The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty was signed in Madrid on October 4, 1991 and entered into force in 1998. It designates Antarctica as a “natural reserve, devoted to peace and science” (Art. 2). Article 3 of the Environment Protocol sets forth basic principles applicable to human activities in Antarctica and Article 7 prohibits all activities relating to Antarctic mineral resources, except for scientific research. Until 2048 the Protocol can only be modified by unanimous agreement of all Consultative Parties to the Antarctic Treaty. In addition, the prohibition on mineral resource activities cannot be removed unless a binding legal regime on Antarctic mineral resource activities is in force. Environmental Monitoring is important to observe the human induced change in natural Antarctic environment.
The Protocol builds upon the Antarctic Treaty and Recommendations adopted by Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings to extend and improve the Treaty's effectiveness as a mechanism for ensuring the protection of the Antarctic environment.
The Protocol establishes a Committee for Environmental Protection as an expert advisory body to provide advice and formulate recommendations to the Consultative Meetings in connection with the implementation of the Protocol. Dispute settlement procedures are included in the Protocol. These include compulsory and binding procedures for disputes over the interpretation or application of, and compliance with, the provisions of the Protocol relating to mineral resource activities, environmental impact assessment and response action, as well as most provisions included in the Six Annexes.