June 6, 2005

Experts Gather to Discuss Antarctic Issues

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) -- More than 300 scientists, experts and government representatives gathered in Stockholm on Monday to discuss the environmental issues facing the South Pole, and the effects global warming and increased tourism may have on the icy continent.

The two-week meeting brings together the 45 countries who have signed the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, which governs the continent, to negotiate how best to handle international cooperation concerning research, environmental protection and tourism on Antarctica.

One of the key issues to be discussed will be a proposal to hold corporations responsible for oil spills and other accidents near the South Pole, and make them liable to pay damages.

Other items on the agenda include so-called "bio-prospecting" by biotech companies searching for organisms to use in medicines or other applications.

"Our common and challenging task is to manage this extraordinary continent for the benefit of our common environment, and for future generations," Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds said in her opening speech. "The Antarctic Continent is our largest joint nature reserve."

The meeting in Stockholm, the 28th international conference on the Antarctic, lasts until June 17. Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf is set to attend a scientific lecture on June 8.

Under the Antarctic Treaty, the continent is designated as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science. Originally signed by 12 nations in 1959, the treaty established the continent as a rare model of cooperation.

Signatories, which included the Soviet Union, Britain and the United States, agreed to demilitarize the continent, share scientific information from studies there and set aside territorial claims.