In 2012, the Arctic reached record low levels of sea ice. There is no denying it anymore. The Arctic is melting, and melting at a much faster rate than was originally predicted. Some estimates suggest that the Arctic will be ice free in Summer by the end of this century!
But what does this new geography mean for global politics?
Underneath the previously ice-covered Arctic is a wealth of natural resources. Oil, gas and mineral reserves are now all up for grabs, as well as a new Polar shipping route. Already, the grab for rights to these reserves is underway, with countries eager to stake their claim.
But how will these reserves be divided up?
“Ownership of the Arctic is governed by the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, which gives Arctic nations an exclusive economic zone that extends 200 nautical miles from land, and to undersea resources farther away so long as they are on a continental shelf. The far northern Arctic Ocean belongs to no country, and conditions there are severe. In a place where exact boundaries were never much of a concern, haggling over borders has begun among the primary nations — between Canada and Denmark, and the United States and Canada, for example.”*
China, who has no legal rights to these resources, is building up relations with countries such as Greenland, Iceland and Canada to ensure that they don’t miss out on their piece of the action. Already, Chinese companies have acquired interests in Canadian oil companies, are financing mine development in Greenland and establishing economic agreements with Iceland.
China isn’t alone in their grab for resources, with the EU, Japan and South Korea also making plays to be involved in Arctic politics.
Considering that the Arctic will eventually be ice-free due to greenhouse gas emissions, it seems rather sad that a new source of fossil fuels have been made available due to this process. If we have any hope of limiting climate change to 2°C then we need to stop further drilling and mining of fossil fuel resources.
Unfortunately, it is never that simple.
* from the NY Times.