Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Terra Nullius, Populus Sine Terra: Who May Settle Antarctica?

This article was the runner up in the undergraduate category of the 2022 National Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics

Written by Leo Rogers, University of Oxford


Who may settle Antarctica? I first argue that there are no significant prior claims to Antarctic territory, which is completely uninhabited. I assume that the environmental case for leaving Antarctica uninhabited does not rule out (but may qualify) legitimate claims to settlement, and that Antarctic territory will eventually be rendered habitable by climate change. I proceed to argue that states whose territory has become uninhabitable due to climate change have a right to settle distinct parcels of Antarctic territory. This is grounded in their right to political self-determination, which requires territory. Conflicting claims may be evaluated in relation to a standard of equality of resources, which is less problematic here than elsewhere. I then assess the objection that my argument implies more demanding duties than I set out, noting that my argument describes a negative rather than a positive duty. Finally, I note the abstraction of my argument, maintaining that it nonetheless retains its value. Continue reading