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Symposium 2012

Proposal - Exploring Energy Resources in the Arctic Ocean

The Challenge

As temperatures rise with a changing climate, Arctic sea ice melts. As a consequence, the once ice-covered Arctic Ocean becomes increasingly accessible, with implications for various economic sectors. ...

As temperatures rise with a changing climate, Arctic sea ice melts. As a consequence, the once ice-covered Arctic Ocean becomes increasingly accessible, with implications for various economic sectors. In particular, the oil and gas resources below the seafloor have whetted the appetite of the littoral states—Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States—as well as outsiders, such as China and the European Union, which are developing or rethinking their Arctic strategies.

Emergency Response Agreement

While energy production in the Arctic Ocean is a national affair, the associated risks are clearly not. An accident on one of the prospective production sites or of one of the supply ships might well have environmental impacts on neighboring states. For this reason, the Arctic states will have to agree on a treaty that lays down responsibilities in preventing and fighting such an emergency in a coordinated manner. The model for such an agreement could well be the Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement and the platform for negotiations, accordingly, the Arctic Council. In the context of the Arctic Council, active participation by environmental groups to give voice to this category of interests is advisable.

Minimum standards for all Arctic-going vessels and installations

Because of the cross-border nature of potential adverse effects of energy production in the Arctic Ocean, the specification of minimum standards for Arctic oceangoing vessels and equipment should also be agreed on the supra-national level. This should include both construction and production equipment as well as vessels. As in the case of an Emergency Response Agreement, the Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement could provide a model and the Arctic Council could provide a suitable platform.

Designation and enforcement of protected areas

Naturally, any significant leakage of oil products or other chemicals in the Arctic Ocean poses a threat to the whole ecosystem. To protect endangered species and safeguard biodiversity, the Arctic states should designate a sufficient part of the Arctic Ocean as protected, ruling outresource exploitation and commercial shipping is allowed. When designating these areas, the signatory states will have to take into account not only potential resource deposits but also habitats and likely dispersion trajectories after an on-site or off-site oil spill.

Resolving border conflicts and strengthening the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

Although major conflicts have been resolved in the past, some of the Arctic Ocean’s littoral states still disagree on their mutual borders. The most famous example is Hans Island, which is disputed between Canada and Denmark. Settling those disputes soon seems to be important for future cooperation among the Arctic states not so much because of the importance of the territory in question but because of the negative implications for the spirit of diplomatic interactions between the Arctic states.

With the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, a legal framework to govern the Arctic Ocean exists already today. Past attempts by the Arctic Ocean’s littoral states to push forward their claims under UNCLOS have provided opportunities to test UNCLOS - challenges which it has successfully overcome. However, UNCLOS’ effectiveness is diminished by the missing ratification of the United States. While the other Arctic States work together effectively under UNCLOS already, ratification by the United States would be a boost to Arctic cooperation and would ease the way to more substantial and detailed agreements which are one of the preconditions for sustainable use of the Arctic Ocean’s resources in general and the shared benefit of all Arctic states.

Invest further in basic research and development for Arctic science

Significant, rapid and context-specific advancements in engineering and the natural sciences could contribute enormously to the long-run feasibility, security and desirability of extractive operations in the Arctic. Our understanding of the environment in which we will be operating and the technologies that suit it best are both extremely limited. Particularly in a time of economic crisis, strong support of basic research and development for problems specific to the Arctic is critical.

Further development of complementary infrastructure

The development of hydrocarbon resource fields in the far North is not simply a matter of pulling resources from the ground and putting a match to them. The infrastructure that is necessary to bring Arctic hydrocarbons to market is extensive, expensive and not quick to build. Investments of money and political capital are necessary to make this resource base a practical - as opposed to simply a theoretical - resource for consuming nations.

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