Monday, March 17, 2008

Arctic melt may trigger conflict over fossil fuels

Economic Times (India): Climate change may provoke conflict between the European Union and Russia as Arctic ice melts, easing access to fossil-fuel deposits and opening new sea routes, the 27-nation bloc’s top two foreign policy officials said. Warming temperatures may pose “serious security risks” including increased immigration, less secure water supplies in some countries and diminishing food and fish stocks, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and External Relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said on Sunday in an 11-page report.

Russia in August planted a flag on the Arctic seabed at the North Pole, staking a claim to billions of dollars of natural resources that are becoming more accessible as the sea ice retreats due to warmer temperatures. That act illustrates “new strategic interests” in the region, the EU politicians wrote.

“A further dimension of competition for energy resources lies in potential conflict over resources in polar regions which will become exploitable as a consequence of global warming,” the report said. “There is an increasing need to address the growing debate over territorial claims and access to new trade routes by different countries which challenge Europe’s ability to effectively secure its trade and resource interests.”

The two politicians recommended that the EU develop an Arctic policy and push for the United Nations to discuss security risks arising from climate change. They also urged countries to strengthen the Law of the Sea, an accord granting countries bordering the Arctic rights to economic zones within 200 miles of their shores.

Russia says an underwater ridge links Siberia to the Arctic seabed, evidence of which may allow the country to extend its territory under international law. The area of the Arctic shelf may hold 10 billion tons of oil equivalent, as well as gold , nickel and diamond deposits, the Russian government says.

The US, Denmark, Canada, Norway and Russia all lay claim to part of the Arctic. The scramble for territory comes as scientists last year reported record amounts of melting sea ice and the opening up of the Northwest Passage, a long-sought trade route across the top of the world

The ice shrank in September to the smallest area on record, covering 22% less of the ocean than the previous low in September 2005, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Boulder, Colorado. Solana and Ferrero-Waldner also pointed to the risk posed to coastal areas, especially in China, India, the Caribbean and Central America, where sea-level rise may hit large cities, port facilities and oil refineries. Europe also must expect “substantially increased migratory pressure” as millions of “environmental refugees” are created in drought- and flood- stricken areas, they said.

“The core challenge is that climate change threatens to overburden states and regions which are already fragile and conflict-prone,” the two officials wrote. “It is important to recognise that the risks are not just of a humanitarian nature; they also include political and security risks that directly affect European interests.

World map with Arctic Circle, CIA Factbook, Wikimedia Commons

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