New Liability Rules for Antarctica

R/V POLARSTERN with penguins Enlarge image (© Picture Alliance)

On 18 January 2017 the German cabinet adopted the draft Antarctica Liability Act. This act aims to further improve the protection of the environment in Antarctica. The Liability Annex to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty is being transposed into domestic law by the Federal Republic of Germany via this Antarctica Liability Act. In Germany, too, the regulations will only enter into force once ratified by all consultative parties.

Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks remarked: "The Antarctic Treaty includes the most extensive regulations on environmental protection ever created for a continent and its territorial waters. In international negotiations, the Federal Republic of Germany strongly advocated both an effective and feasible liability mechanism in order to further improve environmental protection in this particularly sensitive part of our planet. The priority now is to bring these regulations into force internationally as well as nationally."

The Antarctica Liability Act aims to both prevent emergencies harmful to the Antarctic environment and curb impacts of such emergencies on the Antarctic environment. This goal is to be achieved by regulations in three areas. Firstly, for organisations and companies working in Antarctica, specifications exist designed to prevent emergencies detrimental to the environment. This includes specialised technical equipment of means of transportation, training of personnel and provision of contingency plans. Secondly, parties are obliged to take responsiive action in environmental emergencies in order to avoid or contain environmental damage.
Thirdly, the act lays down liability in cases where an organisation or company does not take responsive action. If clean-up operations are conducted by third parties, the party responsible for the damage has to compensate the costs incurred up to the ceilings set by legal standards.

In the event that nobody conducts clean-up work, fictitious costs have to be paid to an international fund which in turn finances cleaning up in Antarctica. The Liability Annex to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty was adopted after several years of negotiations between the parties to the Antarctic Treaty regime with the active involvement of Germany. The German cabinet adopted a second draft bill which is designed to create the conditions for acceding to the legally binding Liability Annex. The Antarctica Liability Act will become effective at national level as soon as the Liability Annex enters into force under international law. Now, both draft bills are first being submitted to the Bundesrat for its comment and then forwarded to the Bundestag.

New Liability Rules

Antarctica flag

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German Antarctic Research Station GONDWANA

German Antarctica research station Gondwana

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