In the light of persuasive evidence provided under the rubric of earth science system, the multifaceted challenge of anthropogenic climate change demands and deserves rethinking ‘security’ as well as ‘sovereignty’ in the ecological context of the ‘Anthropocene’; a new geological era marked by huge transformations in the biosphere caused by an unprecedented scale of human intervention.
Both the Arctic and Antarctic, warming more rapidly than the global average, represent a barometer for future climate change. The impact of rising temperatures on sea ice, glaciers and polar wildlife is noticeably significant. According to a report of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), 87 per cent of glaciers on the Antarctic peninsula are decreasing. It is predicted that by 2100, the West Antarctic ice sheet may melt enough to raise sea levels by up to 1.4 m (+), with flooding consequences for many coastal populations, including in Southeast Asia.
In 1943, almost 85 per cent of the Antarctic was subjected to territorial claims by the United Kingdom (UK), Australia, France, New Zealand, Norway, Argentina and Chile. The Cold War led to militarisation in the Arctic and politicisation within the Antarctic. The International Geophysical Year (IGY, 1957-58) introduced scientific research as the major focus in the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat (ATS). The Antarctic Treaty was signed in December 1959 by the twelve IGY participating countries. The Treaty demilitarised the Antarctic treaty area, dedicated it to peaceful purposes, prohibited nuclear testing and the disposal of radioactive material and provided for inspections by the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties (ATCPs).
By the 1970s, an outline of the Antarctic resources emerged, based on extensive geological and biological research. The ATCPs turned to the question of the Antarctic minerals in the early 1980s, joined by India as a consultative member in 1983. The 1988 Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities (CRAMRA) could not come into force, when, in May 1989, Australia announced that it would not sign since it felt strongly that no mining at all should take place. A crisis of consensus within the ATS led to an acute sense of urgency and the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty was concluded by the ATCPs on 4 October 1991 at Madrid. The Protocol placed a moratorium on mining for at least fifty years, designated the Antarctic as ‘a natural reserve devoted to peace and science’ and subjects all human activities within the Antarctic Treaty to environmental impact assessments.
There is a need to emphatically acknowledge the Antarctic as a ‘global knowledge commons’ and put into place a new profile of Asia in relation to the Antarctic. India is eminently qualified to play such a role. The challenge is to transform the contentious and contested assertions of territoriality to collectively shared norms of trusteeship so that a reinvigorated ATS remains effective enough to realise the noble objectives enshrined in the preamble to the Antarctic Treaty. India’s commitment to Antarctic science is quite firm and the research output is internationally acknowledged. India remains committed to the principles, norms and values enshrined in the Antarctic Treaty. It would like to see the ATCMs respond to the emerging challenges, including climate change and biological prospecting, in an effective, proactive and transparent manner in the best interests of mankind. India’s serious and systematic post colonial engagement with the Antarctic governance remains vital for realising the normative principles and practices of anthropocene security for the southern polar region and beyond.