2.13 USES OF ANTARCTIC ICE
It has frequently been stated that the vast amount of ice in the Antarctic constitutes a large proportion, often put as high as 90% of the world's fresh water. Those who lack water would be excused for thinking that the Antarctic is a peculiarly useless place to have so much of what they in some cases so desparately need, and thus there have been some who have dared to imagine whether Antarctic ice might be used to help those who need fresh water. Attention has focussed on technological, environmental and economic questions: can ice, probably in the form of icebergs, be moved from the Antarctic to where it is needed, and how would the water be distributed; what would be the environmental effects on the Antarctic of removing ice, and on the destination of receiving large amounts of ice or very cold water, and what are the economics of the operation?
The notion of using Antarctic ice in areas of fresh water paucity has been current for some 25 years. There have been no technological breaks-through to increase the attraction of an otherwise economically marginal concept but scientific research and pilot projects are being pursued. The matter was first raised in the Antarctic Treaty system at one of the early sessions of the IVth Special Consultative Meeting, when it was agreed that Antarctic ice should not be treated as a 'mineral' for the purposes of negotiation of an Antarctic minerals regime. It has since then been considered at the XIIth, XIIIth and XVth Consultative Meetings. Paragraph 6 of the Final Act of the Eleventh ATSCM (Section2.1.3) subjects the future use of ice to the provisions of the Protocol, other than Article 7.
Extract from Report of XIIth ATCM
Uses of Antarctic Ice (Agenda Item 14)
The Meeting took note of two technical information papers on the potential use of ice, and agreed to discuss the issue again at the Thirteenth Consultative Meeting.
Extract from Report of XIIIth ATCM
Uses of Antarctic ice
76. The Meeting welcomed with interest the various studies being conducted on matters relating to the use of Antarctic ice, noting both its complexity and potential future importance. It noted further the programme on collection of iceberg statistics that had been established through the SCAR Working Goup on Glaciology, and considered it useful that SCAR undertake to identify relevant scientific or technical information on the use of Antarctic ice, including its environmental effects in the Antarctic, with a view to possible future interdisciplinary study of this matter.
77. The Meeting also noted that while this item raised no immediate issue, it should be kept under review with a view toward more detailed examination in all its aspects at some appropriate future time.
XV-21. Use of Antarctic ice
Considering that the ice existing in Antarctica represents the world's largest freshwater reserve:
Noting that, technological developments might one day make it possible to utilize icebergs detached from the continent for freshwater requirements, especially in coastal areas;
Recalling the principles enshrined in the Antarctic Treaty, which lay down a regime for international cooperation guaranteeing that Antarctica shall continue for ever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord;
Convinced that the structure established under the Antarctic Treaty has proved effective in promoting international peace, in keeping with the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter;
Concerned that uncontrolled activities relating to the exploitation of Antarctic icebergs could also have an adverse effect on the unique Antarctic environment and its dependent and associated ecosystems;
Noting that sufficient scientific information is not yet available on the environment impacts, including global climate and weather, which might occur in the event of floating icebergs being used for that purpose;
Noting that the harvesting of ice in the coastal regions of Antarctica, especially if this were to require land-based installations, could give rise to a number of additional environmental or other issues;
Acknowledging that the Antarctic Treaty is the most appropriate framework for fostering international efforts to guarantee the protection of the environment and give impetus to the freedom of scientific research and cooperation in Antarctica;
Recognizing the desirability that commercial exploitation of Antarctic ice does not occur, in any case, prior to examination by the Contracting Parties to the Antarctic Treaty of the issues posed by such activity;
Recommend to their Governments that :
1. They exchange information on the feasibility of commercial exploitation of icebergs, relevant technologies and possible environmental impacts.
2. Through their national committees, they invite SCAR to provide advice, as appropriate, on the above-mentioned matters, and continue to coordinate research programmes in polar glaciology, biology, oceanography, and meteorology in relation to Antarctic ice.
3. They include an item on 'Use of Antarctic Ice' on the agenda of the XVIth Consultative Meeting.
Extract from Report of XVth ATCM
170. Chile presented a draft recommendation. The Meeting discussed the uses of Antarctic ice, taking into account past consideration of the issue, the possible impact of harvesting on the environment and the desirability that commercial exploitation of Antarctic ice does not occur prior to examination of the issues involved.
171. Recommendation XV-21 was adopted. One delegation expressed its preference that the question of commercial exploitation should have been included in the operative part of the Recommendation, rather than in the preamble.