One of the main values of Antarctica for science is the nearly pristine environment, with biotic and abiotic matrices representing ideal archives of data on past and current trends in global processes. The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty sets a high standard of protection for the
Antarctic environment and will probably help further reduce the impact of human activity in Antarctica. However, this book shows that most persistent airborne contaminants in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean originate from anthropogenic sources in other continents, mainly in the Southern Hemisphere. These regions are characterised by an extraordinary population explosion, and it is very likely that their contribution to the global burden of greenhouse gases and persistent contaminants will increase significantly in the near future. Richer countries must adequately assist developing nations in addressing global environmental threats through financial aid and transfer of technologies, because the development of past Northern Hemisphere production and consumption practices would pose real risks to the Antarctic climate and environment.
Although Antarctica and the Southern Ocean have been set aside by the international community for protection and are seen as symbols of global conservation, environmental pollution in many Arctic ecosystems teaches that global challenges must be addressed and economic development must be reconciled with the environment in order to effectively protect the last unspoiled corner of the world. Nongovernmental organisations can play an important role in the pursuit of these objectives, while the role of science is to achieve adequate knowledge of global processes and technological innovation in order to assist governance of the global environment.
In the last decade, striking phenomena such the "ozone hole" in Antarctica raised public awareness of the seriousness of the global-scale impact of human activity. Nevertheless, the task of Antarctic researchers in educating the public and increasing their awareness of global processes has only just begun. The ability of the international scientific community to respond to emerging issues is still limited by the scarce knowledge of the basic properties and functioning of Antarctic ecosystems and of how they are affected by climate change and contaminant inputs. This chapter highlights the need to establish high-quality, long-term baseline datasets of environmental conditions in different Antarctic regions, and promote collaboration between scientists working on climate change with those studying contamination from long-range transported atmospheric pollutants. The development of international programmes which address global issues with minimum environmental impact is critical for Antarctic research. Knowledge of the Antarctic environment must be transferred to other sectors of society in order to favour coordinated global-scale political, scientific and technological action.
Aid to developing countries in the Southern Hemisphere in adopting alternative sources of energy and food, thus avoiding past mistakes in the Northern Hemisphere, is vital to the preservation of the Antarctic environment. If the environment becomes a priority of global concern, environmental problems facing all segments of international society will be reduced and future generations will live in a better world. This book indicates that at present the deposition of long-range transported pollutants does not seem to pose a threat to Antarctic ecosystems. Nevertheless, the recent development of the precautionary principle requires that action be taken when there is potential for serious or irreversible harm, even in the face of scientific uncertainty. On the grounds of a precautionary approach, present conditions in the Antarctic environment suggest the need for science to monitor ecosystems and gain better knowledge of their functioning and possible responses to global processes. Although scientific work alone cannot change the perspective of environmental contamination in Antarctica and the rest of the world, this book was written in the hope that it can facilitate the development of a cleaner, sustainable environment.
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