Arctic Council decision leaves region open for oil and gas drilling

By Ed King

A pledge from Arctic states to “take action” to address the causes of climate change has been dismissed as meaningless by observers.

The eight-nation Arctic Council meeting in Sweden saw governments agree to explore ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enforce tougher oil spill guidelines.

The Council also granted India, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Singapore ‘permanent observer status’, although it was unable to agree over the European Union’s application.

But despite a series of warnings from participating ministers about the effects of global warming and environmental degradation on the region, no new regulations governing oil or gas exploration were agreed.

“The reality is they agreed on nothing that will have a meaningful impact,” said Ruth Davis, who was attending the meeting on behalf of Greenpeace UK.

“You could not have a starker example of how so many governments are deeply entangled with the fossil fuel industry. Their relationship with these vested interests is making it impossible for them to safeguard the Arctic.

“It is the perfect example of cognitive dissonance – a theatre of the absurd.”

Around 30% of undiscovered gas deposits and 13% of the world’s oil reserves, and are said to lie in the region (Pic: Flickr/Christine Zenino)

The Arctic Council was created in the 1990s and is comprised of Norway, Russia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and the USA.

Norway, Russia, Canada and the US are major fossil fuel producers, with Canada’s Alberta tar sands production and willingness to grant oil drilling permits within the Arctic circle a major concern for environmental groups.

Decreasing ice levels are opening up the region to a variety of industries. Oil and gas companies believe the Arctic has huge reserves, while Asian countries are interested in using the Northern route as a shorter shipping lane.

Earlier today the Council published a 120-page report from the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Stockholm Environment Institute on the resilience and health of the Arctic.

It reveals that as a result of warming temperatures and other human interventions the region is changing “on multiple fronts”, raising the risk that ecosystems and societies could face “irreversible damage”.

“We want the Arctic Council to note this and engage in a dialogue all about what this change means. These are critical years for climate and for the communities involved,” report co-author Sarah Cornell told RTCC.

“Until recently it was easy to think about it [Arctic] as that cold place up north that people would go to once a lifetime. Now it’s in the spotlight and a lot of the stuff that is happening there is happening because of what we do somewhere else.

“Change that happens in the Arctic will have implications for everyone. If we lose summer sea ice that will really change a lot on the planet – it will change the equator – just because of the way the climate system works.”

The report recommends indigenous groups are consulted over changes to the region, which it says are likely to affect their way of life.

Parts of the Alaskan coast are already disintegrating in a process experts have linked to climate change. The Guardian reports the state has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the country over the past 60 years.

Describing the Arctic as a “precious treasure for all of the world” US Secretary of State John Kerry told assembled journalists he was aware of the impact warming temperatures were having on ice levels in the region.

“The warning signals are all there, and I can assure that when our [Arctic Council] chairmanship time comes around we will pick up on [the] concern for indigenous populations and we will build on that with respect to the needs for all of us to do things that recognize the global impact on the ecosystem of what is happening in the Arctic,” he said.

Artic Council Summit 2013 Final Kiruna Declaration w Signature

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