Friday, January 04, 2013

Who has the right to Antarctic?

Next century may see replotting in the Antarctic. As soon as scientists find ways of extracting oil and gas from under layers of ice 1 kilometre thick, at least 30 countries will make claims on the sixth continent. At present scientists continue working on the southernmost continent where they mainly study the resource base.

Huge resources of oil and gas are hidden under the ice cover of the Antarctic. It is a proved fact but at present the development of these fields is too difficult and unprofitable. In addition, many countries are held back by the status of a continent. According to the treaty on the Antarctic, no one has the right either to draw state borders there or develop mineral deposits.

Still, there are some countries whose Constitutions guarantee control over Antarctic territories to them. For example, Australia raises claims to one third of the continent. Argentina and even the UK apply to the principle of neighbourhood. London and Buenos Aires stake on sectors in the vicinity of the Falkland Islands (Las Malvinas) whose status the two countries have not regulated until today. Incidentally, Chile also makes claims to the same sector. Vyacheslav Martianov from the Institute of the Arctic and the Antarctic, deputy head of the Russian Antarctic Expedition, explains the situation.

The sector which belongs to Chile is registered in Argentina and the UK as their own sectors. If one of those countries says that this is their territory they will face opposition from the whole of the Antarctic community and the two pioneer countries, as well as those countries whose constitutions also claim that those are their territories. The agreement on the Antarctic prevents all countries from taking any steps concerning the continent but the ocean around is a different matter. There is a contradiction between the maritime law and the treaty on the use of seabed mineral resources.”

New Zealand, France and Norway also raise claims to parts of the Antarctic. The latter is prepared to annex lands in the centre of the continent that exceed the area of that country tenfold. In addition, there are about 20 other countries that in the past began scientific research on the South Pole, made some discoveries there and built research stations. In the future their contribution to the Antarctic science could become the reason for claiming rights to their own piece of the sixth continent, experts say. However, no one has yet cancelled the right of pioneer countries for the new lands, Vyacheslav Martianov says.

“The pioneer countries for the Antarctic are Russia and the US. Russia carried out the expedition of Bellingshausen and Lazarev in 1819-1821. Americans produced a pirate who discovered the Antarctic at approximately the same time and this has been recognized. For this reason the two countries are considered to be pioneers in discovering the Antarctic. As a pioneer country, either of these countries can announce the whole of the sixth continent their territory.”

Neither Russia nor the US has taken advantage of this right yet. Still, there is no way to avoid replotting of the Antarctic. In about 100 years the world may face deficit of resources, scientists believe. Then countries would have to solve the problem of the right to oil and gas fields on the South Pole. It would most likely be a peaceful process, Russian scientists say.

The treaty on the Antarctic which forbids exploring mineral resources on the continent is reviewed every 50 years. No amendments were introduced to the treaty at the session in 2009. Experts do not rule out that by the time of the next session representatives of the member-states could develop suggestions on borders. In 1959 the agreement was signed by 12 countries that wanted to carry out research on the continent, Russia and the US included. At present the convention is supported by over 45 countries.
 ***Under the 1961 international treaty on the sovereignty of Antarctica, the sixth continent does not belong to any world nation
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