Committee on Environment, Public
Health and Food Safety I

As the Arctic ice is melting, a new field of economic opportunities is opening to the world with the possibility of taking advantage of new resources. Keeping in mind the fragile marine ecosystem of the region, what Arctic policy should the European states develop so as to ensure a sustainable exploitation?

Chairpersons : Darius Schlaeppi (CH)

ENVI I Lastest News

Subject introduction

The Arctic, which to date has been a region on the periphery of world trade, has now become the new frontier in international relations due to developments in climate change. Between 1900 and 2015, the average temperature of the Arctic has risen from -1.5°C to over 1°C.1 Climate change has transformed the Arctic from a sea-ice cap to a seasonally ice-free sea, exposing land and sea, harboring valuable natural resources.

The promises of northern riches have led countries to a ‘race for the Arctic’, in which not only the Arctic states with territorial claims are intensifying their polar activities, but also emerging countries are marking game plans for how to benefit from the access to the region’s resources.2 Soaring oil prices could give an extra impetus to an international race to claim the regions’ oil and gas deposits, representing up to 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and about 13 percent of undiscovered oil reserves.

Increased oil and gas exploitation and associated transport in Arctic marine waters could pose particular risks to the Arctic environment. A major oil spill could contaminate ice and shore lines for many thousand kilometers and severely pollute the pristine Arctic ecosystem that indigenous communities and wildlife heavily rely on.4

The Arctic’s unique breadth of both land and marine biodiversity is under growing threat from oil and gas exploration, driven to a significant extent by the growing demand.5 While drilling for oil and gas reserves in the Arctic is still an exception, due to the remote location, harsh conditions, lack of infrastructure, and most importantly, the high cost of drilling, potential oil supply outages and higher oil prices could increase the pressure to explore the oil and gas deposits of the Arctic.6

Increased exploitation and associated transport in Arctic marine waters could pose risks and dangers to the Arctic environment, which is particularly vulnerable when it comes to oil pollution since cold temperatures slow down the oil deterioration.Furthermore, it is doubtful if increased oil exploitation would be a reasonable option in the light of climate change, or under the commitments of the climate regime.

The increase in ice-free regions in the Arctic not only provides more opportunities for oil and gas exploration but also allows commercial vessels to travel shorter routes. As the sea ice melts, shipping routes once regarded as impossible to traverse may open up by midcentury.8 While shipping lanes in the Arctic could provide shortcuts between economic centers of the globe and diminish the traffic on the main trans-continental navigation channels, environmental risks would still prevail. Experts agree that in the absence of transnational environment governance, sufficient infrastructure, detailed sea charts and oil spill response techniques, the expected increase in shipping traffic associated with the higher risk of accidents would severely impact Europe’s most important fishing grounds.9

In spite of the need for circumpolar governance arrangements to react to the environmental challenges the region is facing, overlapping territorial claims combined with recent military presence build-up have raised concerns over whether the Arctic can continue to be a region of intergovernmental and non-governmental cooperation in the foreseeable future.10 The most notable territorial dispute is the overlap of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ), referring to an area prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) over which littoral states have sovereign rights regarding the exploration of maritime resources and certain rights in respect of the preservation of the marine environment. Littoral states can bid to extend their jurisdiction up a to maximum of 350 nautical miles by submitting geological evidence to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) within 10 years of ratifying the Law of the Sea.11 This is the reason for ongoing and potential disputes over the location of some of the maritime boundaries.

Key actors
It goes without saying that the European Arctic states remain primarily responsible for the definition of their environmental policy. However, international cooperation through treaties and agreements is vital for the conservation of the Arctic, proper management and sustainable use of natural resources.12

The European Union is renewing its strategic interest in the Arctic region and has set
out a coherent response to the environmental, economic and social challenges facing the region.13 Building on previous initiatives, the integrated EU policy for the Arctic proposes a set of actions supporting Arctic cooperation, enhancing environmental protection and promoting sustainable development.14 As the Arctic ice is melting, the European Union intends to safeguard the environment, playing a crucial role as a regulator for the climate.15

The Arctic Council is an international institution established in 1996 to address the common threats to the Arctic environment and the impact of pollution on the fragile Arctic ecosystem. Its members are eight states with sovereignty over territory north of the Arctic Circle (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the USA), twelve observer states and two pending observer states, including the EU.16 Several transnational indigenous communities associations have permanent participant status, which includes full consultation in all Council meetings and activities.17 The Council’s 2013 acceptance of six observer applications, including those from emerging countries such as China and India, reflects acknowledgement that many activities that challenge the Arctic ecosystem occur outside of the region, under full or partial jurisdiction of non-Arctic states. Over the past decades the structure of the Council has grown firmer and its activities have expanded.

Key questions
1. What stance should the European Union take towards the exploration and exploitation of fossil fuels reserves in the Arctic?
2. Given the fragile environment of the Arctic, how can the European Union ensure economic prosperity without harming the surrounding nature?
3. Is there a need for a comprehensive and integrated Arctic regime comparable in scope and content to the Antarctic Treaty System that addresses issues of governance in the south polar

1. 2016 Headlines, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/ReportCard/Report-Card-2016//5022//271/Surface-Air-Temperature
2. J. Cowling, Arctic oil exploration: Potential riches and problems, BBC News, August 31, 2011, http://www.bbc.com/news/business-14728856
3. J. Mouawad, Arctic may hold as much as a fifth of undiscovered oil and gas reserves, The New York Times, July 24, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/24/business/worldbusiness/24ihtarctic.4.14767779.html
4. C.Nunez, What happens when oil spills in the Arctic, National Geographic, April 24, 2014, https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2014/04/140423-national-research-council-on-oil-spills-in-arctic/
5. Arctic environment: European Perspectives, European Environmental Agency, 2004, https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/environmental_issue_report_2004_38/download
6. S. Petrick, Climate change, future Arctic Sea ice, and the competitiveness of European Arctic offshore oil and gas production on world markets, Ambio, October 24, 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5673873/
7. M. Robards, Exxon Valdez: What lessons have learned from the 1989 oil disaster?, The Guardian, March 24, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2014/mar/24/exxon-valdez-oil-spilldisaster-arctic
8. J. K. Patel, H. Fountain, As the ice vanishes, new shipping routes open, The New York Times, May 3, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/05/03/science/earth/arctic-shipping.html
9. A. Hartsig, I. Fredrickson, C. Yeung, S. Senner, Arctic Bottleneck: Protecting The Bering Strait Region From Increased Vessel Traffic, Ocean & Coastal Law Journal, University of Maine, 2012, https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1036&context=oclj
10. O.R. Young, Arctic Tipping Points: Governance in Turbulent Times, Ambio, January 22, 2012, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3357821/
11. E. Roston, B. Migliozzi, The Political Arctic: How a Melting Arctic Changes Everything, Bloomberg, May 16, 2017, https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2017-arctic/the-political-arctic/
12. O. R. Young (2011) – Effectiveness of international environmental regimes,  http://www.pnas.org/content/108/50/19853
13. N. Wegge, The EU and the Arctic: European foreign policy in making, Pan Arctic Forum, 2012, http://panarcticforum.org/pdforum/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/The-EU-and-the-Arctic.pdf
14. An integrated EU policy for the Arctic, European Commission, December 8, 2016, https://ec.europa.eu/environment/efe/themes/climate-action/integrated-eu-policy-arctic_en
15. Climate Change and the Arctic Environment, European External Action Service, February 20, 2017, https://eeas.europa.eu/arctic-policy/eu-arctic-policy/20955/climate-change-and-arctic-environment_en
16. S. Reardon, China gains observer status on the Arctic Council, New Scientist, May 16, 2013, https:// www.newscientist.com/article/dn23553-china-gains-observer-status-on-the-arctic-council
17. E. Gant, History of the Arctic Council Permanent Participants, Arctic Council, July 10, 2012, http://www.arctic-council.org/index.php/en/acap-home/313-chairmanship-and-contacts