Australia wants to install military technology in Antarctica – here’s why that’s allowed



Technology, such as satellite systems, can be used for both military and scientific purposes.
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Tony Press, University of Tasmania

This week, the ABC revealed that the Australian Defence Force wants to roll out military technology in Antarctica.

The article raises the issue of what is, or is not, legitimate use of technology under the Antarctic Treaty. And it has a lot to do with how technology is used and provisions in the treaty.

The Antarctic Treaty was negotiated in the late 1950s, during the Cold War. Its purpose was to keep Antarctica separate from any Cold War conflict, and any arguments over sovereignty claims.




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The words used in the treaty reflect the global politics and technologies back then, before there were satellites and GPS systems. But its provisions and prohibitions are still relevant today.

The opening provision of the Antarctic Treaty, which came into force in 1961, says:

Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only. There shall be prohibited, [among other things], any measures of a military nature, such as the establishment of military bases and fortifications, the carrying out of military manoeuvres, as well as the testing of any type of weapons.

The treaty also prohibits “any nuclear explosions in Antarctica” and disposal of radioactive waste. What the treaty does not do, however, is prohibit countries from using military support in their peaceful Antarctic activities.

Many Antarctic treaty parties, including Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the US, Chile and Argentina, rely on military support for their research. This includes the use of ships, aircraft, personnel and specialised services like aircraft ground support.

In fact, the opening provision of the treaty is clarified by the words:

the present Treaty shall not prevent the use of military personnel or equipment for scientific research or for any other peaceful purpose.

It would be a breach of the treaty if “military exercises” were being conducted in Antarctica, or if military equipment was being used for belligerent purposes. But the treaty does not deal specifically with technology. It deals with acts or actions. The closest it gets to technology is the term “equipment” as used above.

Dual use technology

So-called “dual use” technology – which that can be used for both peaceful and military purposes – is allowed in Antarctica in support of science.




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The term is often used to describe technology such as the widely-used GPS, which relies on satellites and a worldwide system of ground-based receiving stations. Norway’s “Trollsat”, China’s “Beidou”, and Russia’s “GLONASS” systems are similar, relying on satellites and ground stations for their accuracy.

What’s more, modern science heavily relies on satellite technology and the use of Antarctic ground stations for data gathering and transmission.

And scientific equipment, like ice-penetrating radars, carried on aircraft, drones, and autonomous airborne vehicles are being used extensively to understand the Antarctic continent itself and how it’s changing.

Much, if not all, of this technology could have “dual use”. But its use is not contrary to the Antarctic Treaty.

In fact, the use of this equipment for “scientific research” or a “peaceful purpose” is not only legitimate, it’s also essential for Antarctic research, and global understanding of the health of our planet.




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The technologies Australia deploys in Antarctica all relate to its legitimate Antarctic operations and to science.

There are also facilities in Antarctica used to monitor potential military-related activities elsewhere in the world, such as the monitoring stations used under the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

The circumstances under which modern technology would, or could be, used against the provisions of the Antarctic Treaty have not been tested. But the activity would have to go beyond “dual purpose” and not be for science or peaceful purposes.

Science in Antarctica is open to scrutiny

Science in Antarctica is very diverse, from space sciences to ecosystem science, and 29 countries have active research programs there.

And since Antarctica plays a significant role in the global climate system, much modern Antarctic research focuses on climate science and climate change.

But there has been speculation about whether Antarctica is crucial to the development of alternatives to GPS (for example, by Russia and China) that could also be used in warfare as well as for peaceful purposes. It’s unclear whether using ground stations in Antarctica is essential for such a purpose.

For instance, Claire Young, a security analyst writing for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the accuracy of China’s Beidou satellite has already been improved by international testing, so testing in Antarctica will make very little difference.




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This leads to another important provision of the Antarctic Treaty.

The treaty foreshadowed compliance problems in the remote and hostile continent by including an open ended provision for any Antarctic Treaty Party to inspect any Antarctic facility.

In other words, any party has complete freedom to access all parts of Antarctica at any time to inspect ships, aircraft, equipment, or any other facility, and even use “aerial observations” for inspection. This means the activities of all parties, and all actions in Antarctica, are available for open scrutiny.

This inspection regime is important because inspections can be used to determine if modern technology on the continent is, in fact, being used for scientific or peaceful purposes, in line with the provisions of the treaty.The Conversation

Tony Press, Adjunct Professor, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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We need a national renewables approach, or some states – like NSW – will miss out



In the absence of federal policy, states are pursing their own renewable targets.
Karsten Würth/Unsplash

Scott Hamilton, University of Melbourne; Changlong Wang, University of Melbourne, and Roger Dargaville, Monash University

Australia’s primary federal renewable energy target – to have 33 terawatts of renewable energy by 2020 – has essentially been achieved. There is much uncertainty as to what is next.

In the absence of a new national target, the states have been leading the way and driving renewable energy in Australia. Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland between them have invested some A$20 billion into building 11,400 megawatts of generation capacity.

While the states have worked admirably to advance renewable energy – and federal energy policy has long been politically toxic – there is a clear cost to pursuing many fragmented policies instead of a unified vision.

Our research, modelling the effect of state versus national renewable energy targets in the National Energy Market system found there was little difference in the overall cost, but that states without strong renewable targets tended to miss out on investment.

We need national thinking

Most jurisdictions have net zero emissions targets by 2050. States also have ambitious but achievable shorter-term renewable energy targets and programs.

There are plenty of arguments for states pursuing their own renewable energy targets, not least because they can fill the policy vacuum left at the national level.

States are responding to the immediate need to replace retiring power stations and can explore innovation with greater ambition. It makes perfect sense for states to compete to attract jobs and investment.

But Australia’s federal government has a domestic and international obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels. National policies are more efficient, can harness better resources across our diverse geography and maximise returns for the whole system.

What’s more – as many column inches have pointed out – strong federal policy improves investment certainty and reliability, lowering the cost of inevitable infrastructure upgrades. And those upgrades can be better integrated into our existing national electricity system if the building (and money) doesn’t stop at internal borders.

To provide some insight and help move the debate forward, the University of Melbourne, Monash University and the Australian-German Energy Transition Hub have collaborated on research that was presented at an international conference in Denmark earlier this year.

Quantifying the difference

We simulated two scenarios: first, that all states implement polices to achieve their respective renewable energy and net zero emissions targets by 2050.

The second scenario assumed a national target would be used to result in the “same outcome” of 100% renewable energy by 2050.

The model calculates required energy investments with 5-year increments from today to 2050, including considering the existing generation currently operating. The model simultaneously optimises the mix of generation, transmission and storage to minimise the total system cost from 2020 to 2050.

A key difference in results is where and when new generation is built. Under the state-driven approach, unsurprisingly, investment shifts towards states with more ambitious targets.

The two figures below show how state-based targets drive more investment into Queensland than would be the case under a national target scheme.

Spatial distribution of renewable generation

Broadly speaking, under a national target, we see more efficient use of renewable energy and associated resources. NSW – with net zero 2050 target but no interim renewable energy target – would get a greater share of the renewable energy investment.

Change in energy generation %

NSW would consistently see substantially more investment under a national target scheme. This would be around 20% more generation in the 2030s in NSW, and up to 20 terawatt-hours more energy generated in the years 2030 to 2045.

The rollout of “where and when” to build new renewable and other generation to replace ageing fossil fuel power plants also impacts heavily on the sequencing and timing for major transmission upgrades across the NEM – especially interconnectors between states.

Transmission networks modelled.

The graph shows that under a state target based approach we build more transmission infrastructure earlier than under a national approach. Under a national target approach, we would end up building more transmission infrastructure – albeit later.

Again, broadly speaking, we would build more generation at renewable energy resource-rich areas such as NSW which happen to be near major demand centres like cities. This would delay the need for some infrastructure spend.

What about system reliability and energy costs?

The good news is it appears under either a state-based or a national target approach the outcome in 2050 is similar. The difference in total system costs is only about 1% higher in the state-based targets scenario – so, virtually nothing.

Evolution of electricity generation – total system.

State-based renewable energy targets lead to redistribution of renewable investments in favour of the states with a mid-term renewable energy target.

In the Australian context, the current state-based renewable energy targets have no impact on undermining power system reliability and virtually negligible impact on pushing up power prices.

Perhaps NSW should take particular note – as it would appear that it would benefit greatly from either a national target approach or an interim state target for itself.

The debate about state versus national approaches to energy policy has been going for the past 30 years and no doubt will be around for another 30. In the meantime, we need a stronger hand on the transition tiller or we will waste precious resources and time, and likely have major unintended consequences.




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The Conversation


Scott Hamilton, Strategic Advisory Panel Member, Australian-German Energy Transition Hub, University of Melbourne; Changlong Wang, Researcher, The Energy Transition Hub, University of Melbourne, and Roger Dargaville, Senior lecturer, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.