The European Commission calls for enhanced governance of the Arctic


Publish date: November 25, 2008

BRUSSELS - In a policy document presented by the European Commission on Thursday November 20th, the Commission calls for a fresh look at the governance of the Arctic in the context of its fragile ecosystem, sea transport routes, and the rush for the natural resources it contains.

Environmental changes triggered by the climate change, such as the melting of the ice caps are increasing the geo-strategic importance of the Arctic, which might lead to potential consequences for international stability and Europe’s security, says the Commission.

The communication will now be sent to the EU Council of Ministers and the European Parliament for discussion.
The Arctic region contains some 20 to 25 percent of the world’s untapped oil and gas reserves located in an important and fragile environment.

Europe’s dependency on foreign oil and gas threatens Europe’s energy security, and for that reason EU has been looking to the Arctic as the new source for a secure energy supply.

The Commission insists that when in search and exploitation of oil, Member States should act together to protect and preserve the Arctic, and that Member States should promote sustainable use of the region’s resources.
However, the exploitation of the Arctic’s resources will be slow and costly process “due to harsh conditions and multiple environmental risks,” according to the EC policy document. The Commission calls for exploitation of hydrocarbons in the Arctic to be performed with full respect for environmental standards.

Bellona is against any exploitation of the Arctic’s natural resources.

“This is not about standards” said Bellona adviser Elisabeth Sæther. “It is about leaving the nature and natural resources in peace.”

Regulatory vacuum in fisheries

The melting of Arctic ice caps will open new attractive areas for fishing. The problem is that for some of the Arctic sea waters there is no international management regime in place, and such a situation might lead to unregulated fisheries.

The Commission proposes that a new regulatory framework for the Arctic high seas be put in place in order to prevent “fisheries developing in a regulatory vacuum,” according to the document.
Lack of governance
The opening of new possibilities for exploitation of the Arctic resources has also attracted the attention of other countries in the region, especially Russia, which has demonstrated a territorial claim by planting the Russian flag on the sea-bed below the North Pole.
In order to avoid disputes over territorial governance, which might trigger international political instability, the Commission proposes that the EU should push for enhanced Arctic multilateral governance based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“Lack of effective instruments, absence of an overall policy-setting process, gaps in participation and implementation, and geographic scope,” are the main problems of Arctic governance said the EC document.  According to the Commission the EU should work to uphold further development of cooperative governing of the Arctic region.

By opening the possibility of accepting further amendments to the already existing framework on the Arctic, the Commission is leaving the door open for adapting the UNCLOS agreement to the new situation in the Arctic caused by climate change. The “new situation” refers to the opening of new territories in the Arctic region, whose governance has not been regulated.
The EU will also look into requesting an observer’s seat on the Arctic Council. The EU does not border on the Arctic seas, as Greenland left the EU after gaining self-rule in 1979. Yet it still remains under Danish sovereignty, but with much greater autonomy, after the success of a November 25th referendum.
For the Commission this communication is “the first layer of an Arctic policy for the European Union.”

This report was written by Boris Manev and Edwige Jamotte.

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