Current Project


A Sydney Democracy Network (SDN) project supporting the wider public understanding of Antarctica and its possible futures.

Endorsed by a three-year Australian Research Council grant, Antarctica Futures brings together academics and those with policy expertise in Antarctica for the purpose of taking a fresh look at the relevance of Antarctica for the future of democracy. Through independent research, seminars, public forums and multi-media initiatives, it reconsiders the history and present-day significance of Antarctica’s governing arrangements, how they might be improved, and assesses whether they can survive the mounting global pressures to ‘open up’ the continent to wider commercial and state interests.

With some notable exceptions, decisions affecting the continent have, until now, largely been taken by officials of national governments working behind the scenes, or by diplomats, statesmen, lawyers and judges working within the framework of the Antarctic Treaty System. A geographically vast and politically significant continent, Antarctica has been governed for more than 50 years by ‘post-sovereign’ provisions and rules, with science and preservation of the environment at their core. There are clear signs that these governing arrangements are subject to mounting pressures, and that they are being pushed to breaking point. This prompts some fundamental questions:

  • Can the Madrid Protocol and other agreements survive the mounting political, economic and environmental pressures that come with the twenty-first century? How might the continent best be protected from a future dash for resources, including tourism revenues?
  • What role can be played by non-governmental actors and networks in helping to strengthen or re-design governing arrangements for the purpose of better protecting Antarctica from commercial exploitation and military adventures?
  • Australia has the largest territorial claim over Antarctica. How strategically important is the continent and is it still meaningful to speak of a ‘national interest’ in Antarctica?
  • How can the findings and importance of Antarctic scientific research be better understood by citizens, governing representatives and officials?
  • With the rate of warming on the Antarctic Peninsula among the highest on Earth (mean annual temperatures there have risen by more than 2.5°C in just 50 years) and marine ecosystems feeling the impacts of climate change, how will Antarctica and wider planetary climate systems be affected?
  • How relevant are the political and legal arrangements of Antarctica for the way we understand present-day democracy and imagine its future? What role might public opinion and democracy play in improving the quality of the vital decisions to be taken globally on Antarctica over the coming years?

By addressing these and other questions, the Antarctica Futures project hopes to promote deeper public understanding and citizen involvement in decisions that will shape the future of a continent that can teach us much about how effectively and democratically to govern our global commons in support of future generations.


Co-ordinators: John Keane and Nick Rowley

Associates: Juan Francisco Salazar (University of Western Sydney); Giovanni Navarria (University of Sydney); Colombina Schaffer (University of Sydney).