Only available in English and French at this time. Thank you for your understanding. /Disponible uniquement en anglais et français pour le moment. Merci de votre compréhension. /Maannaujumi Qallunaatitut kisiani atuinnautitaummata. Qujannamiik tukisittiaratsi taassuminga.

In the above video, Antarctic 2002 alum Sonya Bell speaks with SOI Founder & President Geoff Green about the importance of Antarctica and Canada’s role in the Antarctic Treaty. Sonya also reflects on her time in Antarctica and the important call she and her expedition team made to former Canadian Minister of the Environment, David Anderson from a satellite phone in Antarctica. The call included Sonya asking Minister Anderson to help protect Antarctica. Within a year, Canada ratified the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. This was the first in showing youth on SOI expeditions that their voice matters and the responsibility they have to engage in the dialogue and help foster positive change. 

Canada Needs to Become a Consultative Member of the Antarctic Treaty

by Geoff Green, Founder & President of the Students on Ice Foundation

Antarctica conjures up images of a vast, ice covered continent that is largely untouched. Beyond the epic imagery of icy mountain landscapes, it is also a symbol of peace & understanding, conservation, and global cooperation thanks to The Antarctic Treaty signed 60 years ago. Antarctica belongs to no country and is the only continent that has never seen a war. It is home to some of the most diverse species on our planet and a site of international scientific research. Antarctica, and the Arctic, are the cornerstones of the global ecosystem. 

Despite being geographically distant, Canada and Canadians have been closely involved in Antarctica for more than 100 years. In fact, we are one of the most active countries scientifically and commercially in the Antarctic. Canadian Antarctic science researchers are based at more than 15 different Canadian universities and four federal government organizations. Canadian companies account for 10-15% of annual Antarctic tourists, and many Canadian businesses are actively involved in Antarctic technology development, search and rescue, and selling products used in the Antarctic.

Despite all this, Canada is still not yet a full consultative member of The Antarctic Treaty.
This has to change. 

As Canada reassesses some of the priorities of our Foreign Policy in the wake of the recent UN Security Council vote, Canada should, once and for all, become a full consultative member of The Antarctic Treaty. As a Polar Nation and as a country asserting itself as a climate leader, science leader, ocean leader, and thought leader, Canada must take the necessary steps to become a full consultative voting member, instead of sitting quietly at the back of the room without a vote as we do now.

What has Canada’s role been in relation to The Antarctic Treaty? Dr. Fred Roots O.C., a late, great Canadian and one of the grandfathers of Students on Ice, contributed to the writing of The Antarctic Treaty. Canada ratified the Antarctic Treaty as a non-consultative party on May 4, 1988, and Canada ratified the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (Environmental Protocol) as a full party on December 13, 2003, in part thanks to the efforts of some Students on Ice alumni! Read more about this here: https://studentsonice.com/success-stories/project-success/canadas-role-antarctic-treaty/

For a brief history of Canada’s involvement and more background information, please jump to the bottom of this article. 

 

What are the implications of Canada’s current status in the Antarctic Treaty System?

Our status as a non-consultative member, this inhibits Canada from having a stronger voice on the international stage with respect to global climate and ocean systems, and more.

Canada cannot vote on decisions that have implications for:

  • The environmental protection, conservation and management of a region that regulates global climate and ocean systems; and,
  • The conduct of Canadian activities in the Antarctic, including research and tourism.

This includes decisions that seek to minimize the negative impacts of human activities and protect vulnerable ecosystems, such as:

  • The sustainable management of Antarctic tourism, which includes more than 50k tourists/year.
  • Conservation and ecosystem-based management of Antarctic marine resources (e.g., krill, toothfish) and measures to address concerns regarding illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing.
  • Antarctic krill is used for animal feed, aquaculture feed, bait and food for humans, but also forms the base of the Southern Ocean food web.
  • Environmental impact assessment standards and processes for Antarctic activities, including construction of major scientific infrastructure.
  • Potential future pressure or interest to extract Antarctic resources, including known reserves of oil and coal as well as potential mineral deposits.

 

Undeniably, Canada has significant polar expertise. Comparative data from the Arctic and Antarctic is essential if we hope to effectively regular climate and ocean systems in the face of climate change

Canada’s Arctic and Northern region makes up 25% of the global Arctic, second only to Russia in terms of landmass. In the context of global polar players, Canada is therefore viewed as a country that can bring significant polar expertise to the table. What happens at one pole has significant impacts on what happens at the other, namely in areas of climate change and sea-level rise, which will have profound impacts on Canadian coastal communities. 

The importance of comparative data has never been more relevant for both polar regions. Climate change research requires comparable data from both poles to calibrate the global circulation models used to predict anticipated changes, and Canadian Antarctic research would make this data significantly more valuable. Given the alternating field systems, there is a real opportunity to leverage the Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) to address some of these important research priorities. With Polar Knowledge Canada’s recently released 2020-2025 Science and Technology Framework and Strategic Plan, there is a significant opportunity to lead in the mobilization of polar knowledge in Canada and abroad, and to exchange comparable data derived from S&T priorities on the changing marine ecosystem and on advancing sustainable energy, technology and infrastructure solutions. 

The comparative data would also provide many knowledge-sharing opportunities for the Arctic, including for marine protected areas, remediation of contaminated soils in cold regions, and many other bi-polar connections and synergies. Given the Antarctic’s critical role in regulating global climate and ocean systems, Antarctic research can assist in understanding and predicting a range of relevant issues for Canada and Canadian communities, including climate change impacts and sea-level rise that impact coastal communities, including in the Arctic.


Gaining Consultative Party status is congruent with our current international responsibilities and aligns with our Government’s desire to expand our leadership roles in multilateral institutions

Canada is the only G7 nation that does not have Consultative Party Status to the Antarctic Treaty, and therefore cannot vote on Antarctic governance and management decisions. Canada is one of only five G20 countries that does not have Consultative Status. In the context of the Arctic Council, we sit with Denmark and Iceland as the only Arctic states without Consultative Party status.

Increased engagement within the Antarctic Treaty System also affords new opportunities to engage with Russia, and with non-polar states including China, India, Japan – who have scientific bases and are looking to leverage their experience to expand their interests in the Arctic. 

Enhanced engagement in the Antarctic is consistent with this Government’s priority to seek leadership opportunities for Canada in multilateral institutions. The following remarks were made in a 2016 address by Parliamentary Secretary Goldsmith-Jones on behalf of the Minister of Foreign Affairs: “We also must remember – and I emphasize this point – that we have another pole to worry about: the Antarctic. Conditions are different, but there are also resemblances. Cooperation will be necessary at all levels – political, diplomatic and scientific – to link the destinies of the poles.” 

Canada needs to become a full consultative member of The Antarctic Treaty

Canada and Antarctica are already intrinsically linked. By becoming a full consultative member of The Antarctic Treaty, Canada will be able to properly influence key decisions that are made about the polar regions, provide crucial comparative data for regulating climate and ocean ecosystems, and finally embody the leadership role our country is overly qualified for within Antarctic affairs. 

As climate change continues to be the biggest threat to our world, collaborative and inclusive decision making is what will allow us to have a chance to protect the poles, and in turn protect our planet.

Further relevant points and background information:

  • Canada is a Polar Nation.  
  • Full membership will strengthen Canada’s leadership role and help position Canada as a leader in Polar, Ocean and Climate affairs.
  • Canada’s ratification of the Treaty would be very warmly welcomed around the World.
  • The Antarctic Treaty is one of the most successful in the World, and its mechanisms can be applied to many other areas beyond national jurisdiction that Canada will need to deal with in the future.
  • Bi-polar science connections. The polar regions are the cornerstones of the global ecosystem and both need to be studied in tandem. 
  • Canada is very active scientifically and commercially in the Antarctic (science, research, business and tourism).
  • Exchanges between Arctic science stations (CHARS, PCSP, Nunavut Research Institute) and National programs and stations in the Antarctic, ie) the MOU between Canada & the UK.
  • Not expensive. The cost for Canada’s full membership would not be much more than what we are already spending as a non-consultative member. Plus, the added benefits would far outweigh the costs.

Brief history on Canada and the Antarctic Treaty

  • When Prime Minister Joe Clark signed The Antarctic Treaty on 4 May 1988, many confidently expected that a small office and program would be established jointly by External Affairs and the Geological Survey, with the respective Ministers taking responsibility.   Then the government changed; the proposal never went to Parliament, and we became a Non-consultative party.
  • When Mary Simon O.C. was Ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs, it was thought that this might be a step toward establishing a continuing Antarctic operational office and eventually lead toward a recognized Canadian responsibility for our Antarctic activities, and then to Consultative status.  But instead of an opportunity and best efforts, the file did not advance.
  • Then when David Anderson, then Minister of Environment, introduced the Act to accede to the Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty to Parliament (Madrid Protocol) and it passed both Commons and Senate unanimously (2003), we thought there might be an opportunity to establish a continuing Office for Coordinating Antarctic and Polar Affairs.  But then the government changed, and Antarctic affairs were wiped off the list.
  • In none of this history, was it funding or lack of Canadian activity in Antarctica that prevented Canada from becoming a full participant in the Treaty. It was just lack of political interest, and the fact that there was no real political champion.
  • Here is a short video Students on Ice made in 2016 with the late great Peter Adams (Former member of Parliament) and the former Chair of the Canadian Polar Commission Bernie Funston.  It is just as relevant today as it was when we made it – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sl0X2FpXeLY

DISCOVER MORE