For the last sixty years France has been a world leader when it comes to protecting the Antarctic – and it should for the next sixty too...

Ocean Unite is working to unite and activate powerful voices for ocean conservation. Pascal Lamy and Geneviève Pons and Ocean Unite network members and below they share why France can, and must, help build global solidarity and action. 


We learn from the past in order to plan better for the future. Our present is defined by the dramatic climate crisis and biodiversity loss. The future must be transformative change in response to these high risks. States need to take assertive action for the sake of the planet, and all life. France continues to demonstrate this through its continued leadership on Antarctic and Southern Ocean protection.

Antarctica is an ice and snow desert. Its ice contains 70 per cent of the planet's fresh water and the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica teems with marine life such as corals, crabs, whales, seals and penguins. Microscopic algae and crustaceans  –  krill  –  serve as food for an entire ecosystem, which in turn fuels the ocean globally.

The ocean produces between 50 and 80 per cent of the oxygen we breathe, and absorbs more than 25 per cent of the carbon dioxide we emit. The ocean is one of the main ecosystems on which all life on the planet depends. But climate crisis and biodiversity loss are putting the Southern Ocean and Antarctica under severe stress. The continent’s ice sheets are melting which is impacting local and global marine ecosystems. 

In 1959, France was an original signatory of the Antarctic Treaty, a pioneering agreement that, at the height of the Cold War, set Antarctica aside for peace and the promotion of science. And then again in 1982, France was also a founding member of Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR.)

In 1991 France and Australia initiated the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, which strengthened protection of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. The Protocol committed Antarctic Treaty Members to the comprehensive protection of the continent’s environment and the dependent and associated ecosystems.

Now with bold leadership, and as chair of the G7, France is ideally suited to pioneer another sixty years of protection for Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

The Protocol designated Antarctica as a “natural reserve, devoted to peace and science” and went further by establishing a general prohibition on any activity related to mineral resources, with the exception of scientific research.

Then in 2011, again, France and Australia proposed a marine protected area for the East Antarctic (EAMPA) to CCAMLR. The proposal has suffered several reductions in the foreseen level of protection in order to secure the required consensus agreement. However, the area covers important resource zones for Antarctica’s populations of mammals and birds, including Emperor and Adélie penguins. 

Protecting these areas would safeguard representative sections of the biodiversity found on the Antarctic seafloor and species targeted by fisheries such as krill. Eight years after the initial proposal, efforts to reach an agreement on the EAMPA are now crucial as we are all aware of the urgency to protect it.

We now face the greater threat of climate crisis and biodiversity loss. France can, and must, again help build global solidarity. We did it in 2015 in securing the Paris Agreement on climate crisis. Now with bold leadership, and as chair of the G7, France is ideally suited to pioneer another sixty years of protection for Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. Let’s do it!


- This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. 

This post is part of a series produced by Virgin Unite in partnership with Ocean Unite, an initiative to unite and activate powerful voices for ocean-conservation action

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