Sunday, May 15, 2011

Uphill Battle in the Arctic

Despite the recent release of an Arctic Council report on climate change and regional collapse (see Alarming New Study from the Arctic Council, 5/5), the past week has witnessed discouraging developments on the Arctic front. On Thursday, the Arctic Council held its seventh Ministerial Meeting in Greenland, with attendees including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The focus of the meeting was not regional deterioration and possible mitigation, but rather the accelerating scramble for Arctic resources made possible by global warming. The main purpose of the gathering was to sign a new Search and Rescue (SAR) Agreement, necessitated by increasing traffic resulting from intensified oil and gas exploration and regional shipping.

Prior to the conference, WikiLeaks released a series of US diplomatic cables detailing the quickening rush to carve up newly accessible Arctic mineral resources. In one cable, Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller is quoted as saying (with reference to US failure to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and consequent difficulty establishing claims in the Arctic), "if you stay out, then the rest of us will have more to carve up in the Arctic." Another cable quotes the Russian Ambassador to NATO remarking that "The twenty-first century will see a fight for resources, and Russia should not be defeated in this fight ... NATO has sensed where the wind comes from. It comes from the North."

The Arctic is in a grave state, but the reality is that many national and corporate interests stand to gain considerably from a thawing Arctic. Mineral resources, fisheries, superior shipping lanes--climate change is creating a resource bonanza for extractive and other industries. The irony, of course, is that the region most sensitive to global warming, and therefore most likely to benefit from expeditious geoengineering, is the same region giving rise to some of the most powerful incentives to acquiesce in, or even hasten, climate change.

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