Climate changes: focus on the Arctic region

 

II.part- economic and political features

Economic potential and relative richness;

According to numerous explorations, the Arctic region is rich of natural resources. The melting ice-cover does not bring just new sea routes that could considerably reduce costs for shipping companies, but as well it brings the new opportunities of exploitation and acquisition of substantial reserves.

According to the assessment based on US geological survey, the Arctic area may present about 13% of the world’s undiscovered but recoverable oil reserves and as much as 30% of the world’s undiscovered natural gas reserves1. The non-stable surface, low temperatures, semi-annual day and night cycles, inadequate infrastructure or incidental pollution, act as difficult and dangerous obstacles in construction of research, exploration and extraction facilities. The attractiveness and expedience depend also on tax and fiscal regimes, competition, environmental costs, accessibility to infrastructure and markets, carryback/payback period, potential of new discoveries and value creation. Therefore, the profitability differs among five countries which have the highest interests in territorial claims over the region (Russia, Greenland, Norway, Canada, USA). Considering the mentioned obstacles and dependencies, the extraction is not explicitly favourable for any country, especially in terms of high environmental costs and lack of infrastructure. Despite that, the most favourable perspectives appertain to Russia, then to Norway and Greenland.Moreover, the commercial collaboration and competition of the most interested parties, such as ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Statoil, Eni, Total SA, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Gazprom and Rosneft, are highly determined and motivated to overcome any trammel.8

Besides large reserves of gas and oil, there are respectable amounts of mineral resources like gold, diamonds, iron, zinc, nickel, copper, coal. Further, economic potential can be found in boreal forest, marine life, renewable energy, and fresh water. Greenland contains 10% of the world’s reserves of fresh water, but this now at risk due to the rise in temperature.2

According to the studies, the partial cost of ice-melting and methane release of this pivotal ecosystem region is estimated on 60 trillion USD3. Including other impacts as ocean acidification, black carbon and altered ocean and atmospheric circulation significantly raise the costs. The negative consequences will affect all nations but primarily will be distributed in the less developed parts of the world represented by floods, heat stress, droughts, storms, low agricultural production and poorer health.4

Politics: power & militarization

Power, control, militarization and territorial conquest in order to appropriation of strategic natural resources have been always attributes of the high politics. The Arctic region, full of natural resources and perspective new sea routes, stimulates the mentioned political interests and brings the Arctic into important political focus.

The largest territories in the region appertain to Russia, Canada and Greenland/Denmark. Hence, the US strategy is to extend cooperation with potential partners, particularly Canada and Denmark, so as to extend the control over the region. In the article5, Chossudovsky explains that the started militarization process is a part of the North American integration under the Security and Prosperity Partnership Agreement (SPP). The formal ratification in 2006 of the North American Aerospace Defense Agreement (NORAD) gives permission to deploy US troops in the Canadian territorial waters. Denmark is the US´s NATO ally and there is the Thule US Air Force base in the Greenland hosting the detection system of ballistic missiles directed towards North America. Russia established several scientific-military stations in its northern parts where as well nuclear tests were undertaken during the Soviet era.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)6 was concluded in 1982 and since then 162 countries joined the convention. It defines as well 12 mile zone for territorial waters and 200 mile exclusive economic zone that gives the countries drilling rights. However, the US has not signed the convention in fear of limitation of its activities in the area. On the base of the Convention, Russia tries to claim the vast territory reaching the North Pole so as to obtain more drilling rights. The correspondent UN Committee has not yet recognized this claim. Likewise, other countries (Canada, Denmark/Greenland, the US, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland) are also trying to expand their rights.7 These countries are members of the Arctic Council, the leading multilateral forum in the region, currently presided by Canada. Recently, they have signed the Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic8 that regulates coordination and response in case of accidents. Besides France, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Spain and United Kingdom, the permanent observer status was newly granted to China, India, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Italy; in this way, the Asian region will have greater influence on the Council´s work. The EU observer status has not been yet approved.9

Conclusions

The climate change impacts on the Arctic region present the global security threat. It is highly desirable, in terms of securing the safe living conditions for world´s population, to access this issue responsibly in a complex way.

However, the nature of big players in international politics remains in the morally-low interests of power games and greed. The release of the Arctic methane will bring globally harmful impacts and therefore the resolutions require considerable investments into the mitigation and adaptation programmes together with the change of the current capitalistic economic philosophy.

The fight of the national claims over the region and its natural resources could lead the world to the possible armed conflicts and environmental disasters. It is important to realise that the price of such conflict and the environmentally harmful extraction of the last oil and gas reserves, are really not worth as much as the investments to protect the habitable ecosystems and creation of more sustainable models of society.. The profit perspectives do not take into considerations the costs of the life.

Moreover, the rights of the Arctic inhabitants are being limited and their voice is not being heard sufficiently in discussions over their living area. Their society is already challenged by tough conditions and further changes would mean more negative socio-economic impacts like forced migration, food insufficiency, worsened health conditions and consequent fall of the unique cultural groups.

Even if the financial resources (we are talking about the sums equal to global economy) would be found for building-up of the infrastructure that would limit the negative impacts of the climate change, it is doubtful if the practical capacity and determination of the crucial players would be found.

The world and the life are gifts given to the people and it is natural to approach them respectably and responsibly. However, when the godhood is being searched in human individuals, its interpretation is many times linked to egocentrism, narcissism and proudness, and then the world is at stake.

1Ernst&Young.2013. Arctic oil and gas.

2Greenland. Global warming and Greenland.

3world economy in 2012 is estimated on $70 trillion

4Whiteman, G. Hope, Ch. Wadhams, P. 2013.Climate science: Vast costs of Arctic change.

5Chossudovsky, M. 2007/2013. North American Integration and the Militarization of the Arctic.

6United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

8Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution, Preparedness and Response in the Arctic. 2013.

9Pettersen, T. 2013. Six new observers to Arctic Council. In Barents Observer.