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The Fifth Eilene M. Galloway Symposium on Critical Issues in Space Law: The Space Environment – Nonbiological Contamination and Other Issues

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by P.J. Blount with the blog faculty

The third panel of the day focused on the The Space Environment: Nonbiological Contamination and Other Issues. Les Tennen, Stearns and Tennen, moderated the panel and the panelists consisted Howard Baker, Senior Counsel, Department of Justice, Government of Canada; Prof. Frank Lyall, Emeritus Professor of Public Law, University of Aberdeen, Scotland, UK; and Mark Williamson, Space Technology Consultant, UK.

Baker presented “Environmental Protection in Outer Space: Toward A Protocol to Article IX of the Outer Space Treaty.” He started by noting that Article IX is vague and fails to acknowledge the intrinsic value of space environments. He then proposed that the basic principles on environmental law and environmental management be applied to outer space by adopting a protocol to Article IX. He stated that this objective was protection of the space environment, but that any such adoption would require a change in the current paradigm. He pointed to the Madrid Protocol, which accomplishes similar goals for the Antarctic Treaty. He stated that the legal structure would consist of a protocol with general principles and legal rules and then supplemental protocols could be adopted which would address specific activities. He then stated that the focus of these legal structures should be “biocentric” as opposed to anthropocentric.

Lyall’s presentation was titled “OST Art. IX, Improvements: Cultural and Natural Heritage Elements.” He noted that numerous nations already protect cultural and national heritage via the concept of national parks and other mechanisms. He then pointed to several international agreements that are designed to protect the cultural and natural heritage of various states and global commons. He also noted that recently a California agencies has declared as protected certain objects that have been landed at Tranquility Base on the Moon. He acknowledged that there would probably be issues with the designation of objects and areas to be protected, but that the use of advisory bodies and committees as used under the UNESCO convention and Antarctic Law would be appropriate.

Williamson presented “A Pragmatic Approach to the ‘Harmful Contamination’ Concept in Art. IX of the Outer Space Treaty.” He started by stating that the concept of “harmful contamination” needs a broader definition, which includes concepts of orbital protection as well as frequency interference. He stated that the goal of protecting the space environment is to provide safe and sustainable access to space by future generations. He stated that a pragmatic approach should balance between, on one hand, protection and preservation and, on the other, exploration and development. He stated that space is not a museum and that it must be remember that it is also part of the business environment. He also said that sustainability is important, and should be influenced by terrestrial best practices for environmental protection, and that a holistic approach is required to accomplish these goals.