Yesterday March 29, prior to welcoming the G8 foreign ministers for a meeting on global security, Lawrence Cannon, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs hosted a summit of five Arctic coastal countries (Canada, Russia, the U.S., Norway and Denmark). The talks addressed continental shelf delineation, resource development, national security, shipping routes and environmental protection.
Technically, the Arctic is the area within the Arctic Circle, but we can also think of the Arctic as the area north of the treeline, where there is only tundra and the Arctic Ocean, or the area where the average temperature for the warmest month is below 10°C (50°F).
In the last several years, Canada, the U.S., Denmark, Norway and Russia have all made competing claims to the Arctic. Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, countries bordering the Arctic can assert ownership of natural resources up to 200 miles off their coasts.
The renewed interest in the Arctic is due to global warming which is causing the ice cover to disappear for several months a year (in 2007, for the first time in modern history the North-West Passage was free of ice). The warming of the Arctic will open up a new Atlantic-Pacific shipping channel and access to up to 90 billion barrels of oil and other resources.
New transport routes will further increase tensions in the far north as well as imperil the fragile Arctic ecosystem.
Many are concerned that the environment is not getting the attention it deserves at these talks. In the Arctic, the majority of biological activity is limited to a very short window of time. As a result, any interference, such as shipping activities, can have a huge impact on the natural ecological and biological patterns of the Arctic.
The Arctic meeting was also criticized for excluding aboriginal people and other Arctic nations (Sweden, Finland and Iceland), pompting Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to say,”significant international discussions on Arctic issues should include those who have legitimate interests in the region.”
In Monday’s Press conference Cannon responding to these criticisms, repeatedly mentioned ”cooperation and collaboration,” adding, ”protecting the environment is a priority.”