British presence in the Antarctic matters and has helped protect the region for two centuries. As a continent without an indigenous population (the first human birth took place in 1978) but, with competing claims of interest from other nations, retaining an unambiguous and significant role is necessary to secure our long-term position.
The Antarctic is demilitarised and protected, with our part in bringing this about undisputed. However pressures are mounting as potential economic value is being assessed by interested parties.
Neil used his success in the Private Members Bill ballot to underpin existing treaty obligations through the UK’s own domestic law – one of the first signatory nations to do so – and, crucially, to strengthen measures to protect the environment and marine life in and around the Antarctic.
The Act has two parts. The first enhances contingency planning and capacity to respond to environmental emergencies in Antarctica. ‘Operators’ become liable to costs if things do go wrong and they must have adequate insurance. This, effectively, implements measures agreed by Antarctic Treaty parties in 2005.
The second part implements agreed measures to protect fauna (animal life) and flora (plant life), giving marine plants and invertebrates protection for the first time. This part also introduces measures to conserve British Historical Sites and Monuments in Antarctica, and generally tidies up the implementation of the original Treaty (signed in 1959 and came into force in 1961) and subsequent agreements.
You can read the act here. It received Royal Assent in 2013.