979, and because it operates research stations in Antarctica, it has the right to vote.

What happens if someone violates the Antarctic Treaty?

It works, and the Antarctic Treaty is a fragile utopia. Antarctica is very large and sparsely populated, so no one will notice if large-scale fishing is carried out in restricted areas. The entire contract is based on trust and open communication.

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Political scientist Patrick Flam Hamburg is associated with the Giga Company and is an expert on the Antarctic Treaty. In his view, every state can ultimately do what it wants, and you should lose your reputation. There are no severe penalties, and the Antarctic Treaty is bound together by what is described as the “spirit of Antarctic cooperation.” However, tests are ongoing. Physician Birkit Steckelberg managed the German research station Newmeier III and provided reports on routine unannounced studies of research stations within themselves.

What research is being done in Antarctica?

There are about 80 research stations in Antarctica. Several thousand researchers work here in the summer and just 100 researchers in the Antarctic winter. Research areas include glaciers (glacier science); Meteorology, Climate Research, Geophysics, Biology or Oceanography. A botanical seed bank has been set up on ice to store the genetic material of cultivated and wild plants around the world. But future research into facilitating space travel is also underway.

The German research station Newmeyer III has an Eden-ISS project where kilos of lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes and herbs are grown in a greenhouse. As a test, the Antarctic greenhouse should be on Mars at some point.

Daniel Schubert is one of the Eden-ISS project managers at the German Space Center, and explains that this greenhouse could be brought to Mars and launched automatically. As soon as the first astronauts land on Mars, they can immediately begin to harvest. The average temperature in Mars and Antarctica is the same, which is why this type of future research only works in the almost untouched ice desert.

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What kind of tourism is there in Antarctica?

Antarctica has no hotels, no airport, and still 75,000 tourists came to Antarctica each year before the Corona. Tania von Uslar-Gleichen, President of the Berlin Antarctic Conference, reports on the increasing adventure tourism, the desire to experience a snow-cold continent.

Snow-covered motorized trips, such as paragliding and touring aircraft, require more extreme mountain and skiing. The challenge is to keep tourism to Antarctica acceptable. When tourists make too much noise, it disturbs the sensitive animal world like the Emperor Penguin. If non-Antarctic seed pods are pulled unnoticed, invasive species can damage native plants.

What role does Antarctica play in climate change?

An important one, even if it is rarely conscious. This vast, cold region, which controls the circulation of Antarctica’s cold winds and oceans, stabilizes the global climate. Without Antarctica, the global climate would be completely different. Antarctica has not yet been badly affected by climate change like the Arctic in the north, but temperatures are rising here as well.

The sea ice in Antarctica is already slowly melting, and if the ice on land melts it is very dangerous for the whole world. At its densest point, the Antarctic ice sheet is about 5,000 meters thick. If the ice melts, sea levels will rise along European beaches. According to the Federal Foreign Office, people around the world are losing their livelihoods, and this risk is very real in view of climate change.

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