On Tuesday, North Wiltshire MP James Gray led a debate in Westminster Hall on Antarctic Science and Diplomacy. The debate marked the 200th anniversary of the first sighting of Antarctica on the 27th January 1820, (claimed by the Russian Bellingshausen, but actually seen -and mapped - by Brit Edward Bransfield a few days earlier).

The debate highlighted the role Britain had played in discovering Antarctica, scientific research on it, (thanks to the British Antarctic Survey), leading the Antarctic Treaty system, the Convention for the Conservation of Marine Living Resource, and the Environmental Protection Protocol which effectively designated Antarctica as a natural reserve.

The debate also focused on the Antarctic Treaty which entered into force in 1961 and was signed by 12 countries. It prohibits new or expanded territorial claims in Antarctica, and means that Antarctica is set aside as a “natural reserve devoted to peace and science.” 

Ahead of COP26 later this year, the speakers in the debate stressed the need to learn from the successful international diplomacy used to agree The Antarctic Treaty, to tackle the climate crisis.

Speaking during the debate, Mr Gray stated that:

“We must move forward from the relatively peaceful times we have had in Antarctica over the past couple of hundred years, because some astonishing and appalling things are occurring down there. Unless we do something about it now, significant changes will come in Antarctica…

Britain has truly led the world in terms of science and diplomacy, and we should be proud of that, but there is an awful lot more to be done. With climate change and the growth in fishing and tourism, the treaty system needs to redouble its efforts on biosecurity in Antarctica. The treaty parties must remain vigilant and ensure that the co-operation of the past 60 years continues and endures into the future.”