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Common Goals

Cheryl NortheySeptember 11, 2008

International delegates ended three days of meetings in Greenland on the Arctic region's importance in forecasting global climate change. They called for the harmonizing of international Arctic policies.

Sweeping views of glaciers, icebergs and details of the Greenland ice cap
Experts said the Arctic presents an exceptional environment -- and energy resourcesImage: AP

The conference aimed to increase awareness of how European Union policy affect conditions in the Arctic and around the rest of the world, according to Halldor Asgrimsson, Secretary-General of the Nordic Council of Ministers.

Scientists have said the Arctic climate is warming at twice the rate as the rest of the planet.

Laurent Stefanini, one of the European Union's representatives to the meeting of Nordic countries and nations that border the Arctic Ocean, called climate change is one of the top priorities of the French EU presidency."

"What we clearly need is a shared vision of the issues at stake, of the policies to face them in a region which is particularly sensitive to the impact of man's influence on his environment," said Stefanini, France's ambassador for the environment. "We are all aware that what is happening in the region is a matter which concerns humanity as a whole."

International cooperation needed

Ice in the Arctic
Experts are unsure how much energy could be beneath Arctic iceImage: DW/Irene Quaile
Russia, USA, Canada, Norway and Denmark, through Greenland, are the five coastal Arctic states with territorial and historical ties to the Arctic Ocean. The Arctic Council also includes Finland, Iceland and Sweden.

The nations were hoping to coordinate international Arctic policy, which includes foreign, shipping, environmental and maritime aspects.

The EU needs to develop international policy options for supporting adaptation in the marine Arctic environment as well as addressing major climate issues facing the region, according to Ralph Czarnekci, a senior fellow with the Institute for International and European Environmental Policy.

"Melting ice offers new opportunities for exploring and exploiting natural resources in the Arctic," he said, adding that it "also opens opportunities for increased shipping in the Northwest and Northeast passages."

As the ice melts, more of the sea will be accessible for off-shore drilling and gas exploration in the Arctic seabed, but drilling for natural resources is detrimental to the natural environment, said Martin Sommerkorn, a senior climate change advisor for the WWF's International Arctic Program.

"The oxymoron is that Arctic fossil fuel production is actually contributing to the Arctic being destroyed indirectly by introducing the CO2 that will warm the Arctic," he said.

Rich in resources

An iceberg melts off Ammassalik Island in Eastern Greenland
Several nations have political, economic and environmental concerns in the ArcticImage: AP
There are many fragile areas in the Arctic and Sommerkorn said he supports "no-go zones" in environmentally fragile regions and a moratorium on off-shore oil production and transport in the Arctic.

"There are currently no techniques available that would allow oil spills to be cleaned up in ice effected waters," he said, adding that Arctic politics need to shift from focusing on oil and gas exploration to climate protection.

Presently, natural resources and energy claims of interest are usually dealt with according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The US Geological Survey estimates that the Arctic region could hold 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil reserves and 30 percent of its undiscovered natural gas.

"Given all the pressures that are on the Arctic ecosystems and that will increase in the future with climate change we can only go for an integrated response to alleviate these pressures," Sommerkorn said he approved efforts to coordinate international Arctic policy, but explained that mitigating the impact of global warming should come first.

A report published just before to the conference said the Nordic Council it was "quite clear that the EU needs to take a more pro-active and systematic approach to the Arctic, encompassing all the relevant policy areas."