Climate change sparks new talks on national claims to Arctic

The battle for the Arctic’s vast reserves of oil and gas can only be decided by international law, Russia and Denmark said after talks last week in Moscow. Five countries with an Arctic coastline—Russia, the US, Canada, Norway and Denmark through its control of Greenland—have competing claims to the region. Arguing that an underwater ridge links Siberia with the Arctic, Russia plans to claim a vast section of the seabed—with a estimated 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30% of undiscovered gas.

“All problems in the Arctic, including climate change and reducing ice cover, can successfully be considered and resolved within specially created international organizations such as the Arctic Council,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The Arctic Council, set up in 1996, includes the five countries with an Arctic coastline plus the Faroe Islands and Iceland, which both lie just outside the Arctic Circle.

International law states the five countries with territory inside the Arctic Circle are allowed a 320-kilometer (200-mile) economic zone north of their shores. But claims beyond the economic zones have emerged, as the icecap that once made the Arctic Ocean impenetrable year round shrinks. Scientists say oil and gas exploration could begin during the summer months in this once-inaccessible zone in coming years.

Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moller said his government agreed cooperation was the best way to solve disputes. “International law should be used if there are contradicting claims from different states,” he said. But Russia also said it would respond to any moves to militarize the Arctic, and has stepped up its own patrols there. (Reuters, Feb. 26)

Two Canadian fighter jets forced a Russian bomber away from Canadian airspace hours before President Obama’s trip to Ottawa last month, Defense Minister Peter MacKay said Feb. 27. The jets intercepted the long-range bomber about 125 miles from Canada over the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic, MacKay told a news conference. “I’m not going to stand here and accuse the Russians of deliberately doing this during the presidential visit,” he said. “But it was a strong coincidence.” The Russian Defense Ministry said Canada had been notified about the flight and that its aircraft had complied with international regulations. (NYT, Feb. 28)

See our last posts on climate destabilization and the struggle for the Arctic.

  1. Russian ‘Arctic military’ plan
    Russia has announced plans to set up a military force to protect its interests in the Arctic. In a document published on its national security council’s website, Moscow says it expects the Arctic to become its main resource base by 2020. While the strategy is thought to have been approved in September, it has only now been made public. Moscow’s ambitions are likely to cause concern among other countries with claims to the Arctic. The document foresees the Arctic becoming Russia’s main source of oil and gas within the next decade. In order to protect its assets, Moscow says one of its main goals will be the establishment of troops “capable of ensuring military security” in the region. (BBC, March 27)