Today, the global community is devoting unprecedented attention to the Arctic. Most people are primarily concerned with the effects of climate change, as the media often attributes the frequency of recent natural disasters to the significant warming of the Arctic. Meanwhile, businessmen are exploring new profit-making avenues through the extraction of the region’s rich natural resources, along with the development of the Northern Sea Route. Military officials are spending time and resources estimating emerging threats to regional security, while seeking appropriate ways to prevent them. Politicians of both Arctic and non-Arctic states are eager to participate in its exploration, weighing the pros and cons of their further involvement in Arctic affairs, as well as the expected gains and losses from cooperation or confrontation with other states. Finally, the residents of the Far North humbly are hoping that the new international spotlight their home has acquired will not negatively impact their lives.
Oil companies have eyed the Arctic for years. With an estimated 90 billion barrels of oil lying north of the Arctic Circle, the circumpolar north is arguably the last corner of the globe that is still almost entirely unexplored.
As drilling technology advances, conventional oil reserves become harder to find, and climate change contributes to melting sea ice, the Arctic has moved up on the list of priorities in oil company board rooms.
That had companies moving north – Royal Dutch Shell off the coast of Alaska, Statoil in the Norwegian Arctic, and ExxonMobil in conjunction with Russia’s Rosneft in the Russian far north. » More
The promise of new shipping routes and access to natural resources continues to attract external players to the Arctic. While states such as Singapore have successfully acquired permanent observer status in the Arctic Council (AC), the European Union (EU) has historically been far less successful in contributing to or securing a voice in Arctic governance. This problem is eroding away, however. All Brussels has to do is play to its strengths and continue focusing on ‘small target’ goals that can be achieved through existing political structures.
Despite ongoing cooperation between Arctic nations – Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia, and the United States– mainstream rhetoric often implies Arctic stakeholders are teetering on the brink of conflict. To a great extent, this sentiment is reflected in mass media and political banter, inflaming the passions of audiences. This is true, not only in the U.S. but also elsewhere, evidenced in the mass media reporting of other Arctic nations and beyond.
Consider, for instance, the impact of headlines pronouncing a “New Cold War” or a “Rush for Riches,” headlines not uncommon in U.S. media. Some reactions may be visceral– insidiously implanting notions of fear, lust, or chaos into the very core of society. Similarly, political banter suggesting belligerent rivalries reminiscent of bygone years may well influence public opinion to the detriment of strengthened Arctic relations. » More
Climate change is not an ideology, as some would have us believe – it is an existential fact. Greenland’s ice cap is melting up to four times faster than it was two decades ago, and if current predictions hold true, by mid-century the Arctic’s seas will be navigable in the summertime. This probability may frighten climate change specialists, but it is good news to those who want to access the High North’s once inaccessible resources (oil, minerals and gas), or to rely upon its shorter and therefore cheaper shipping routes. Indeed, the burgeoning interest of governments and investors in the Arctic guarantees that for better (economic development) and worse (oil spills, shipping accidents, and cultural dislocation), the human footprint will grow exponentially in the region. For those who are ready to kick-start this 21st century ‘gold rush,’ however, here’s an inconvenient question – where’s the infrastructure that is going to support it?
First, let’s begin by stating the obvious – compared to the rest of the world, the broader Arctic region still has almost no infrastructure and what little exists is expensive. Canada’s per-capita transport and communications costs, for example, are 36% higher in the Northwest Territories and 160% higher in Nunavut than in the country as a whole. These costs, driven as they are by the still-extreme climate and extended transport routes, will continue to turn near- and mid-term expectations of large-scale wealth and development into fool’s gold. » More