In a groundbreaking move to safeguard Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, an international team of 25 experts, known as the Antarctic Rights working group, is campaigning for the recognition of the region’s fundamental legal rights. The progressive new initiative will be formally introduced on 1 December 2023 (World Antarctica Day) at 06h00 UTC at the COP28 in Dubai by the Antarctic Rights working group in conjunction with the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, during the event “A Global Movement Advancing Systemic Change for Real Climate Solutions” in the Blue Zone. From 1 December, the group is also calling on organisations and individuals to join an Antarctic Alliance, which will finalise and adopt a draft Antarctica Declaration (a discussion document) before establishing a means of implementing it.
Working group member, Rights of Nature authority, and environmental lawyer, Cormac Cullinan, says: “Recognising that Antarctica has fundamental legal rights establishes a standard for holding States, corporations and individuals legally accountable if they act in ways that infringe those rights (as is done with human rights). Once final, the Declaration will define those rights and the corresponding human duties to ensure they are upheld. This will guide the development of laws, policies and institutions necessary to ensure that the Declaration is given effect to, and help ensure that people worldwide do not act in ways that harm Antarctica. We are inviting all interested parties to join the Antarctic Alliance, and participate in the development of the draft Antarctica Declaration discussion document.”
Antarctica and the surrounding Southern Ocean cover ten percent of Earth’s surface and plays a vital role in maintaining the conditions which enable life to flourish. As the world’s coldest continent, it acts as a refrigerator for the planet, cooling Earth by reflecting sunlight. Cold water that wells up from the ocean depths along the Antarctic convergence nourish vast blooms of phytoplankton, which feed the teeming krill populations which whales and fish eat. The phytoplankton further help stabilise the climate by absorbing large quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere before sinking to store it on the ocean bed, while the Southern Ocean drives the global circulation of ocean currents, and absorbs a disproportionally high percentage of the heat and carbon absorbed by all oceans. But Antarctica’s vast lands, ice, surrounding waters and unique species are under threat from accelerating climate change, amongst other risks. Scientists warn that if decisive measures are not taken now, it will soon become impossible to prevent a cascade of consequences.
“Antarctica may be the most remote place on the planet, but it plays a central role in the wellbeing of all life on Earth. Despite its contribution, the continent and surrounding Southern Ocean has no representation in decision-making that affects it. This vital and magnificent community of life deserves a voice on the global stage that is equal to its importance. The adoption of a Declaration that recognises that all Antarctic beings have rights that humanity must respect and protect, will establish a basis for global collaborative action to protect Antarctica and benefit us all. We hope that, in time, this will evolve into an inspiring protype of an international, eco-centric governance system,” Cullinan concludes.