Who Owns Antarctica? [Nobody – So, Who Makes the Rules?]

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  • Post last modified:April 2, 2022
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Antarctica is the world’s southernmost landmass and the fifth-largest continent. But, it wasn’t discovered until long after all the other continents. But now that we know about it, who actually owns Antarctica?

Antarctica is not owned by anyone. Whilst there have been territorial claims made in the past by 7 nations (Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the UK), few of these are recognized by other states and since the introduction of the Antarctic Treaty, no new claims can be made.

Keep reading to find out more about how the Antarctic Treaty affects the existing claims and to find out who sets the rules in a place with no government.

Who Owns Antarctica?

Antarctica is not owned by any single nation. Up until 1961, seven countries had laid territorial claims to the continent. 

However, it is now governed by the Antarctic Treaty which sets aside any sovereignty disputes between signatories and stops anyone from placing new claims or expanding existing claims.

Since nobody owns Antarctica, you might think that it has no laws. Well, you’d be slightly wrong there as the Antarctic Treaty and related documents set a framework for life in Antarctica and some basic rules. Day-to-day rules are then decided upon at an annual meeting of all signatories, more on this later.

Since you cannot be a citizen of Antarctica, those entering will be citizens of other countries. If your government has signed the Antarctic Treaty, then the rules of the treaty are effectively laws to you.

Territorial Claims in Antarctica (With Map)

Prior to the introduction of the Antarctic Treaty, the seven countries that made territorial claims to the continent are Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom. 

Neither the United States nor Russia (the Soviet Union at the time) made formal claims, despite being active in Antarctica during this period. Although both claim that they still have the right to make a claim if they wish.

Not all of the countries recognized all of the other countries’ claims which is why some of the claims overlap. The UK, France, Australia, New Zealand, and Norway all recognized each other’s claims, however, there were large disputes between Argentina, Chile, and the UK whose claims overlapped.

What is the Antarctic Treaty?

The Antarctic Treaty and other related agreements (collectively known as the Antarctic Treaty System or ATS) is the group of documents that governs life in Antarctica.

At its core, the Antarctic Treaty states that:

  • Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only
  • Freedom of scientific investigation in Antarctica and cooperation toward that end… shall continue
  • Scientific observations and results from Antarctica shall be exchanged and made freely available

Source: Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty

The agreement first came into force on June 23, 1961, and has now been signed by 54 different countries (full list below). The rules of the treaty apply everywhere south of 60°S latitude.

Additions have been made to the treaty over time, most notable the Environmental Protocol which came into force in 1998 and designates Antarctica as a “natural reserve, devoted to peace and science”1 (source: Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty).

The Environmental Protocol provides protection to all the plants and animals within Antarctica, places a ban on commercial mining, and sets rules about pollution and waste disposal on the continent.

Who Has Signed the Treaty?

The treaty was established by the 12 countries that were active in Antarctica during this time: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Soviet Union, the UK, and the US. However, it has since been agreed to by 54 countries2 (source: US Department of State).

There are two types of signatories to the Antarctic Treaty:

  • Consultative – This includes the original signatories and those who conduct ‘substantial research activity there’3 (source: Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty).
  • Non-Consultative  – Other countries that have acceded to the treaty but do not have a strong presence in the region.

The main difference between the two is that consultative parties take part in decision-making about the rules and regulations that govern Antarctica.

Here is a full list of signatories to the Antarctic Treaty:

ArgentinaJun 23, 1961Consultative
AustraliaJun 23, 1961Consultative
AustriaAug 25, 1987Non-Consultative
BelarusDec 27, 2006Non-Consultative
BelgiumJul 26, 1960Consultative
BrazilMay 16, 1975Consultative
BulgariaSep 11, 1978Consultative
CanadaMay 4, 1988Non-Consultative
ChileJun 23, 1961Consultative
ChinaJun 8, 1983Consultative
ColombiaJan 31, 1989Non-Consultative
CubaAug 16, 1984Non-Consultative
Czech RepublicJan 1, 1993Consultative
DenmarkMay 20, 1965Non-Consultative
EcuadorSep 15, 1987Consultative
EstoniaMay 17, 2001Non-Consultative
FinlandMay 15, 1984Consultative
FranceSep 16, 1960Consultative
GermanyFeb 5, 1979Consultative
GreeceJan 8, 1987Non-Consultative
GuatemalaJul 31, 1991Non-Consultative
HungaryJan 27, 1984Non-Consultative
IcelandOct 13, 2015Non-Consultative
IndiaAug 19, 1983Consultative
ItalyMar 18, 1981Consultative
JapanAug 4, 1960Consultative
KazakhstanJan 27, 2015Non-Consultative
MalaysiaOct 31, 2011Non-Consultative
MonacoMay 31, 2008Non-Consultative
MongoliaMar 23, 2015Non-Consultative
NetherlandsMar 30, 1967Consultative
New ZealandNov 1, 1960Consultative
North KoreaJan 21, 1987Non-Consultative
NorwayAug 24, 1960Consultative
PakistanMar 1, 2012Non-Consultative
Papua New GuineaMar 16, 1981Non-Consultative
PeruApr 10, 1981Consultative
PolandJun 8, 1961Consultative
PortugalJan 29, 2010Non-Consultative
RomaniaSep 15, 1971Non-Consultative
Russia†Nov 2, 1960Consultative
SlovakiaJan 1, 1993Non-Consultative
SloveniaApr 22, 2019Non-Consultative
South AfricaJun 21, 1960Consultative
South KoreaNov 28, 1986Consultative
SpainMar 31, 1982Consultative
SwedenApr 24, 1984Consultative
SwitzerlandNov 15, 1990Non-Consultative
TurkeyJan 24, 1996Non-Consultative
UkraineOct 28, 1992Consultative
United Kingdom (claim)*May 31, 1960Consultative
United StatesAug 18, 1960Consultative
UruguayJan 11, 1980Consultative
VenezuelaMay 24, 1999Non-Consultative

Who Governs Antarctica?

Antarctica has no official government, however, those that visit the continent are subject to the laws of their own country (if their country is a signatory of the Antarctic Treaty) or the country that gave them permission to visit.

Additional rules and regulations that govern life in Antarctica are agreed upon at the annual Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) which is attended by treaty members.

Only consultative parties (countries that conduct research in Antarctica) are involved in the decision-making, however, non-consultative parties are also allowed to be part of the discussion4 (source: Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty).

There is a separate committee for aspects relating to the Environmental Protocol, this is called the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP) and they usually meet at the same times as the ATCM.

Does Antarctica Have a Flag?

Yes, Antarctica has a flag called True South. The flag was designed by Evan Townsend, a journalist and polar advocate. It’s the only flag to be recognized by members of the Antarctic Treaty System and is flown at research stations across the continent.

The blue and white background represents the polar nights (days where the sun doesn’t rise) and midnight sun (nights where the sun doesn’t set) that the continent experiences. The white peak in the middle represents the diverse terrain of Antarctica whilst the blue shadow looks like a compass facing south.

Overall, the elements together form a diamond which is a symbol of hope that Antarctica will be a place of ‘peace, discovery, and cooperation for generations to come’5 (source: True South Flag).

Antarctica is a continent, not a country, which is why this fact about Antarctica is so unusual. It’s the only continent to have an official flag, although other continental organizations, such as the European Union, also have flags.

As well as the Antarctica flag, countries tend to fly their own national flag at their research stations too. A few countries, including Argentina, the UK, France, and Chile, also have a dedicated flag to represent their territories in Antarctica. These can be seen here.

Doe PewDiePie Own Antarctica?

In a YouTube video released in 2021, PewDiePie announced to his 100million+ subscribers that he was making a claim to Antarctica and blew up the internet. At one point, even the Wikipedia page of Antarctica stated PewDiePie as an owner.

His basis of the claim was that part of the continent remains unclaimed. Whilst there was some truth to this, unfortunately, the territorial map he was using pre-dates the Antarctic Treaty which set aside all claims.

As a Swedish citizen, PewDiePie cannot own any part of Antarctica because his government signed the Antarctic Treaty on Apr 24, 19846 (source: Wikipedia), which means that he cannot stake a claim.

Also, just saying you own a piece of land doesn’t mean you own it, sorry PewDiePie.

Related Questions

Is Antarctica a Continent?

Yes, Antarctica is a continent because underneath all of the ice there is a landmass that sits on the Antarctic tectonic plate. 

Antarctica has all of the characteristics of a continent including its size, being surrounded by a vast ocean, having unique geography, and unique vegetation.

Is Antarctica a Country?

No, Antarctica is not a country, nor are there any countries in Antarctica. It’s a continent that’s governed by the Antarctic Treaty which has been agreed upon by 54 countries from around the world.

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Kieren is the founder of Polar Guidebook. After visiting both of the polar regions and meeting the scientists and tour guides that work there, he developed a keen interest in the animals, climate, and geography of the Arctic and Antarctica.