Who Owns Antarctica?

Cristopher Michel/CC-BY 2.0

Antarctica is not owned by any country, per the Antarctic Treaty. Before the Antarctic Treaty was signed, seven countries claimed parts of the continent, including Australia, the United Kingdom, Chile, Argentina, Norway, France and New Zealand. The treaty recognizes none of these claims.

The original 12 countries that signed the treaty in 1959 were the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Norway, Belgium, the Soviet Union, South Africa, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Chile and Argentina. These countries participated in the International Geophysical Year project, a project that focused on exploration. Each country set up research bases on Antarctica.

As of 2014, 47 countries have signed the Antarctic Treaty. Twenty-eight of these countries are considered Consultative Parties, which means that they vote on decisions concerning the governance of Antarctica. The other 19 countries that comprise the Non-Consultative Parties can attend meetings, but not vote on decisions. Both the Consultative Parties and Non-Consultative Parties can perform scientific research in Antarctica.

Besides outlining the research and governance of Antarctica, the Antarctic Treaty also establishes the continent as a military-free zone. Since 1959, other amendments have been added to the treaty that specifically discuss environmental issues and the protection of the continent’s wildlife. In some cases, special areas are set aside called Antarctic Specially Protected Areas in which countries cannot conduct research unless given special permission.