Antarctic science, policy and governance at the international and national level are very complex. This page is a good place to engage with it and provides a broad overview and links to more detail should you need it.
Evidence exists that Indigenous peoples around the southern hemisphere had knowledge of, and connection to, the Southern Ocean and even Antarctica. For Māori that connection is captured in stories of voyaging tūpuna like Hui Te Rangiora, Te Ara Tanga Nuku and Tamarereti.
European knowledge and fascination with the Southern Continent started much later and eventuated with its discovery and exploration and various claims to sovereignty. This complicated geopolitical history culminated in the establishment of the Antarctic Treaty in 1960, which was an agreement between nations who were active on the continent at the time, that it be used only for peaceful purposes with a focus on science.
The Antarctic Treaty System (ATS)
The Antarctic Treaty was signed on 1 December 1959 by the twelve countries, including: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States and USSR. Scientists from these nations had been active in and around the continent. The Treaty came into force in 1961 and since then many other nations have since endorsed the Treaty and now a total of 54 nations are Consultative Parties.
Every year the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) brings together the Consultative Parties “for the purpose of exchanging information, consulting together on matters of common interest pertaining to Antarctica, and formulating and considering and recommending to their Governments measures in furtherance of the principles and objectives of the Treaty”.
The Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP) operates in close association with the ATCM with a focus on environmental protection on the Antarctic landscape. The CEP was established by the Protocol on Environmental Protection, which was signed in Madrid in 1991 and entered into force in 1998. It is part of the Antarctic Treaty and designates Antarctica as a “natural reserve, devoted to peace and science” (Art. 2). Article 3 sets basic principles for human activities in Antarctica and Article 7 prohibits all activities relating to Antarctic mineral resources, except for scientific research. The Protocol can only be modified by unanimous agreement of all Consultative Parties.
The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is also part of the Antarctic Treaty System with a focus on sustainable management of Antarctic and Southern Ocean fisheries. The international Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources Convention in 1982 established the CCAMLR with the objective of conserving Antarctic marine life. This was because of increasing commercial interest in Antarctic ecosystems had led to a history of over-exploitation of marine resources in the Southern Ocean.
The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) is a thematic organisation of the International Science Council (ISC), and was created in 1958. SCAR is charged with initiating, developing and coordinating high quality international scientific research in the Antarctic region (including the Southern Ocean), and on the role of the Antarctic region in the Earth system. SCAR provides objective and independent scientific advice to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings.
New Zealand representation in the ATS
New Zealand was an original signatory to the Antarctic Treaty. Each year NZ makes strong representations in the ATS with delegations at every ATCM, CEP and CCAMLR since they each started. New Zealand also has a strong presence in all of the international forums and working groups associated with these governance structures. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) is the lead Ministry for all of New Zealand’s delegations within the ATS.
The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and Department of Conservation (DoC) are prominent in New Zealand delegations in the ATS, particularly the CCAMLR given the focus on regulation and sustainable management of Southern Ocean Fisheries.
At the national level there are several governance groups that are not decision making bodies but influence New Zealand’s representation in the ATS.
- The ATCM-CEP Stakeholder Group
- The CCAMLR Stakeholder Group
- The Antarctic Working Group
- The Ross RAMP User Group
Outside of these established governance structures, national interest groups (eg. Forest and Bird, ECO, Tallys (NZ Longline) Ltd, Sanford Ltd) influence New Zealand’s representations in the ATS through participation in these governance groups, through relevant Ministries, or through international organisations.
National representation in the ATS are guided by New Zealand’s Commitment to Antarctica and the Southern Ocean (2019; PDF) and the New Zealand Statement of Strategic Interest in Antarctica (Revised 2002).
Antarctica New Zealand
Antarctica New Zealand was established on 1 July 1996 under the New Zealand Antarctic Institute Act 1996 and is responsible for developing, managing and administering New Zealand’s activities in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, particularly the Ross Sea region. It is also responsible for facilitating New Zealand’s scientific research.
Antarctica New Zealand’s Statement of Intent 2019-2023 sets out their vision, values and objectives as an organisation, and recognises that:
“Mātauranga Māori provides an additional lens for understanding elements of kaitiakitanga, which is at the heart of valuing and protecting Antarctica as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science. Developing relationships with Māori will help us explore diverse perspectives on Antarctic research and build collaborations to incorporate mātauranga Māori and principles of the Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti o Waitangi) into New Zealand’s Antarctic research.”
and commit to:
“Build collaborations to incorporate mātauranga Māori into New Zealand Antarctic research programmes”
New Zealand’s Antarctic and Southern Ocean Science
Many researchers from across New Zealand’s research institutes contribute to the Antarctic and Southern Ocean science. That research is supported by many and various national and international funding sources and is facilitated by Antarctica New Zealand.
The New Zealand Antarctic and Southern Ocean Science Directions and Priorities 2010-2020 “provides high-level direction for developing a coherent and dynamic New Zealand Antarctic and Southern Ocean science programme. For New Zealand government agencies, this framework identifies priority science areas in Antarctic and Southern Ocean research that require investment over the next ten years. For Antarctic researchers, the framework identifies the research goals required to meet these government priorities over the same period within three broad outcomes
covering climate, terrestrial and coastal ecosystems and the marine environment.”
The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) is investing $49 million over 7 years for Antarctica New Zealand to develop and host an Antarctic Science Platform. The platform aims to support and direct the Antarctic and Southern Ocean science that is done across research institutions in New Zealand, to:
- improve scientific understanding of pressing issues such as climate change and ecosystem resilience
- safeguard the strategic benefits of New Zealand’s scientific activity in Antarctica
- optimise the value and impact of Antarctic science and Antarctic-related expenditure.
An FAQ is available if you are interested in the Antarctic Science Platform.
The Royal Society Te Apārangi’s National Committee on Antarctic Sciences is responsible for coordinating activities for New Zealand’s involvement in SCAR (The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research).
Māori voice and representation
Historically, Māori voice and representation of te ao Māori and mātauranga in the science, policy and governance outlined above has been low.
Antarctica New Zealand is making some progress by recognising the value of mātauranga and committing to building relationships with Māori to realise that value.
This research project aims to encourage hapū and iwi to articulate their perspectives and aspirations for representation in New Zealand’s Antarctic and Southern Ocean activities.