Protecting the Arctic

Written evidence submitted by Professor Clive Archer

1. Summary

· This submission examines the institutional aspect of protecting the Arctic.

· It challenges the view that there is either a ‘free-for-all’ or ‘an armed mad dash for resources’ in the Arctic. The resources there are mostly either under national control or governed by international law.

· There is a rich patchwork of institutions and organizations covering the Arctic region and providing the opportunity for cooperation between Arctic states and between non-Arctic countries and the Arctic states.

· All this activity is at its weakest when dealing with cross-boundary ecosystems.

· The UK is in a good position within these institutions but needs to maintain its standing, especially by funding Arctic-related research.

· Cooperation by the UK with key Arctic states such as Norway and Canada will help advance the UK’s standing in the region.

Professor Clive Archer is an emeritus professor in International Relations at Manchester Metropolitan University where he was a research professor from 1996 to 2009.

2. The Arctic and resources

Various estimates have been made of the resource potential of the Arctic region. These estimates-such as the US Geographical Society’s one for undiscovered oil and gas reserves-are tentative, have been changed over time and show the vast amount of estimated resources in the region to be either within the sovereign territory of the Arctic states or within their exclusive economic zones (EEZs):

· The US Geographical Society estimated that as much as 22% of the world’s undiscovered petroleum resources could be found in the Arctic. Much of this was within Russian territory/EEZ and would be difficult to access.

· Gazprom, together with Total and Statoil, is preparing to develop the Shtokman field in the Russian sector of the Barents Sea now that the dividing line in that sea has been agreed with Norway.

· There is a renewed interest in strategically important minerals (iron, base & precious metals, and specialised metals such as molybdenum) in the Scandinavian peninsula, covering parts of Norway, Finland, Sweden and western Russia. This is one of the most promising mineral regions in Europe. The Norwegian government estimates that some $250 billion of minerals could be found in the Norwegian High North.

· The Northeast Sea passage has been opening up, chopping 40% off the length of a sea journey from Hamburg to Yokohama, compared with the Suez Canal route. In 2010, 6 ships went through the Northeast passage; in 2011 it was 34. Det norske Veritas has estimated that there is the potential for 480 transit journeys through Arctic waters by 2030, and 850 by 2050, though there is some debate as to the extent that international shipping will want to use this route under present circumstances.

3. The Arctic institutional framework

There are a number of international agreements and institutions that underpin the governance of the Arctic regions. The most important are:

The Arctic Council (AC) This is the major international organization covering sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic region. Full Membership is for the eight Arctic states; six indigenous peoples’ organizations have permanent participants’ status; nine intergovernmental and inter-parliamentary organizations have observer status, as do eleven non-governmental organizations, and six non-Arctic states (including the UK) have Permanent Observer Status. Working parties deal with environmental monitoring, contaminants, flora & fauna conservation, protection of the marine environment and sustainable development. The Council has task forces on institutional issues, search and rescue, and on oil spill preparedness and response. A permanent secretariat is being established in Tromsø.

In May 2008, 5 Arctic coastal states (including Russia & US) committed themselves in the Ilulissat Declaration to a legal framework for the Arctic region and an orderly settlement of claims.

The Barents-Euro Arctic Council (BEAC) and Forum cover the region to the north of the Scandinavian peninsula and has the Nordic states and Russia as full members. UK is an observer in BEAC; the European Commission has full membership.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea covers the Arctic Ocean, although the US has not yet ratified this agreement. Nevertheless, the work of the UN’s Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) is of particular importance when determining national claims to the continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean. So far only Norway has had its claim determined.

Multilateral institutions have particular relevance for the region and include:

· The Northeast Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC)

· Convention on the Protection on the Marine Environment in the Northeast Atlantic (OSPAR)

· The Northern Dimension cooperation between the EU, Iceland, Norway and Russia covers the northern part of Europe and mainly deals with practical, low level, people-to-people cooperation. It has environmental, health, transport and cultural partnerships

· The EU’s Council’s Conclusions on Arctic issues, December 2009, were supportive of the work of the Arctic Council and of other institutions’ work on Arctic-related policies, such as that of IMO and the regional fisheries commissions. It noted EU plans to reduce the EU share of persistent chemicals in the Arctic.

There are a number of agreements relevant for a range of activities in the Arctic region; for example:

· Continental shelf/fisheries zone delineation agreements have been made between Denmark (Greenland), Iceland, Norway and Russia covering areas in the Arctic Ocean, Denmark Straits, North Atlantic and Barents Sea. The US-Russian Bering Straits agreement remains unratified; the US and Canada have a disagreement about the Beaufort Sea and Canada and Denmark are in dispute over Hans island.

· A Binding Search & Rescue agreement was signed in May 2011 by the AC states.

· The International Maritime Organization, based in London, is working on a binding ‘Polar Code’ for shipping in polar waters which is intended to be in force for 2015/6.

· US, Russia & Norway are chairing negotiations for agreement on Arctic oil spill prevention.

4. Other cooperation between states

There is an established network of bilateral or multilateral agreements between two or three (or more) of the Arctic states that covers the management of resources, offshore activities and environmental issues in the region. Some examples are:

· Norwegian–Russian cooperation on ecosystem-based fishery management with a view to managing cod stocks in the Barents Sea. The mixed Norwegian-Russian fisheries commission has dealt with fisheries in the Barents Sea since 1976, with the stocks of cod there now being at an all-time high.

· Since 1990 Russia and Norway have had an Incidents at Sea agreement covering their military vessels and aircraft operating in waters around their coasts. In 2011 and 2012 Norway and Russia ran joint naval exercises off their northern coasts.

· In 2010 Norway and Russia signed a declaration strengthening trans-border cooperation across their land frontier in the High North.

· A joint agreement between Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia to strengthen search and rescue led to the Barents Rescue exercise and further cooperation.

· A Norwegian-Russian joint agreement, 2007, aimed at harmonising health, safety and environmental standards for petroleum activity in the Barents Sea. This is led by Det Norske Veritas and Gazprom, and has proposed a risk-based approach and 130 international standards.

· Under the Global Nuclear Threat Reduction Program, the UK and Norway have helped to dismantle a Russian November-class nuclear submarine.

· The number of International Nuclear Event Scale incidents in Russia nuclear power stations on the Kola peninsula has dropped from 41 in 1993 to 2 in 2009 after a Norwegian-financed security initiative.

5. Summary

The Arctic has sometimes been displayed as a region of potential conflict. This paper contends that the incidence of conflict is likely to be low. All the Arctic coastal states have committed themselves to the peaceful settlement of disputes. There is an extended network of international and transnational institutions, organizations and agreements that is growing in the Arctic region and which encourages peaceful and cooperative activity.

However, there is also little doubt (from evidence published elsewhere) that the Arctic is experience a rapid change in its environment. This in itself could encourage a more rapid pace of development of the region which may not be sustainable in environmental terms. This paper shows that there is a good deal of activity that could monitor and map that increased activity. However, much of the responsibility for the environmental consequences of activities in or near the Arctic will remain with the Arctic states or, in the case of vessels transiting the Arctic, flag states. This presents problems for ecosystems crossing geographical boundaries. As any adverse effects of climate change in the Arctic will impinge on the UK, it is in the interests of the United Kingdom to encourage and contribute to the monitoring of the Arctic environment, and, through its diplomacy and through the good practice of UK firms, to encourage the protection of the Arctic environment by the Arctic states, and to support agreements that protect cross-boundary ecosystems.

6. Recommendations

The UK should continue its investment in Polar science as this not only provides information about key aspects of climate change but is also an ‘entry ticket’ to observer status in the Arctic Council where much of the cooperative work on the Arctic is undertaken.

To this end, the UK should make full use of cooperation with like-minded states such as Canada, Norway and key EU countries. An example is the 2011 Polar Research agreement with Norway.

In its diplomacy, the UK should encourage Arctic states and those that use the Arctic to sign up to and to strengthen international agreements that help protect the Arctic environment. In particular it should encourage cross-boundary activities that help protect ecosystems, such as the work of NEAFC and the IMO Polar Code.

HMG should consider a more joined-up approach towards Arctic issues, especially those associated with the environment and Arctic science, and this could be launched within the framework of the Prime Minister’s Northern Futures Forum initiative.

10 February 2012

Prepared 24th February 2012