“Major breakthrough” at Swedish Antarctica conference

Delegates at a conference on protecting Antarctica on Wednesday reached a deal to ensure that the cost of environmental incidents such as oil spills is carried by those who are at fault.

The deal was hailed as a major breakthrough after years of discussion to safeguard the ecological balance of the Antarctic continent.

About 300 experts, including representatives from 45 governments are attending the meeting, the 28th conference on the Antarctica treaty, which opened on June 6 and is due to end on Friday.

“The agreement is to ensure that we don’t create an incentive not to clean up,” Don MacKay, head of the New Zealand delegation and an expert on the issue, told a news conference.

According to the deal, an operator creating an ecological emergency is required to take immediate action. If he fails to do so, the operator will still need to bear the cost of any action taken by others.

If no action is taken at all, the party at fault will pay money equivalent to the clean-up cost into a fund, which will then finance future clean-up operations.

“This is designed to ensure that there is no free lunch,” MacKay said.

Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds hailed the agreement as a “a very big success”.

A 1959 treaty signed by 12 states recognised Antarctica’s role in the global climate and laid down that it was in the interest of mankind that the continent continue to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and should not become the theatre or object of international conflict.