Antarctic Treaty System
The Antarctic Treaty consists of a system of recommendations, decisions and measures that govern how Antarctica is to be administered. Under the Treaty, the continent, surrounding ocean areas and islands south of 60°S can be used only for research and other peaceful activities. The Antarctic Treaty went into effect in 1961, and 53 countries are currently parties to it.
Antarctica is unique
Antarctica encompasses the land and ocean areas surrounding the South Pole. Up to 98 % of the continent is covered by inland ice. Its extreme climate and isolated location make the Antarctic environment unique. The research conducted there provides knowledge that is essential to our understanding of current and future environmental problems.
Because of the Antarctic Treaty, Antarctica is the world’s first and only demilitarised continent. All parties to the Treaty have agreed to protect this unique environment and preserve it for the future.
Parties to the Antarctic Treaty
The Antarctic Treaty was adopted on 1 December 1959 and went into effect on 23 June 1961. The signatory powers (the first countries to sign the Treaty) were: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, Norway, New Zealand, Russia (Soviet Union), Great Britain, South Africa and the USA.
The parties to the Treaty are divided into two categories: consultative parties (the countries that conduct research and have voting rights at the consultative meetings) and non-consultative parties. Of the 53 parties to the Treaty, 29 are consultative and 24 non-consultative.
Sweden signed the Antarctic Treaty on 24 April 1984, and acquired consultative status in 1988.
The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty
Knowledge concerning the Antarctic environment has increased since the 1960s. Insight into the consequences that careless human activity can have for the sensitive ecosystems there has increased. The parties to the Treaty adopted special regulations in 1991 to expand the protection of this unique environment. These regulations have been collected in the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty as a supplement to other international agreements regarding Antarctica.
The Antarctic environment and its associated ecosystems have biological, scientific, historical and aesthetic value. As a result, Antarctica has become a continent that is dedicated to peace and science. Harmful effects on the air, water, ice and land there must be prevented, and the flora and fauna must be protected. The Protocol on Environmental Protection requires that environmental impact assessments be conducted prior to undertaking activities in Antarctica.
The Treaty system also includes the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (CCAS), which was adopted in 1972, and the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CAMLR), which was adopted in 1980. CCAS regulates commercial seal hunting, protects certain seal species from being hunted, and regulates quotas for other species. CAMLR regulates mainly commercial fishing, but also protects other species in the marine food chain in the oceans south of 60°S.
Sweden has been a party to CAMLR since 1984, but has not signed the CCAS.
SCAR and COMNAP
The organisations SCAR (Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research) and COMNAP (Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs) play an important role in the Treaty system. SCAR and COMNAP serve as advisory bodies and exert major influence in terms of recommendations and regulations pertaining to the Antarctic Treaty.
Regulations and behaviour
More information about international regulations and appropriate behaviour in Antarctica is available on the Antarctic Treaty website: