The ability to see the Arctic Ocean from one's window should not be the criteria for deciding its future.
Today (March 29), foreign ministers of the five nations bordering the Arctic Ocean (Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States) are meeting behind closed doors in Quebec. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the exploitation of resources, (primarily fossil fuel and fisheries) which have become increasingly accessible with the melting of the Arctic sea ice. This body has no official status, has invited no independent observers and has not included any of the indigenous groups or civil society who depend on the Arctic Ocean or work on its unique issues. Maybe next year they'll meet to divvy up the moon?
It was bound to happen. Until very recently these waters were protected by thick shelves of sea ice. Over the past decade however, climate change has caused warming of such a scale that the sea ice has begun to melt. The natural resources that lie beneath are now open to industrial exploitation on a scale previously unimaginable. There is a whole lot of quick money to be made with oil and gas exploration and industrial fishing.
There is also a great amount of damage that will result if these waters are polluted or otherwise destroyed.
The survival of the communities living in the Arctic Ocean region depends on steady supplies of food and sea ice, both of which are already threatened by climate change (the Arctic and Antarctic are warming faster than the rest of the globe and are under increased stress) and would certainly suffer from increased industrial fishing or oil and gas exploration. Opened to quick, unsustainable exploitation, the largely unmapped and vulnerable marine ecosystem currently shielded by the sea ice could disappear all too fast.
Exploring for more fossil fuels will only worsen the situation. (It is a terrible irony that the very climate-changing fossil fuels that have already placed the Arctic Ocean region in jeopardy are one of the major topics of this closed-door meeting. Once again, leaders are putting short-term profit for the few ahead of the health and safety of the planet.)
Under international law, no country owns the North Pole or the Arctic Ocean surrounding it. While the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) grants the five countries meeting today an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles adjacent to their coasts, it also calls for states who share semi-enclosed ocean bodies, like the Arctic Ocean, to cooperate to ensure sufficient environmental protection.
The Arctic Ocean plays a critical role in maintaining life on Earth by regulating climate and weather cycles. What happens in the waters up there affects every person living on Earth. The Arctic is also culturally significant to many, many people around the world as an icon of nature. Its snow covered lands and icy waters are some of the purest examples of true wilderness left on this planet. The Arctic has been home to indigenous peoples for millennia. It is our responsibility as citizens who care about our planet to ensure its future and its astounding array of wildlife.
Greenpeace believes that the ability to see the arctic from one's window is not enough of a criteria for deciding its future. There needs to be a transparent, comprehensive and precautionary governance system for the Arctic Ocean, along the lines of what has been established for Antarctica. All further meetings to decide the fate of the Arctic should be held under the aegis of the Arctic Council, the United Nations or other global and transparent bodies; not by five foreign ministers meeting behind closed doors.
In the meantime, a moratorium on all industrial activities in the part of the Arctic Ocean that has historically been covered by sea ice is necessary to avoid destruction of the unknown environmental resources. (This moratorium would not apply to traditional subsistence activities such as fishing or sealing which have minimal impact on the ecosystem). For more information about Greenpeace's ongoing campaign to protect the Arctic, avert the climate crisis and defend our oceans visit www.greenpeace.org/polar-seas.