​Antarctic mining ban to be indefinite

A symposium on polar law has heard that mining will indefinitely be banned in the Antarctic region.

The event, held in Hobart, saw the former head of the Australian Antarctic Division claim that the Antarctic Treaty – which bans mining in the region – will not be revised later this century, according to the ABC.

It comes as polar ice both in the Arctic and Antarctic regions begins to recede, opening up new regions for resources companies.

While the Antarctic appears barren on the surface, below it stores an abundance of highly sought resources, including coal, iron ore, manganese, copper, lead, uranium and billions of barrels of oil reserves.

The resources are plentiful but they have been largely untouched as a result of an international peacekeeping agreement – the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS).

Established in 1961, the Treaty includes 12 original signatories, consisting of Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Argentina, Belgium, Chile, France, Norway, South Africa, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus 28 other states that have 'consultative party' status, which allows them to vote on decisions concerning Antarctic administration.

Australia claims the majority of Antarctica, with the Australian Antarctic Territory covering 42 per cent of the continent.

In 1991, nations of the Treaty agreed to ban the exploitation of minerals by signing a comprehensive Protocol on Environmental Protection (the Madrid Protocol).

However motions were made to revise this treaty in 2048 on the back of an increased push for resource security.

In July 2011 China received approval by the United Nations' Jamaica-based International Seabed Authority (ISA), which regulates mineral exploration in international waters, to explore for polymetallic sulphide deposits in the Southwest Indian Ridge, between Africa and Antarctica.

China will be allowed to explore the area for 15 years, covering about 10,000-square-kilometres.

In early August of that year Russia also received approval by the ISA to begin prospecting in the mid-Atlantic.

Under a 15-year agreement Russia will have rights to explore a 10,000-square-kilometre area midway between Africa and South America,

The area of interest is estimated to contain 50 to 70 million tonnes of gold and copper ore.

In the Arctic there is also a race for minerals, with new areas of Greenland opening up and a massive iron ore ‘megamine’ already moving ahead in Canada’s far north.

However the man behind Australia’s two decade Antarctic plan, Tony Press, believes that the potential reversal of the ban will not happen.

It is a myth that there is a moratorium on mining and it's a myth that it's going to disappear in 2048," Press said.

"There is a ban on mining and that ban is indefinite.

"The Madrid protocol says quiet clearly [that] any activity relating to mineral resources other than scientific research shall be prohibited."

However polar mining specialist Professor Bent Mortensen said despite the Protocol, the ban may still be overturned.

"I fear that if we need the minerals, they will start mining Antarctica," Mortensen said.

"It [would be] spoiling the nature, polluting the sea maybe.

"It will never recover if you start mining up there."

According to the former national security policy to the Australian prime minister Ellie Fogarty if Australia is to remain influential in international discussions on Antarctica's future administration and be prepared for the matter of extracting resources being revisited in 2048, policy changes and new investment in the region will be critical.

"With international attention towards Antarctica and its resources growing, it is timely for Australia to evaluate its current Antarctic policy and capabilities to ensure they are resilient enough to protect our interests in an increasingly competitive international environment," she stated.

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