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Episode
248

The Antarctic Treaty

Mar 25, 2022
Geography
-
25
minutes

It's an amazing piece of legislation that protects the Earth's most isolated continent.

In this episode, we'll learn all about the history of Antarctica, which countries tried to claim it as their territory, and how the situation was resolved to benefit all humankind.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about the Antarctic Treaty.

[00:00:29] I’m sure you are familiar with the so-called White Continent. Antarctica is a recurring source of fascination for adults and children alike. An almost mythological place where the mere existence of any life form seems truly miraculous.

[00:00:48] But what you might not have spent much time thinking about is who actually owns Antarctica, is it part of a country at all, and what laws apply there?

[00:01:00] Well, the answer to this is the title of this episode: The Antarctic Treaty, and in the next 20 or 25 minutes we are going to learn all about it.

[00:01:11] We’ll start with a quick overview of the Antarctic, and how it was discovered. Then we’ll move on to covering some essential questions - Who signed the Antarctic Treaty? wWhy was the Antarctic Treaty created and what does it cover? What does it mean for the future of Antarctica and the planet? It’s a fascinating subject, and I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:37] Ok then, the Antarctic Treaty.

[00:01:43] Antarctica, the world’s fifth-largest and southernmost continent, bigger than both Europe and Australia, extends over some 14 million square kilometres. 

[00:01:56] Antarctica's inhospitable climate, with an average winter temperature of around -63°Celsius, makes this windy, ice-covered polar desert uninhabitable without the help of modern logistics and technology.

[00:02:14] Unsurprisingly, Antarctica is the Earth’s only continent that does not have a native human population. 

[00:02:22] Unlike everywhere else on the planet, Antarctica has not been carved up into nation states, into countries - although territorial claims do exist, which we’ll talk about later. 

[00:02:37] Its land mass has not been exploited for commercial gain and the entire continent is almost completely unchanged by humankind. 

[00:02:49] It is amazing when you stop to think about it, Antarctica is the only place in the entire world, really, that we have left almost entirely untouched, free from human intervention and free from pollution. 

[00:03:05] Apart from its 70 permanent research bases with their small numbers of seasonally rotating staff, Antarctica remains devoid of, completely free from, permanent human residents. 

[00:03:20] So, where does the Antarctic Treaty come into this and why was it created?

[00:03:27] Signed on 1 December 1959, the Antarctic Treaty came into force on 23 June 1961. 

[00:03:37] While the Treaty’s provisions, its content, has been added to and updated over the years, the main aim of the Antarctic Treaty is to ensure that the Antarctic wilderness is protected as a place devoted to peace and science.

[00:03:57] Today, military activity, nuclear explosions and waste, as well as mining are all banned under the treaty

[00:04:06] Instead, it promotes scientific cooperation and the environmental protection of the Antarctic.

[00:04:13] Another extremely important, feature of the Antarctic Treaty is that it effectively puts all Antarctic land claims in abeyance and prevents new claims from being made. If something is in abeyance, it means that it is suspended or temporarily set aside

[00:04:35] For reference, Antarctic territorial claims are triangular-shaped territories that split Antarctica into different sections, each claim having been made by a different country. Their boundaries radiate out from a point at the South Pole like spokes on the wheel of a bicycle or the hands on a clock face. 

[00:04:59] Even today, there are seven existing Antarctic territorial claims, some of which overlap, plus an area between 90 and 150° west, near the south Pacific Ocean, which is the only major section of land on Earth not to be claimed by any country.

[00:05:22] By not allowing territorial claims the Antarctic Treaty has brought lasting peace to the continent of Antarctica in a format that is acceptable to both the original claimants, the original countries that said that land was theirs, and the other nations who reject the validity of those original territorial claims.

[00:05:47] Putting these territorial claims into suspension is, in fact, one of the most ingenious, or clever, features of the Antarctic Treaty, and one that helped to ensure its adoption

[00:06:02] Furthermore, it also paved the way for increased scientific cooperation and peace. 

[00:06:09] To better illustrate this point, as well as to gain a greater understanding of the importance of the Antarctic Treaty, both for Antarctica and for the world, let’s take a closer look at how things were in and around Antarctica from its discovery in 1820 up to the creation of the Antarctic Treaty in 1959.

[00:06:33] As you’ll see, things could have finished very differently.

[00:06:39] Let’s first talk about the discovery of Antarctica, and then move onto the race to reach the South Pole.

[00:06:47] The idea of the possible existence of a large southern landmass can be traced back to Ancient Greece - well before Antarctica was recognised as a continent in 1840.

[00:07:02] Known as Terra Australis Incognita, or the Unknown Southern Land, early European explorers believed that this mystery continent consisted of a huge temperate land mass linking the islands off the tip of South America with New Guinea. 

[00:07:22] Numerous 15th and 16th century naval expeditions disproved this theory, pushing the likelihood of the existence of an unknown continent further and further south. 

[00:07:35] The famous British navigator James Cook crossed the Antarctic Circle for the first time in 1773 looking for the continent. 

[00:07:46] On his expedition, Cook proved there was no land bridge between the islands off South America and Oceania. After he discovered the South Sandwich Islands in 1774, he came to the conclusion that if there was a Terra Australis Incognita, it would be beyond the ice barrier and not in the temperate zone. 

[00:08:12] In short, if a southern continent existed, it would be almost inaccessible and of no economic value, so Cook believed. 

[00:08:23] While a Russian naval expedition led by an explorer named Bellinghausen was the first to catch sight of Antarctica in 1820, a lot of discoveries in the Antarctic region were actually made by seal and whale hunters. 

[00:08:41] In fact, the first documented landing on mainland Antarctica was by an American seal hunter in 1853. 

[00:08:51] As you may know, and as you certainly will know if you’ve listened to Episode number 144, whale and seal hunting were especially important economic activities during the 18th and 19th centuries. 

[00:09:07] As the whale and seal populations further north continued to reduce, because, well they were all killed, the hunters sailed further and further south to try to find fresh, new, untouched sources of whales and seals to hunt.

[00:09:26] And while history doesn’t tend to look particularly kindly on whaling, the discovery of the Antarctic landmass was in some respects down to increased demand for whale oil and seal fur.

[00:09:43] The short, dense fur of the Antarctic fur seal was prized for making ladies’ coats, and by the 1830s these seals were almost wiped out completely. 

[00:09:57] Whale oil, on the other hand, was essential for lubricating the advanced machinery that was increasingly used in the Industrial Revolution.

[00:10:09] Whale oil was also an important household commodity that was burnt in lamps, as well as being used in the manufacture, or making, of soap, candles, paint, varnish and textiles. 

[00:10:24] So, the seas around the Antarctic were a major hunting area that brought great riches as well as being important for continued technological advances. 

[00:10:37] The rush to find virgin, or unexploited, sealing and whaling grounds, consistently pushed vessels to travel further and further south, which also increased awareness and interest in the Antarctic continent.

[00:10:54] After the Magnetic North Pole was located in 1831, the race was on to find the Magnetic South Pole, with British, French and American scientific naval exploratory parties charting large sections of the Antarctic coast. 

[00:11:14] The approximate location of the Magnetic South Pole was identified but at the time it was over land and therefore inaccessible by boat. 

[00:11:26] A 50-year hiatus, or break, in scientific Antarctic exploration followed. 

[00:11:33] Seals continued to be hunted to the brink of extinction, although petroleum increasingly replaced whale oil. 

[00:11:42] However, the whales weren’t quite off the hook yet, they weren’t safe yet. There was still a huge demand for baleen, which is also known as whalebone

[00:11:54] Baleen comes from the large plate-like structures that are found in the mouths of certain types of whales. They act as sieves, or filters, catching tiny marine organisms that the whales consume. 

[00:12:10] Given its highly durable yet flexible qualities, baleen was the “plastic” of the 1800s and it was used to make a wide variety of items, not least of all, women’s corsets

[00:12:25] Now armed with better boats, whaling parties had to once again cover mostly uncharted, or unknown, territory in their attempts to find more whales to feed the ever-growing appetite for whale products. 

[00:12:41] In 1895, a whaling expedition made the first-ever landing to collect biological and geological specimens on the Antarctic mainland. 

[00:12:53] While there had been at least one previously documented landing and the region was increasingly mapped, this was one of the very first landings on the continent and it went on to inspire the scientific community. 

[00:13:09] In that very same year of 1895, participants in the Sixth International Geographical Congress called for greater exploration of the Antarctic regions, inspiring the race to reach the South Pole.

[00:13:25] Explorers and scientists alike took up the challenge with no less than seventeen expeditions from eight different countries taking place in Antarctica over the next 27 years. 

[00:13:38] Activity in the Antarctic had now switched from economic profit to scientific investigation, as well as bolstering, promoting, national pride. 

[00:13:50] As you may know, the South Pole was first reached by a party of Norwegian Explorers under the command of a man named Roald Amundsen on December 14th 1911. 

[00:14:03] Other expeditions made extensive exploratory surveys, often accompanied by daring tales of survival after ships were crushed by ice leaving their crew stranded

[00:14:18] However, while the early explorations up to the late 1930s were mainly privately funded with some government support, countries around the world became increasingly aware of Antarctica's potential scientific, economic and strategic importance.

[00:14:39] Great tracts, or areas, of Antarctica were claimed by countries including Britain, Australia, New Zealand, France, Argentina and Chile. 

[00:14:50] Some areas overlapped and other countries who were yet to make a territorial claim disputed the existing claims’ validity. 

[00:15:00] During the 1940 and 50s, these Antarctic land claims became a source of international conflict, later stoked, or worsened, by the tensions of the Cold War. 

[00:15:13] In 1947, after the Second World War, America sent a large military task force to Antarctica to test materials and train soldiers for combat in extreme cold for a hypothetical war in the Antarctic. 

[00:15:30] In 1948, Argentina sent eight warships to the Antarctic, leading to the signing of the Tripartite Naval Declaration by Argentina, Britain and Chile, all countries with overlapping claims.

[00:15:47] By signing this new declaration, all three countries promised not to send any warships south of the 60th South parallel, the line just above the Antarctic continent. 

[00:16:01] But while this declaration was designed to stop large-scale hostilities from occurring over the disputed and overlapping Argentinian-Chilean-British sector, it did not put an end to the territorial disputes. 

[00:16:17] In 1953, 32 royal marines, British soldiers, descended from a British warship on Deception Island, an island just above the 60th South parallel in the South Shetland Islands.

[00:16:33] The two Argentinian sailors who were present on the island were captured and the settlements built by both Argentina and Chile were destroyed. 

[00:16:44] Britain filed claims with the International Court of Justice, declaring the territorial claims of Argentina and Chile in the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic to be invalid.

[00:16:58] But who actually owned this island? What laws applied? 

[00:17:04] Clearly, something had to be done. 

[00:17:08] As international tensions over Antarctica began to boil dangerously high, an international scientific project called the International Geophysical Year managed to turn the tide in the Antarctic.

[00:17:23] Sixty-seven countries took part in collaborative experiments, lasting from July 1st 1957 - December 31st of 1958. 

[00:17:35] And they discovered that, actually, working together wasn’t so bad after all. 

[00:17:42] All 12 of the countries that had actively committed to researching in Antarctica for the event, including those with territorial claims, agreed that their research programmes would be improved by continued scientific cooperation in the Antarctic. 

[00:18:00] These 12 countries, namely, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, the Union of South Africa, the USSR, the UK and the USA, they decided to put their legal and political differences to one side and began to negotiate an agreement that governed how Antarctica worked from a legal and political point of view, an agreement that would become the Antarctic Treaty.

[00:18:30] So, what does the Antarctic treaty do?

[00:18:34] It set aside territorial disputes, promoted scientific cooperation and ensured demilitarisation of the continent. 

[00:18:44] The treaty clearly stated that Antarctica is to be used for peaceful purposes only, remaining free from nuclear tests and the disposal of nuclear waste.

[00:18:57] Over the years, more and more countries have signed up to the Antarctic Treaty, and it currently numbers 54 signatories, accounting for more than 80% of the world’s population. 

[00:19:10] As the world we live in has evolved, so has the Antarctic Treaty. Further conventions and protocols have been added to ensure the best protection on-going of the Antarctic, including a ban on all types of mining or mineral extraction apart from those related to scientific study. 

[00:19:32] The Antarctic Treaty is often hailed, or praised, as being one of the most successful international agreements. It has allowed us to increase our understanding of the Earth and protection of the environment, as well as being one of the most exemplary treaties promoting peaceful cooperation. 

[00:19:54] So much so, that some people go as far as to consider the Antarctic Treaty as being an example of the principle of the common heritage of humanity. This is the idea that certain cultural, natural and territorial areas should be protected from exploitation by corporations or individual states and preserved by the international community for future generations. 

[00:20:22] Now, you may be wondering how the future will pan out for the Antarctic and its treaty

[00:20:29] As with all continents, it’s very likely that the Antarctic contains valuable natural resources. Currently, it’s thought that it wouldn’t be commercially viable to extract these resources, plus commercial mining is banned under the Antarctic Treaty.

[00:20:48] The worry is though, could future generations go back on the treaty and start commercial exploitation of the Antarctic?

[00:20:58] Well, the Treaty is fairly robust, it's strong. 

[00:21:02] The treaty itself is indefinite, as is the treaty’s Madrid Protocol that bans mining. 

[00:21:10] While there is the option to amend, to change the protocol, it would require unanimous, or total, agreement of all of the consultative parties to do so before the year 2048. 

[00:21:25] After 2048 - 50 years after the Madrid Protocol in 1998 - a single consultative member will be able to propose an amendment which would then have to go to a vote. This vote would need to be approved by three-quarters of all of the consultative parties, including all 26 who were consultative parties in the year 1991.

[00:21:49] In plain English, it would require almost everyone to agree, and that doesn’t seem to be very likely.

[00:21:52] To my mind, however, there is one potential glaringly obvious problem with the Antarctic Treaty. Its Achilles heel could be its speed or rather lack thereof

[00:22:02] As the Antarctic Treaty relies on consensus-based, or approval, decision making, it is very slow to make progress on major issues. 

[00:22:22] Climate change and Antarctic tourism were not anticipated when the original treaty was drawn up. While additional protocols have put measures in place, this has been reactive rather than proactive, reacting to current and past situations rather than anticipating the future.

[00:22:44] While it may not be perfect, the Antarctic Treaty is undoubtedly one of the most successful sets of international agreements. 

[00:22:53] Even more astounding, is that it was signed during the Cold War, a period of extreme geopolitical tensions

[00:23:02] The Antarctic Treaty ensures the environmental protection of an entire continent through international commitments and cooperation. And that for me is captivating, fascinating, and a wonderful example of just what can be achieved when we work together, united for a common good. 

[00:23:25] OK then, that is it for today’s episode on the Antarctic Treaty.

[00:23:30] I hope that it’s been an interesting one, and that you’ve learned a bit about the Earth's most inhospitable continent as well as the history that led to the Antarctic Treaty’s creation. 

[00:23:43] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:23:47] Do you think the Antarctic Treaty is an example of the common heritage of humanity, that Antarctica is a place that should be preserved for future generations?

[00:23:57] Do you think that the Antarctic Treaty will stand the test of modern times and changes to world order?

[00:24:04] Should we limit tourism to the Antarctic or is there a responsible way to go about promoting it?

[00:24:11] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started. 

[00:24:15] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:24:24] You’ve been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:24:29] I’m Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I’ll catch you in the next episode. 

[END OF EPISODE]

Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about the Antarctic Treaty.

[00:00:29] I’m sure you are familiar with the so-called White Continent. Antarctica is a recurring source of fascination for adults and children alike. An almost mythological place where the mere existence of any life form seems truly miraculous.

[00:00:48] But what you might not have spent much time thinking about is who actually owns Antarctica, is it part of a country at all, and what laws apply there?

[00:01:00] Well, the answer to this is the title of this episode: The Antarctic Treaty, and in the next 20 or 25 minutes we are going to learn all about it.

[00:01:11] We’ll start with a quick overview of the Antarctic, and how it was discovered. Then we’ll move on to covering some essential questions - Who signed the Antarctic Treaty? wWhy was the Antarctic Treaty created and what does it cover? What does it mean for the future of Antarctica and the planet? It’s a fascinating subject, and I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:37] Ok then, the Antarctic Treaty.

[00:01:43] Antarctica, the world’s fifth-largest and southernmost continent, bigger than both Europe and Australia, extends over some 14 million square kilometres. 

[00:01:56] Antarctica's inhospitable climate, with an average winter temperature of around -63°Celsius, makes this windy, ice-covered polar desert uninhabitable without the help of modern logistics and technology.

[00:02:14] Unsurprisingly, Antarctica is the Earth’s only continent that does not have a native human population. 

[00:02:22] Unlike everywhere else on the planet, Antarctica has not been carved up into nation states, into countries - although territorial claims do exist, which we’ll talk about later. 

[00:02:37] Its land mass has not been exploited for commercial gain and the entire continent is almost completely unchanged by humankind. 

[00:02:49] It is amazing when you stop to think about it, Antarctica is the only place in the entire world, really, that we have left almost entirely untouched, free from human intervention and free from pollution. 

[00:03:05] Apart from its 70 permanent research bases with their small numbers of seasonally rotating staff, Antarctica remains devoid of, completely free from, permanent human residents. 

[00:03:20] So, where does the Antarctic Treaty come into this and why was it created?

[00:03:27] Signed on 1 December 1959, the Antarctic Treaty came into force on 23 June 1961. 

[00:03:37] While the Treaty’s provisions, its content, has been added to and updated over the years, the main aim of the Antarctic Treaty is to ensure that the Antarctic wilderness is protected as a place devoted to peace and science.

[00:03:57] Today, military activity, nuclear explosions and waste, as well as mining are all banned under the treaty

[00:04:06] Instead, it promotes scientific cooperation and the environmental protection of the Antarctic.

[00:04:13] Another extremely important, feature of the Antarctic Treaty is that it effectively puts all Antarctic land claims in abeyance and prevents new claims from being made. If something is in abeyance, it means that it is suspended or temporarily set aside

[00:04:35] For reference, Antarctic territorial claims are triangular-shaped territories that split Antarctica into different sections, each claim having been made by a different country. Their boundaries radiate out from a point at the South Pole like spokes on the wheel of a bicycle or the hands on a clock face. 

[00:04:59] Even today, there are seven existing Antarctic territorial claims, some of which overlap, plus an area between 90 and 150° west, near the south Pacific Ocean, which is the only major section of land on Earth not to be claimed by any country.

[00:05:22] By not allowing territorial claims the Antarctic Treaty has brought lasting peace to the continent of Antarctica in a format that is acceptable to both the original claimants, the original countries that said that land was theirs, and the other nations who reject the validity of those original territorial claims.

[00:05:47] Putting these territorial claims into suspension is, in fact, one of the most ingenious, or clever, features of the Antarctic Treaty, and one that helped to ensure its adoption

[00:06:02] Furthermore, it also paved the way for increased scientific cooperation and peace. 

[00:06:09] To better illustrate this point, as well as to gain a greater understanding of the importance of the Antarctic Treaty, both for Antarctica and for the world, let’s take a closer look at how things were in and around Antarctica from its discovery in 1820 up to the creation of the Antarctic Treaty in 1959.

[00:06:33] As you’ll see, things could have finished very differently.

[00:06:39] Let’s first talk about the discovery of Antarctica, and then move onto the race to reach the South Pole.

[00:06:47] The idea of the possible existence of a large southern landmass can be traced back to Ancient Greece - well before Antarctica was recognised as a continent in 1840.

[00:07:02] Known as Terra Australis Incognita, or the Unknown Southern Land, early European explorers believed that this mystery continent consisted of a huge temperate land mass linking the islands off the tip of South America with New Guinea. 

[00:07:22] Numerous 15th and 16th century naval expeditions disproved this theory, pushing the likelihood of the existence of an unknown continent further and further south. 

[00:07:35] The famous British navigator James Cook crossed the Antarctic Circle for the first time in 1773 looking for the continent. 

[00:07:46] On his expedition, Cook proved there was no land bridge between the islands off South America and Oceania. After he discovered the South Sandwich Islands in 1774, he came to the conclusion that if there was a Terra Australis Incognita, it would be beyond the ice barrier and not in the temperate zone. 

[00:08:12] In short, if a southern continent existed, it would be almost inaccessible and of no economic value, so Cook believed. 

[00:08:23] While a Russian naval expedition led by an explorer named Bellinghausen was the first to catch sight of Antarctica in 1820, a lot of discoveries in the Antarctic region were actually made by seal and whale hunters. 

[00:08:41] In fact, the first documented landing on mainland Antarctica was by an American seal hunter in 1853. 

[00:08:51] As you may know, and as you certainly will know if you’ve listened to Episode number 144, whale and seal hunting were especially important economic activities during the 18th and 19th centuries. 

[00:09:07] As the whale and seal populations further north continued to reduce, because, well they were all killed, the hunters sailed further and further south to try to find fresh, new, untouched sources of whales and seals to hunt.

[00:09:26] And while history doesn’t tend to look particularly kindly on whaling, the discovery of the Antarctic landmass was in some respects down to increased demand for whale oil and seal fur.

[00:09:43] The short, dense fur of the Antarctic fur seal was prized for making ladies’ coats, and by the 1830s these seals were almost wiped out completely. 

[00:09:57] Whale oil, on the other hand, was essential for lubricating the advanced machinery that was increasingly used in the Industrial Revolution.

[00:10:09] Whale oil was also an important household commodity that was burnt in lamps, as well as being used in the manufacture, or making, of soap, candles, paint, varnish and textiles. 

[00:10:24] So, the seas around the Antarctic were a major hunting area that brought great riches as well as being important for continued technological advances. 

[00:10:37] The rush to find virgin, or unexploited, sealing and whaling grounds, consistently pushed vessels to travel further and further south, which also increased awareness and interest in the Antarctic continent.

[00:10:54] After the Magnetic North Pole was located in 1831, the race was on to find the Magnetic South Pole, with British, French and American scientific naval exploratory parties charting large sections of the Antarctic coast. 

[00:11:14] The approximate location of the Magnetic South Pole was identified but at the time it was over land and therefore inaccessible by boat. 

[00:11:26] A 50-year hiatus, or break, in scientific Antarctic exploration followed. 

[00:11:33] Seals continued to be hunted to the brink of extinction, although petroleum increasingly replaced whale oil. 

[00:11:42] However, the whales weren’t quite off the hook yet, they weren’t safe yet. There was still a huge demand for baleen, which is also known as whalebone

[00:11:54] Baleen comes from the large plate-like structures that are found in the mouths of certain types of whales. They act as sieves, or filters, catching tiny marine organisms that the whales consume. 

[00:12:10] Given its highly durable yet flexible qualities, baleen was the “plastic” of the 1800s and it was used to make a wide variety of items, not least of all, women’s corsets

[00:12:25] Now armed with better boats, whaling parties had to once again cover mostly uncharted, or unknown, territory in their attempts to find more whales to feed the ever-growing appetite for whale products. 

[00:12:41] In 1895, a whaling expedition made the first-ever landing to collect biological and geological specimens on the Antarctic mainland. 

[00:12:53] While there had been at least one previously documented landing and the region was increasingly mapped, this was one of the very first landings on the continent and it went on to inspire the scientific community. 

[00:13:09] In that very same year of 1895, participants in the Sixth International Geographical Congress called for greater exploration of the Antarctic regions, inspiring the race to reach the South Pole.

[00:13:25] Explorers and scientists alike took up the challenge with no less than seventeen expeditions from eight different countries taking place in Antarctica over the next 27 years. 

[00:13:38] Activity in the Antarctic had now switched from economic profit to scientific investigation, as well as bolstering, promoting, national pride. 

[00:13:50] As you may know, the South Pole was first reached by a party of Norwegian Explorers under the command of a man named Roald Amundsen on December 14th 1911. 

[00:14:03] Other expeditions made extensive exploratory surveys, often accompanied by daring tales of survival after ships were crushed by ice leaving their crew stranded

[00:14:18] However, while the early explorations up to the late 1930s were mainly privately funded with some government support, countries around the world became increasingly aware of Antarctica's potential scientific, economic and strategic importance.

[00:14:39] Great tracts, or areas, of Antarctica were claimed by countries including Britain, Australia, New Zealand, France, Argentina and Chile. 

[00:14:50] Some areas overlapped and other countries who were yet to make a territorial claim disputed the existing claims’ validity. 

[00:15:00] During the 1940 and 50s, these Antarctic land claims became a source of international conflict, later stoked, or worsened, by the tensions of the Cold War. 

[00:15:13] In 1947, after the Second World War, America sent a large military task force to Antarctica to test materials and train soldiers for combat in extreme cold for a hypothetical war in the Antarctic. 

[00:15:30] In 1948, Argentina sent eight warships to the Antarctic, leading to the signing of the Tripartite Naval Declaration by Argentina, Britain and Chile, all countries with overlapping claims.

[00:15:47] By signing this new declaration, all three countries promised not to send any warships south of the 60th South parallel, the line just above the Antarctic continent. 

[00:16:01] But while this declaration was designed to stop large-scale hostilities from occurring over the disputed and overlapping Argentinian-Chilean-British sector, it did not put an end to the territorial disputes. 

[00:16:17] In 1953, 32 royal marines, British soldiers, descended from a British warship on Deception Island, an island just above the 60th South parallel in the South Shetland Islands.

[00:16:33] The two Argentinian sailors who were present on the island were captured and the settlements built by both Argentina and Chile were destroyed. 

[00:16:44] Britain filed claims with the International Court of Justice, declaring the territorial claims of Argentina and Chile in the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic to be invalid.

[00:16:58] But who actually owned this island? What laws applied? 

[00:17:04] Clearly, something had to be done. 

[00:17:08] As international tensions over Antarctica began to boil dangerously high, an international scientific project called the International Geophysical Year managed to turn the tide in the Antarctic.

[00:17:23] Sixty-seven countries took part in collaborative experiments, lasting from July 1st 1957 - December 31st of 1958. 

[00:17:35] And they discovered that, actually, working together wasn’t so bad after all. 

[00:17:42] All 12 of the countries that had actively committed to researching in Antarctica for the event, including those with territorial claims, agreed that their research programmes would be improved by continued scientific cooperation in the Antarctic. 

[00:18:00] These 12 countries, namely, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, the Union of South Africa, the USSR, the UK and the USA, they decided to put their legal and political differences to one side and began to negotiate an agreement that governed how Antarctica worked from a legal and political point of view, an agreement that would become the Antarctic Treaty.

[00:18:30] So, what does the Antarctic treaty do?

[00:18:34] It set aside territorial disputes, promoted scientific cooperation and ensured demilitarisation of the continent. 

[00:18:44] The treaty clearly stated that Antarctica is to be used for peaceful purposes only, remaining free from nuclear tests and the disposal of nuclear waste.

[00:18:57] Over the years, more and more countries have signed up to the Antarctic Treaty, and it currently numbers 54 signatories, accounting for more than 80% of the world’s population. 

[00:19:10] As the world we live in has evolved, so has the Antarctic Treaty. Further conventions and protocols have been added to ensure the best protection on-going of the Antarctic, including a ban on all types of mining or mineral extraction apart from those related to scientific study. 

[00:19:32] The Antarctic Treaty is often hailed, or praised, as being one of the most successful international agreements. It has allowed us to increase our understanding of the Earth and protection of the environment, as well as being one of the most exemplary treaties promoting peaceful cooperation. 

[00:19:54] So much so, that some people go as far as to consider the Antarctic Treaty as being an example of the principle of the common heritage of humanity. This is the idea that certain cultural, natural and territorial areas should be protected from exploitation by corporations or individual states and preserved by the international community for future generations. 

[00:20:22] Now, you may be wondering how the future will pan out for the Antarctic and its treaty

[00:20:29] As with all continents, it’s very likely that the Antarctic contains valuable natural resources. Currently, it’s thought that it wouldn’t be commercially viable to extract these resources, plus commercial mining is banned under the Antarctic Treaty.

[00:20:48] The worry is though, could future generations go back on the treaty and start commercial exploitation of the Antarctic?

[00:20:58] Well, the Treaty is fairly robust, it's strong. 

[00:21:02] The treaty itself is indefinite, as is the treaty’s Madrid Protocol that bans mining. 

[00:21:10] While there is the option to amend, to change the protocol, it would require unanimous, or total, agreement of all of the consultative parties to do so before the year 2048. 

[00:21:25] After 2048 - 50 years after the Madrid Protocol in 1998 - a single consultative member will be able to propose an amendment which would then have to go to a vote. This vote would need to be approved by three-quarters of all of the consultative parties, including all 26 who were consultative parties in the year 1991.

[00:21:49] In plain English, it would require almost everyone to agree, and that doesn’t seem to be very likely.

[00:21:52] To my mind, however, there is one potential glaringly obvious problem with the Antarctic Treaty. Its Achilles heel could be its speed or rather lack thereof

[00:22:02] As the Antarctic Treaty relies on consensus-based, or approval, decision making, it is very slow to make progress on major issues. 

[00:22:22] Climate change and Antarctic tourism were not anticipated when the original treaty was drawn up. While additional protocols have put measures in place, this has been reactive rather than proactive, reacting to current and past situations rather than anticipating the future.

[00:22:44] While it may not be perfect, the Antarctic Treaty is undoubtedly one of the most successful sets of international agreements. 

[00:22:53] Even more astounding, is that it was signed during the Cold War, a period of extreme geopolitical tensions

[00:23:02] The Antarctic Treaty ensures the environmental protection of an entire continent through international commitments and cooperation. And that for me is captivating, fascinating, and a wonderful example of just what can be achieved when we work together, united for a common good. 

[00:23:25] OK then, that is it for today’s episode on the Antarctic Treaty.

[00:23:30] I hope that it’s been an interesting one, and that you’ve learned a bit about the Earth's most inhospitable continent as well as the history that led to the Antarctic Treaty’s creation. 

[00:23:43] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:23:47] Do you think the Antarctic Treaty is an example of the common heritage of humanity, that Antarctica is a place that should be preserved for future generations?

[00:23:57] Do you think that the Antarctic Treaty will stand the test of modern times and changes to world order?

[00:24:04] Should we limit tourism to the Antarctic or is there a responsible way to go about promoting it?

[00:24:11] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started. 

[00:24:15] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:24:24] You’ve been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:24:29] I’m Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I’ll catch you in the next episode. 

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about the Antarctic Treaty.

[00:00:29] I’m sure you are familiar with the so-called White Continent. Antarctica is a recurring source of fascination for adults and children alike. An almost mythological place where the mere existence of any life form seems truly miraculous.

[00:00:48] But what you might not have spent much time thinking about is who actually owns Antarctica, is it part of a country at all, and what laws apply there?

[00:01:00] Well, the answer to this is the title of this episode: The Antarctic Treaty, and in the next 20 or 25 minutes we are going to learn all about it.

[00:01:11] We’ll start with a quick overview of the Antarctic, and how it was discovered. Then we’ll move on to covering some essential questions - Who signed the Antarctic Treaty? wWhy was the Antarctic Treaty created and what does it cover? What does it mean for the future of Antarctica and the planet? It’s a fascinating subject, and I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:37] Ok then, the Antarctic Treaty.

[00:01:43] Antarctica, the world’s fifth-largest and southernmost continent, bigger than both Europe and Australia, extends over some 14 million square kilometres. 

[00:01:56] Antarctica's inhospitable climate, with an average winter temperature of around -63°Celsius, makes this windy, ice-covered polar desert uninhabitable without the help of modern logistics and technology.

[00:02:14] Unsurprisingly, Antarctica is the Earth’s only continent that does not have a native human population. 

[00:02:22] Unlike everywhere else on the planet, Antarctica has not been carved up into nation states, into countries - although territorial claims do exist, which we’ll talk about later. 

[00:02:37] Its land mass has not been exploited for commercial gain and the entire continent is almost completely unchanged by humankind. 

[00:02:49] It is amazing when you stop to think about it, Antarctica is the only place in the entire world, really, that we have left almost entirely untouched, free from human intervention and free from pollution. 

[00:03:05] Apart from its 70 permanent research bases with their small numbers of seasonally rotating staff, Antarctica remains devoid of, completely free from, permanent human residents. 

[00:03:20] So, where does the Antarctic Treaty come into this and why was it created?

[00:03:27] Signed on 1 December 1959, the Antarctic Treaty came into force on 23 June 1961. 

[00:03:37] While the Treaty’s provisions, its content, has been added to and updated over the years, the main aim of the Antarctic Treaty is to ensure that the Antarctic wilderness is protected as a place devoted to peace and science.

[00:03:57] Today, military activity, nuclear explosions and waste, as well as mining are all banned under the treaty

[00:04:06] Instead, it promotes scientific cooperation and the environmental protection of the Antarctic.

[00:04:13] Another extremely important, feature of the Antarctic Treaty is that it effectively puts all Antarctic land claims in abeyance and prevents new claims from being made. If something is in abeyance, it means that it is suspended or temporarily set aside

[00:04:35] For reference, Antarctic territorial claims are triangular-shaped territories that split Antarctica into different sections, each claim having been made by a different country. Their boundaries radiate out from a point at the South Pole like spokes on the wheel of a bicycle or the hands on a clock face. 

[00:04:59] Even today, there are seven existing Antarctic territorial claims, some of which overlap, plus an area between 90 and 150° west, near the south Pacific Ocean, which is the only major section of land on Earth not to be claimed by any country.

[00:05:22] By not allowing territorial claims the Antarctic Treaty has brought lasting peace to the continent of Antarctica in a format that is acceptable to both the original claimants, the original countries that said that land was theirs, and the other nations who reject the validity of those original territorial claims.

[00:05:47] Putting these territorial claims into suspension is, in fact, one of the most ingenious, or clever, features of the Antarctic Treaty, and one that helped to ensure its adoption

[00:06:02] Furthermore, it also paved the way for increased scientific cooperation and peace. 

[00:06:09] To better illustrate this point, as well as to gain a greater understanding of the importance of the Antarctic Treaty, both for Antarctica and for the world, let’s take a closer look at how things were in and around Antarctica from its discovery in 1820 up to the creation of the Antarctic Treaty in 1959.

[00:06:33] As you’ll see, things could have finished very differently.

[00:06:39] Let’s first talk about the discovery of Antarctica, and then move onto the race to reach the South Pole.

[00:06:47] The idea of the possible existence of a large southern landmass can be traced back to Ancient Greece - well before Antarctica was recognised as a continent in 1840.

[00:07:02] Known as Terra Australis Incognita, or the Unknown Southern Land, early European explorers believed that this mystery continent consisted of a huge temperate land mass linking the islands off the tip of South America with New Guinea. 

[00:07:22] Numerous 15th and 16th century naval expeditions disproved this theory, pushing the likelihood of the existence of an unknown continent further and further south. 

[00:07:35] The famous British navigator James Cook crossed the Antarctic Circle for the first time in 1773 looking for the continent. 

[00:07:46] On his expedition, Cook proved there was no land bridge between the islands off South America and Oceania. After he discovered the South Sandwich Islands in 1774, he came to the conclusion that if there was a Terra Australis Incognita, it would be beyond the ice barrier and not in the temperate zone. 

[00:08:12] In short, if a southern continent existed, it would be almost inaccessible and of no economic value, so Cook believed. 

[00:08:23] While a Russian naval expedition led by an explorer named Bellinghausen was the first to catch sight of Antarctica in 1820, a lot of discoveries in the Antarctic region were actually made by seal and whale hunters. 

[00:08:41] In fact, the first documented landing on mainland Antarctica was by an American seal hunter in 1853. 

[00:08:51] As you may know, and as you certainly will know if you’ve listened to Episode number 144, whale and seal hunting were especially important economic activities during the 18th and 19th centuries. 

[00:09:07] As the whale and seal populations further north continued to reduce, because, well they were all killed, the hunters sailed further and further south to try to find fresh, new, untouched sources of whales and seals to hunt.

[00:09:26] And while history doesn’t tend to look particularly kindly on whaling, the discovery of the Antarctic landmass was in some respects down to increased demand for whale oil and seal fur.

[00:09:43] The short, dense fur of the Antarctic fur seal was prized for making ladies’ coats, and by the 1830s these seals were almost wiped out completely. 

[00:09:57] Whale oil, on the other hand, was essential for lubricating the advanced machinery that was increasingly used in the Industrial Revolution.

[00:10:09] Whale oil was also an important household commodity that was burnt in lamps, as well as being used in the manufacture, or making, of soap, candles, paint, varnish and textiles. 

[00:10:24] So, the seas around the Antarctic were a major hunting area that brought great riches as well as being important for continued technological advances. 

[00:10:37] The rush to find virgin, or unexploited, sealing and whaling grounds, consistently pushed vessels to travel further and further south, which also increased awareness and interest in the Antarctic continent.

[00:10:54] After the Magnetic North Pole was located in 1831, the race was on to find the Magnetic South Pole, with British, French and American scientific naval exploratory parties charting large sections of the Antarctic coast. 

[00:11:14] The approximate location of the Magnetic South Pole was identified but at the time it was over land and therefore inaccessible by boat. 

[00:11:26] A 50-year hiatus, or break, in scientific Antarctic exploration followed. 

[00:11:33] Seals continued to be hunted to the brink of extinction, although petroleum increasingly replaced whale oil. 

[00:11:42] However, the whales weren’t quite off the hook yet, they weren’t safe yet. There was still a huge demand for baleen, which is also known as whalebone

[00:11:54] Baleen comes from the large plate-like structures that are found in the mouths of certain types of whales. They act as sieves, or filters, catching tiny marine organisms that the whales consume. 

[00:12:10] Given its highly durable yet flexible qualities, baleen was the “plastic” of the 1800s and it was used to make a wide variety of items, not least of all, women’s corsets

[00:12:25] Now armed with better boats, whaling parties had to once again cover mostly uncharted, or unknown, territory in their attempts to find more whales to feed the ever-growing appetite for whale products. 

[00:12:41] In 1895, a whaling expedition made the first-ever landing to collect biological and geological specimens on the Antarctic mainland. 

[00:12:53] While there had been at least one previously documented landing and the region was increasingly mapped, this was one of the very first landings on the continent and it went on to inspire the scientific community. 

[00:13:09] In that very same year of 1895, participants in the Sixth International Geographical Congress called for greater exploration of the Antarctic regions, inspiring the race to reach the South Pole.

[00:13:25] Explorers and scientists alike took up the challenge with no less than seventeen expeditions from eight different countries taking place in Antarctica over the next 27 years. 

[00:13:38] Activity in the Antarctic had now switched from economic profit to scientific investigation, as well as bolstering, promoting, national pride. 

[00:13:50] As you may know, the South Pole was first reached by a party of Norwegian Explorers under the command of a man named Roald Amundsen on December 14th 1911. 

[00:14:03] Other expeditions made extensive exploratory surveys, often accompanied by daring tales of survival after ships were crushed by ice leaving their crew stranded

[00:14:18] However, while the early explorations up to the late 1930s were mainly privately funded with some government support, countries around the world became increasingly aware of Antarctica's potential scientific, economic and strategic importance.

[00:14:39] Great tracts, or areas, of Antarctica were claimed by countries including Britain, Australia, New Zealand, France, Argentina and Chile. 

[00:14:50] Some areas overlapped and other countries who were yet to make a territorial claim disputed the existing claims’ validity. 

[00:15:00] During the 1940 and 50s, these Antarctic land claims became a source of international conflict, later stoked, or worsened, by the tensions of the Cold War. 

[00:15:13] In 1947, after the Second World War, America sent a large military task force to Antarctica to test materials and train soldiers for combat in extreme cold for a hypothetical war in the Antarctic. 

[00:15:30] In 1948, Argentina sent eight warships to the Antarctic, leading to the signing of the Tripartite Naval Declaration by Argentina, Britain and Chile, all countries with overlapping claims.

[00:15:47] By signing this new declaration, all three countries promised not to send any warships south of the 60th South parallel, the line just above the Antarctic continent. 

[00:16:01] But while this declaration was designed to stop large-scale hostilities from occurring over the disputed and overlapping Argentinian-Chilean-British sector, it did not put an end to the territorial disputes. 

[00:16:17] In 1953, 32 royal marines, British soldiers, descended from a British warship on Deception Island, an island just above the 60th South parallel in the South Shetland Islands.

[00:16:33] The two Argentinian sailors who were present on the island were captured and the settlements built by both Argentina and Chile were destroyed. 

[00:16:44] Britain filed claims with the International Court of Justice, declaring the territorial claims of Argentina and Chile in the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic to be invalid.

[00:16:58] But who actually owned this island? What laws applied? 

[00:17:04] Clearly, something had to be done. 

[00:17:08] As international tensions over Antarctica began to boil dangerously high, an international scientific project called the International Geophysical Year managed to turn the tide in the Antarctic.

[00:17:23] Sixty-seven countries took part in collaborative experiments, lasting from July 1st 1957 - December 31st of 1958. 

[00:17:35] And they discovered that, actually, working together wasn’t so bad after all. 

[00:17:42] All 12 of the countries that had actively committed to researching in Antarctica for the event, including those with territorial claims, agreed that their research programmes would be improved by continued scientific cooperation in the Antarctic. 

[00:18:00] These 12 countries, namely, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, the Union of South Africa, the USSR, the UK and the USA, they decided to put their legal and political differences to one side and began to negotiate an agreement that governed how Antarctica worked from a legal and political point of view, an agreement that would become the Antarctic Treaty.

[00:18:30] So, what does the Antarctic treaty do?

[00:18:34] It set aside territorial disputes, promoted scientific cooperation and ensured demilitarisation of the continent. 

[00:18:44] The treaty clearly stated that Antarctica is to be used for peaceful purposes only, remaining free from nuclear tests and the disposal of nuclear waste.

[00:18:57] Over the years, more and more countries have signed up to the Antarctic Treaty, and it currently numbers 54 signatories, accounting for more than 80% of the world’s population. 

[00:19:10] As the world we live in has evolved, so has the Antarctic Treaty. Further conventions and protocols have been added to ensure the best protection on-going of the Antarctic, including a ban on all types of mining or mineral extraction apart from those related to scientific study. 

[00:19:32] The Antarctic Treaty is often hailed, or praised, as being one of the most successful international agreements. It has allowed us to increase our understanding of the Earth and protection of the environment, as well as being one of the most exemplary treaties promoting peaceful cooperation. 

[00:19:54] So much so, that some people go as far as to consider the Antarctic Treaty as being an example of the principle of the common heritage of humanity. This is the idea that certain cultural, natural and territorial areas should be protected from exploitation by corporations or individual states and preserved by the international community for future generations. 

[00:20:22] Now, you may be wondering how the future will pan out for the Antarctic and its treaty

[00:20:29] As with all continents, it’s very likely that the Antarctic contains valuable natural resources. Currently, it’s thought that it wouldn’t be commercially viable to extract these resources, plus commercial mining is banned under the Antarctic Treaty.

[00:20:48] The worry is though, could future generations go back on the treaty and start commercial exploitation of the Antarctic?

[00:20:58] Well, the Treaty is fairly robust, it's strong. 

[00:21:02] The treaty itself is indefinite, as is the treaty’s Madrid Protocol that bans mining. 

[00:21:10] While there is the option to amend, to change the protocol, it would require unanimous, or total, agreement of all of the consultative parties to do so before the year 2048. 

[00:21:25] After 2048 - 50 years after the Madrid Protocol in 1998 - a single consultative member will be able to propose an amendment which would then have to go to a vote. This vote would need to be approved by three-quarters of all of the consultative parties, including all 26 who were consultative parties in the year 1991.

[00:21:49] In plain English, it would require almost everyone to agree, and that doesn’t seem to be very likely.

[00:21:52] To my mind, however, there is one potential glaringly obvious problem with the Antarctic Treaty. Its Achilles heel could be its speed or rather lack thereof

[00:22:02] As the Antarctic Treaty relies on consensus-based, or approval, decision making, it is very slow to make progress on major issues. 

[00:22:22] Climate change and Antarctic tourism were not anticipated when the original treaty was drawn up. While additional protocols have put measures in place, this has been reactive rather than proactive, reacting to current and past situations rather than anticipating the future.

[00:22:44] While it may not be perfect, the Antarctic Treaty is undoubtedly one of the most successful sets of international agreements. 

[00:22:53] Even more astounding, is that it was signed during the Cold War, a period of extreme geopolitical tensions

[00:23:02] The Antarctic Treaty ensures the environmental protection of an entire continent through international commitments and cooperation. And that for me is captivating, fascinating, and a wonderful example of just what can be achieved when we work together, united for a common good. 

[00:23:25] OK then, that is it for today’s episode on the Antarctic Treaty.

[00:23:30] I hope that it’s been an interesting one, and that you’ve learned a bit about the Earth's most inhospitable continent as well as the history that led to the Antarctic Treaty’s creation. 

[00:23:43] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode.

[00:23:47] Do you think the Antarctic Treaty is an example of the common heritage of humanity, that Antarctica is a place that should be preserved for future generations?

[00:23:57] Do you think that the Antarctic Treaty will stand the test of modern times and changes to world order?

[00:24:04] Should we limit tourism to the Antarctic or is there a responsible way to go about promoting it?

[00:24:11] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started. 

[00:24:15] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:24:24] You’ve been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:24:29] I’m Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I’ll catch you in the next episode. 

[END OF EPISODE]