The temperature of the Arctic is increasing twice as fast as the rest of planet, which will play a key role in the shaping of future geopolitics, according to a new report.
As the ice melts, more opportunities in shipping, tourism and oil and gas extraction are unlocked, and the world’s largest economies are waiting to cash in on control of the region. The report from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) says that the rapidly-melting Arctic is a “bellweather for how climate change may reshape geopolitics in the post-Cold War era”.
An absence of ice will open up waterways allowing for expanded shipping routes, and allow greater opportunities for extracting fossil fuels, which are believed to lie beneath the Arctic waters. So, ethical implications aside, the question is: who will take control of the area? The International Institute for Strategic Studies has produced a comprehensive map illustrating the intentions of neighbouring regions.
The report from C2ES indicates some areas of debate. In it, the authors say that while countries seem “focused on building a cooperative security environment in the region”, there is also an “apparently contradictory trend toward modernizing their military forces in the Arctic”. This means that if political cooperation fails, most of the Arctic nations have no qualms about sending in troops ready to compete in the Arctic’s formidable environment.
Furthermore, the USA is absent from the Law of Sea treaty – the one document that provides a framework for resolving territorial disputes in the Arctic, as well as detailing the rights of nations in using the world’s oceans. It is unlikely that the States would forfeit a claim on this enormous commercial opportunity because of a detail like this, and therefore conflict is likely to arise in this area, too.
The report also notes that the ability of the eight circumpolar nations to respond to disasters in the Arctic area is extremely limited. Should the emerging Arctic experience an ecological crisis from gas or oil exploration, or a humanitarian crisis from a shipwreck, for example, response capabilities are likely to be highly inadequate. This, according to the report, poses a greater threat than the potential militarisation of the area.
Yet the overall environmental implications can’t be overlooked. The very fact that these controversies are being discussed is because the Arctic’s environment is being destroyed by climate change. Surely adding new, damaging infrastructures to the area will only accelerate its progress to extinction?