Future of Antarctica discussed at important Prague conference

Antarctica, photo: Vincent van Zeijst, CC BY-SA 3.0

For the first time in history, Prague is hosting the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, an annual conference focused on environmental conservation, the impact of tourism and research cooperation on the White Continent. The event is attended by representatives of 29 countries, which are jointly tasked with taking care of Antarctica. I asked Pavel Kapler, manager of the Czech Johann Gregor Mendel Antarctic base, how come the Czech Republic is one of them.

Antarctica,  photo: Vincent van Zeijst,  CC BY-SA 3.0

“There are several conditions that have to be fulfilled to obtain a so-called consultative status. One of them is sustainable and high-quality Antarctic research.

“As the Czech Republic has been running for 13 years already the Johann Gregor Mendel station in Antarctica, and it has a valuable and sustainable national Antarctic programme, it has asked (via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) for the consultative status, which was granted to the country in 2014.”

Prague is for the first time hosting the annual Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting. What are the main topics of the conference?

Johann Gregor Mendel Antarctic base,  photo: archive of Masaryk University Brno
“Traditionally, the whole of Antarctica is a protected area, but some parts of the continent are specially protected or specially managed areas. So a large part of the agenda of the Antarctic Consultative Meeting concerns measures and plans for protection of certain localities in Antarctica. This is also the focus of the Czech Antarctic programme, among many others.

“The protection of environment is the biggest issue, and there are also some related issues, such as the regulation of tourism, remedy process in case of environmental damages, and many others.”

The conference will end by adopting the so-called Prague Declaration – what will be the subject of this declaration?

“The Prague declaration is to be issued on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Antarctica Treaty Signing. So the states will be confirming their assignment to the original treaty and expressing their will to maintain Antarctica for peace and science.”

What is the value of the Antarctic ecosystem in the age of global environmental change?

“It is absolutely unique. Antarctica, with its location around the South Pole, plays a crucial role in the global climate system. The white colour of the Antarctic continent reflects the energy of the Sun, especially during the Austral summer. So it functions like a giant cooler for the whole globe. This is why it is so important to protect it.”