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Thirty years ago, we successfully reclaimed the Falklands, reaffirmed our sovereignty over the territory and began to strengthen our ‘presence’ in the region. Throughout the 1980s, measures were taken to enhance our military capacity in the South Atlantic in terms of providing sufficient deterrence against further aggression and – less well known but just as significant – investments were also made to enhance scientific exploration in the Antarctic itself with the added benefit of underlining our commitment to the region.

British presence in the Antarctic matters and has done so for over two centuries. As a continent without an indigenous population (the first human birth took place in 1978) but, with competing claims of interest from other nations, retaining an unambiguous and significant role is necessary to secure our long-term position.

The Antarctic is demilitarised and protected, with our part in bringing this about undisputed. However pressures are mounting as potential economic value is being assessed by interested parties so, from this position of relative strength, we can be a decisive and constructive influence on the future of this beguiling continent.

To this end, I am using my success in the Private Members Bill ballot to underpin existing treaty obligations through our own domestic law – one of the first signatory nations to do so – and, crucially, to strengthen measures to protect the environment and marine life in and around the Antarctic.  I am working closely with my colleague, Andrew Rosindell MP, who as Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Polar Regions, has a keen interest in this issue.

With international commitments to prevent exploitation of the Antarctic already in place, it is now necessary to strengthen their reach through introducing the ‘polluter pays’ concept, and respond to new claims and challenges including the increased industrial use of Krill, a shrimp like source of protein found in the waters around the Antarctic.

The Bill has two parts. The first enhances contingency planning and capacity to respond to environmental emergencies in Antarctica. ‘Operators’ become liable to costs if things do go wrong and they must have adequate insurance. This, effectively, implements measures agreed by Antarctic Treaty parties in 2005.

The second part implements agreed measures to protect fauna (animal life) and flora (plant life), giving marine plants and invertebrates protection for the first time. This part also introduces measures to conserve British Historical Sites and Monuments in Antarctica, and generally tidies up the implementation of the original Treaty (signed in 1959 and came into force in 1961) and subsequent agreements.

In a nutshell, the Bill will demonstrate our commitment to upholding the “Treaty System” and strengthen environmental protection. By passing this Bill, we will be maintaining our high profile in the region, and underlining our interest in protecting the environment and promoting the safety of those who visit the continent.

A century after Robert Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole, it is wholly appropriate to recognise the team’s efforts, secure their legacy, and ensure that the region is properly protected through British action and commitment.

Neil Carmichael is the Member of Member of Parliament for Stroud and sponsor of the Antarctic Bill 2012-13.


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