Madrid Protocol

The last Antarctic dog team and their handlers at Mawson station in 1993
The last Antarctic dog team at Mawson station in 1993 (Photo: A Grant)

Australia supports environmental protection for Antarctica and was integral in the development of the Madrid Protocol, which sets forth a system of environmental protection.

Australia decided in 1989 that it would not support a planned regime to allow regulated mining in Antarctica, but instead proposed that Antarctic Treaty countries negotiate a comprehensive environmental protection regime for the continent.

The landmark Madrid Protocol, signed by Treaty members in 1991 and entering into force in 1998, was a direct result of this initiative. It reaffirms the status of Antarctica as an area reserved exclusively for peaceful purposes, including in particular scientific research, and sets forth a comprehensive, legally binding system of environmental protection applicable to all human activities. The Protocol prohibits all activities relating to mineral resources in Antarctica, except for scientific research. The Protocol also commits Parties to environmental impact assessment procedures for proposed activities, both governmental and private.

Read the text of the Madrid Protocol and discussion of its history and impact.

  • The Madrid Protocol replaced a minerals regime with a full-blown total environmental protection regime which designates Antarctica as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science. Ask students to research Australia's role in the negotiation of the protocol.
  • The Madrid Protocol bans all introduced species (except humans). One of the ramifications of this was the removal of huskies from Antarctica. Ask students if they agree or disagree with the decision and why.
  • Make your own treaty, with rules regulating the kinds of research that should and should not be allowed in Antarctica.

Issue - Mining in Antarctica

Mining in Antarctica is prohibited by the Madrid Protocol. What should we do if scientists find a particularly rare and valuable mineral on exposed rock near an Australian station and they think it can be gathered without drilling or using explosives?

Issue - Liability

If someone spills oil in Antarctica and damages the environment, should they have to clean it up? What should happen if they refuse to clean it up? What if it happens in winter and it is not possible to clean it up? Design some rules that could regulate these issues.

Refer to Annex VI [PDF] of the Madrid Protocol, which has now entered into force:

ANNEX VI: Liability for environmental emergencies - this Annex sets rules governing who is liable for preventing and dealing with environmental emergencies arising from scientific research, tourism and other activities in the Antarctic Treaty area, such as logistic (shipping and aircraft) support. The aim of the Annex is to stipulate – before anything goes wrong – who could be held responsible for cleaning up after an environmental emergency, and the legal avenues to respond to disaster. It also allows compensation to be claimed from the polluter if someone else has to clean up.
This page was last modified on January 23, 2014.