Antarctic Parliament meets in Kochi

GS Paper II (Governance, Constitution, Social Justice and International Relations):

India’s foreign policy: India’s role in the Antarctic Treaty System and its strategic interests in the region.

International relations and security: Challenges of environmental protection in Antarctica and the role of international cooperation.

GS Paper III (Science and Technology):

India’s achievements in science and technology in the fields of space, nuclear energy, etc.: India’s scientific research programs in Antarctica.

India is hosting the 46th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM 46), also known as the Antarctic Parliament, from May 20-30 in Kochi.

The National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research, Goa, through the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), has organised the meeting, which will be attended by the 56 member countries of the Antarctic Treaty.

India had last hosted the ATCM in New Delhi in 2007.

What is Antarctic Treaty ?

Twelve countries — Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the USSR, the United Kingdom, and the United States — were the original signatories to the Antarctic Treaty, which was signed on December 1, 1959.

The treaty came into force in 1961, and a total of 56 countries — including India, in 1983 — have joined it since then.

The Antarctic Treaty, which was signed during the Cold War, effectively designated Antarctica as a “no man’s land”, outside the bounds of international geopolitical competition.

A few key features of the treaty are:

  • Antarctica shall be used only for peaceful purposes, and no militarisation or fortification shall be allowed.
  • All signatories will have the freedom to carry out scientific investigations, and should share plans for scientific programmes, extend required cooperation, and freely make available the data gathered.
  • Nuclear testing or disposal of radioactive waste materials shall be prohibited anywhere in Antarctica.

Today, the treaty forms the basis of all governance and activities in Antarctica, the fifth-largest continent on the planet.

India in Antarctica

Since 1983, India has been a consultative party to the Antarctic Treaty. In this capacity, India votes and participates in all key decisionmaking processes regarding Antarctica.

Of the 56 nations that are part of the Antarctic Treaty, 29 have consultative party status.

India has undertaken scientific research in Antarctica since 1981. The first Indian Antarctica research station, Dakshin Gangotri, was set up in 1983, some 2,500 km from the South Pole in Queen Maud Land. The station operated till 1990.

In 1989, India set up its second Antarctica research station, named Maitri, in the Schirmacher Oasis, a 3-km wide ice-free plateau with over 100 freshwater lakes. It is still operational and located about 5 km from Russia’s Novolazarevskaya Station, and 90 km from Dakshin Gangotri.

According to the National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research, Maitri can accommodate 65 persons in summer, and 25 in the winter.

In 2012, India inaugurated Bharati, its third Antarctica research station, located around 3,000 km east of Maitri, on the Prydz Bay coast. Although the station focuses on oceanographic and geologic study, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) utilises it for receiving Indian Remote sensing Satellite (IRS) data. The station can support up to 72 individuals during summer, and 47 in winter.

India plans to open a new station, Maitri II, a few kilometres from the ageing Maitri station. Operations are set to begin by 2029.

In 2022, India enacted the Antarctic Act, reaffirming its commitment to the Antarctic Treaty.

Agenda before ATCM

The ATCM is meant to facilitate a global dialogue on law, logistics, governance, science, tourism, and other aspects of the southern continent.

During the Kochi meet, India will also officially table its plan to construct Maitri II before the members. Any new construction or initiative in Antarctica requires the ATCM’s approval.

The ATCM will see discussions on sustainable management of Antarctica and its resources; biodiversity prospecting; inspections and exchange of information and data; research, collaboration, capacity building and cooperation; and climate change impacts on Antarctica and beyond.

 

 

 

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