European Interest

World experts on Antarctica to meet in Helsinki

Photo: Aleksi Rimali, FINNARP
Finland has a seasonal research station Aboa in Antarctica. It studies the behaviour of ice, the composition of the upper atmosphere and the transport of aerosols, among other questions. The Finnish Antarctic Research Program (FINNARP) operations office at the Finnish Meteorological Institute is responsible for arranging Finnish field research in Antarctica and maintaining Aboa.

While Finland and Antarctica may be a world apart, Finland as an Arctic country is actively involved in the international cooperation on Antarctica. Thus, Finland can have a say in the affairs of the two polar regions as climate change threatens the environment in both. The Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) will be held for the first time in Finland at the end of May.

Finland’s objectives in Antarctica are to protect Antarctica’s unique environment and to keep it as free of political tensions as possible in the changing conditions. Another goal is to highlight questions that link the two polar regions, especially regarding the impacts of climate change.

World’s leading experts on Antarctica and representatives of the Consultative Parties and non-Consultative Parties will meet in Helsinki at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) from 28 May to 8 June 2023. Representatives come from all over the world, such as Ecuador, Australia and China.

Peaceful research in Antarctica as goal

The Antarctic Treaty of 1959 is part of the international treaty system. Its central idea is the peaceful use of the continent for scientific purposes. The treaty prohibits all territorial claims and military operations in Antarctica. It also bans nuclear explosions and the disposal of radioactive waste material in Antarctica.

The Antarctic Treaty and its Protocol on Environmental Protection, signed in 1991, are dealing with major issues: Climate change is leaving deep scars on the Antarctic nature and ecosystems, while causing far-reaching global impacts, such as rising sea levels from melting glaciers. Moreover, the accelerating tourism threatens to upset the delicate balance of the Antarctic environment.

Finland acceded to the Antarctic Treaty in 1984. However, acceding to the Treaty does not give a Party the right to participate in decision-making concerning Antarctica. Gaining a consultative status requires extensive research engagement. Finland was accepted as a Consultative Party in 1989.

At present, there are 29 Consultative Parties to the Antarctic Treaty and 27 non-Consultative Parties. Under the treaty, any State may engage in research in Antarctica and the treaty is open for accession by any Member State of the United Nations.

Climate change, tourism and new members on agenda in Helsinki

This is the first time Finland is hosting the ATCM. The most critical issues on the agenda are climate change and its impacts on Antarctica, tourism in Antarctica, and the process of accepting new Consultative Parties.

“The dramatic increase in tourism in Antarctica puts pressure on the meeting to decide on concrete measures for keeping tourism and its impacts under control. Canada and Belarus have applied to become Consultative Parties to the Antarctic Treaty as both are engaged in research in Antarctica,” says Ambassador Tiina Jortikka-Laitinen.

The ATCM in Helsinki will include the first ever full-day session dedicated on climate change. The aim is to share views and best practices and to adopt a declaration where the Antarctica community communicates to the global public its concerns about climate change and how it affects Antarctica.

A special plenary session on the implementation of the IMO Polar Code is a reflection of Finland’s global polar role. The International Maritime Organization’s International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters, or Polar Code, aims to ensure safe and sustainable maritime transport in the marine areas of both polar regions.

The Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Helsinki will last nearly two weeks. During that time, the public has the opportunity to attend open events on Finland’s Antarctic research and on topical issues concerning Antarctica, such as geopolitics and climate change.

“The ATCM in Helsinki supports and defends the Antarctic Treaty and the international rules-based system in a geopolitical environment where international cooperation is becoming increasingly difficult,” Jortikka-Laitinen says.

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