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Founded on science, world cooperation in Antarctica a model for meeting climate, other challenges

The success of world co-operation based on science and practiced since the Cold War by nations operating in Antarctica offers a model to humanity as it confronts challenges to common interests like climate change, biodiversity loss and overfishing, says the editor of a new book on science diplomacy.

Since the end of the Second World War science has become an important tool of diplomacy, not only for issues involving environmental management, but for peace in the world we live in, says Paul Berkman, former Head of the Arctic Ocean Geopolitics Programme, Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge, UK, and Research Professor at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at the University of California Santa Barbara.

Says Dr. Berkman, keynote speaker at an international conference on Antarctica being held in Malaysia: "For half a century, it has become increasingly obvious that we face planetary-scale phenomena that cannot be solved by any one nation or region, nor solved quickly. Today and forever after, national and international interests need to find the type of balance practiced today under the Antarctic Treaty."

"I believe that the view expressed by some US lawmakers at the time of its creation is as true today as then: the Antarctic Treaty will be seen one day as the Magna Carta of peaceful, cooperative international diplomacy."

Negotiated amid deep military distrust between the USA and former USSR in the 1950s, the Antarctic Treaty designates the vast polar area – 10% of Earth's surface – as a place for peaceful, scientific purposes exclusively.

It bans the testing or storage of nuclear weapons on the continent, constituting the world's first nuclear arms treaty with rigorous inspection provisions included to ensure transparency.

The Treaty includes just 14 provisions and the 12 original signatory nations have since grown in number to 47. Malaysia is in its final phase of national preparations to accede to the Antarctic Treaty this year.

In a new book published by the Smithsonian Institution, Science Diplomacy: Antarctica, Science and the Governance of International Spaces, Dr. Berkman writes: "The two world wars of the 20th Century underscored animosity on a global scale. In contrast, reflecting unparalleled international cooperation, institutions have evolved since 1945 to prevent or resolve disputes transcending national boundaries. Most of these institutions relate to issues that cross national boundaries. However, there is a suite of institutions that has emerged to manage regions beyond the reach of national jurisdiction in the high seas (1958), Antarctica (1959), outer space (1967), and the deep sea (1971)."

The origin, development and success of the Antarctic Treaty offers hope and inspiration applicable to the challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss, overfishing and a host of similarly vexing environmental problems, he writes.

"Any lessons we are able to glean from the Antarctic experience will be relevant not only to those interested in traditional international spaces but also to those in search of effective approaches to governing an expanding range of issues (e.g., climate change)…that are destined to become even more important in the future."

"Perhaps the broadest legacy of the first 50 years of the (Antarctic Treaty) is the development of a suite of practices that are useful in any effort to ensure that interactions between science and policy produce positive results for both communities in addressing a wide range of large-scale issues for the benefit of humankind and the world we inhabit."

"The parts of the planet that fall under national jurisdiction constitute just 30% of the world," says Dr. Berkman. "We're still in infancy in terms of how to work as a civilization. The extent of humanity's common interests and inter-connectedness has only become truly apparent in the second part of the 20th Century."

The fundamental role of science in international governance as exemplified in the Antarctic Treaty includes such responsibilities as monitoring and assessing change over time and space, the discovery of new beneficial health and other products derived from biological resources, and prioritizing and framing issues for consideration.

"Most political decision making involves short term perspective when the problems involve results likely to take place decades or even centuries in the future," says Zakri Abdul Hamid, Science Advisor to Prime Minister of Malaysia, Chair of the International Advisory Panel of the Centre for Global Sustainability Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia, and a member of the International Advisory Board created to mark the Antarctic Treaty's 50th anniversary in 2009.

"Science is free of such time-bound blinders and therefore is fundamental to environment-related diplomacy at a global scale," says Dr. Zakri, who co-chairs as well the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT).

"The world is changing always. Science provides the common language, culture and foundation for nations and people to work together in decision-making on shared global interests."

5th Malaysian International Seminar on Antarctica (MISA5)
June 14 - 15 2011, Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre
More than 500 local and international participants from various research fields are expected at the 5th biennial MISA, the theme of which this year is: 'Rapid Warming in the Polar Regions and Its Implication to the Pacific'.

The Centre for Global Sustainability Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia is a major sponsor of the concurrent 22nd Pacific Science Congress, June 14 -18, also at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. This year's PSC theme: 'Asia Pacific Science in the 21st Century: Meeting the Challenges of Global Change.'

Terry Collins | EurekAlert!
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