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2048 timeline contents




The Antarctic Treaty comes up for review

Antarctica is the last remaining unspoilt wilderness; untouched by the massive industrialisation common everywhere else on the planet. It covers an area of 13.7 million sq km (5.3 million sq miles) and is covered by an ice sheet 4 km (2.5 miles) deep. It has no human inhabitants, other than a small number of scientists in research stations.

The vast, icy continent is governed by the terms of the Antarctic Treaty, which came into effect in 1961. This was signed by Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, the UK, Belgium, Japan, South Africa, the USA and Russia. The first seven of these countries have historic claims to the continent (none of which are generally recognised) and the Treaty preserves the status quo, neither recognising nor repudiating the old claims, but forbidding their expansion in any way. The terms of the Treaty also forbid the assertion of new claims.

The discovery of a hole in the ozone layer, and other concerns, led to the addition of a new environmental protocol agreed in 1991. This entered force in 1998. It was intended to protect Antarctica's environment and ecosystems, and included a total ban on the exploitation of mineral and energy resources, as well as strict regulation of pollution and other damaging activities. The protocol is open for review in 2048, exactly 50 years after it was implemented.*

Much has changed in the last half century. Earth's population is over 50% larger, placing a substantial drain on the Earth's resources which has become alarmingly obvious by now. Metal and mineral supplies continue to be an issue, even with large-scale recycling systems in place.* Despite objections from environmentalists, there is general consensus among the international community that some limited exploitation of Antarctica should be permitted, within certain specially controlled areas. Over the next few years, a new treaty is drawn up with modified clauses, though disputes continue over territorial boundaries.

There are significant logistical challenges to mining and mineral extraction in the region – such as the isolation, extreme cold, rough seas and thick ice sheet. However, new technologies look set to mitigate these problems, including the use of robots, heavy automation and alternative methods of drilling. In addition, climate change and the melting of ice is making it possible to exploit some previously inaccessible areas of the western ice sheet.


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1 Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, Wikipedia:
Accessed 8th August 2010.

2 Five Valuable Metals That Could Vanish by 2055, Environmental Graffiti:
Accessed 14th August 2010.




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