The Landmark Antarctic Treaty Turns Sixty, Facing Its Biggest Test: Climate Change
In my weekly column for World Politics Review, I juxtapose the success of the Antarctic Treaty with the failure of the world to date to come to grips with climate change and discuss the need for a new, planetary politics.
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 UN climate conference—underscores the urgency of embracing truly international politics that place as much weight on environmental sustainability as on interstate rivalry.
Read the full World Politics Review article here.