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A zodiac carrying a team of international scientists heads to a research station Antarctica. A zodiac carrying a team of international scientists heads to Chile's Bernardo O'Higgins research station in Antarctica, where polar ice is melting rapidly, Jan. 22, 2015 photo, a (AP photo by Natacha Pisarenko).

The Landmark Antarctic Treaty Turns 60, Facing Its Biggest Test: Climate Change

Monday, Dec. 9, 2019

The United Nations’ annual climate conference opened in Madrid last week following an important if quiet milestone: the 60th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty, one of the most successful yet least known multilateral agreements ever signed. At the height of the Cold War, the treaty froze several countries’ sovereignty claims to the polar South, while designating Antarctica a part of the global commons. Nations would not compete geopolitically over the continent but instead cooperate peacefully there in the name of science and environmental stewardship. Although fraying at the edges, the treaty remains a triumph by any measure.

Unfortunately, for all its success, it cannot protect Antarctica from the accumulating ravages of global warming. Nor is the Madrid conference, known as COP25, likely to alter the dismal trajectory of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The juxtaposition of these two events—the Antarctic Treaty’s birthday and the desultory U.N. climate conference—underscores the urgency of embracing truly international politics that place as much weight on environmental sustainability as on interstate rivalry. ...

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