Friday

25th Sep 2020

Arctic 'no sanctuary' from drilling, says EU

  • The Arctic could be ice-free in the summer by as early as 2030 (Photo: NN - norden.org)

As the Arctic ice melts, Europe would be foolish to regard the region as a sanctuary that must be protected from resource extraction, the European Commission has said. Meanwhile, both Russia and Canada are also issuing increasingly bellicose statements about their claims to the planet's northern regions.

Drilling for oil in the fragile northern environment must go ahead with European financial and political support for the sake of EU energy security, energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs declared on Friday (19 September) at a debate on the subject in Brussels.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"You cannot say [the Arctic] is a sanctuary," said the commissioner "... otherwise, where will will we get our energy from?"

Instead, the commission "should help countries who have this resource under their jurisdiction to develop it in a sustainable way," said Mr Piebalgs, adding that for this, there needed to be "clear environmental rules and impact assessments".

While according to the historical record, there's been ice in the Arctic in the summer for at least 16 million years, scientists believe that between 2040 and 2100 the world will regularly see an ice-free Arctic Ocean during the summer months. Some scientists argue that such an event might occur by 2030.

Speaking at the same debate, organised by the Friends of Europe think-tank, Helge Lund, the CEO of Norway's StatoilHydro, the biggest offshore oil and gas company in the world, agreed, pointing out that declining fields on the Norwegian coast leave Europe with no choice.

"We are making much smaller discoveries than 10 years ago," he said. "The 'big elephants' do not exist any more on the Norwegian coast."

Mr Lund did however say that any such exploration had to have "flawless environmental behaviour," but that work would not be able to be performed without "the appropriate political framework conditions" and financial support.

Putting forward the environmentalist perspective at the debate, Stefan Singer of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), was horrified at thought of drilling when "the Arctic is dying," and called such thinking "perverse."

"The very materials you sell for profit are causing the reasons why increasingly have access [to the Arctic]," he said.

Mr Singer argued that the world was reaching "the end of easily accessible oil and gas resources, so there's a rush to the final frontiers."

His organisation wants to see "no drilling and no commercial exploitation of the Arctic."

Instead, there should be an Arctic treaty like the 1959 Antarctic Treaty that set aside the continent as a scientific preserve without recognition of national claims and banning military activity on that continent.

However, warned Mr Singer: "The treaty protecting the Antarctic is running out, and we will see a rush to exploit the Antarctic too."

The melting ice cap is pushing Arctic issues up the Brussels policy agenda.

Earlier this month, the EU's fisheries and maritime affairs commissioner, Joe Borg told a meeting of the Nordic Council - which brings together Nordic countries, both members and non-members of the 27-country bloc that the receding ice brings "a first time opportunity" to exploit new transport routes and "draw upon the wealth of untapped natural resources in the Arctic."

Military questions

While the commercial side of the debate over the race for the Arctic rages, the military question is never far away.

In Spring, the commission together with the EU's chief diplomat, Javier Solana, published a seven-page paper that mapped out the latest thinking from Brussels on the security implications of climate change.

The document underlined the risks and opportunities presented by the melting Arctic, alongside concerns about increased numbers of migrants, territorial disputes, water shortages in Israel and decreases in crop yields in the broader Middle East, and argued that the EU should boost its civil and military capacities to respond to "serious security risks" resulting from catastrophic climate change.

In August last year, a Russian submarine planted a flag on the Arctic sea floor underneath the North Pole, while on Wednesday (17 September), during a meeting of the country's security council, President Dmitry Medvedev set in motion plans to claim part of the Arctic shelf as national territory.

The move will "turn the Arctic into Russia's resource base of the 21st century," he said at the meeting.

Meanwhile, Conservative Canadian Prime Minister, whose nation also has competing claims on the north, has also pledged to assert Arctic sovereignty while campaigning ahead of the country's 14 October federal election.

"We'll be present with eyes in the sky, ships in the northern passage, and boots on the Tundra," he said this weekend.

Military issue 'overblown'

Also at the Arctic debate was Russia's ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, who told the EUobserver that the race for the Arctic had been very much overblown, not least by the media: "These parties shouldn't find conflict where it doesn't exist."

"I don't think increasing the capacities of the oil and gas industry to explore the Arctic should in any way linked to military questions," he added.

Under international law, each of the five countries with Arctic territory within their jurisdiction - Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russian and the United States - own a 320-kilometre region that extends north from their respective shorelines.

The agreement is to be reviewed under UN auspices in May 2009.

Opinion

Adriatic Sea faces environmental threat

Croatia should have performed an environmental impact risk assessment before it allowed seismic exploration in the Adriatic Sea.

EU countries stuck on rule of law-budget link

Divisions among EU governments remain between those who want to suspend EU funds if rule of law is not respected, and those who want to narrow down conditionality.

MEPs warn of 'significant gaps' in budget talks

The budget committee chair said the European Parliament expects tangible improvements to the package in its talks with member states - while the German minister argued that the EU leaders' deal was difficult enough.

Top EU officials urge MEPs give quick budget-deal approval

MEPs criticised the EU deal on the budget and recovery package clinched by leaders after five days of gruelling talks, saying it is not enough "future-oriented", and cuts too deeply into EU policies, including health, innovation, defence and humanitarian aid

EU Parliament gears up for fight on budget deal

European parliament president David Sassoli said certain corrections will have to be made in the budget, citing research and the Erasmus program for students, calling the cuts "unjustified".

News in Brief

  1. Belgium: masks no longer mandatory from October
  2. Report: China built 380 Muslim internment camps
  3. Belgian government formation in final phase
  4. Lukashenko sworn in at secret ceremony
  5. Study: No-deal Brexit more costly than corona for UK
  6. Polish miners in underground protest against energy plan
  7. EU animal farming emits more CO2 than cars
  8. Navalny leaves Berlin hospital after poisoning attempt

EU forecasts deeper recession, amid recovery funds row

The economies of France, Italy and Spain will contract more then 10-percent this year, according to the latest forecast by the EU executive, as it urges member state governments to strike a deal on the budget and recovery package.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  3. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID-19 halts the 72nd Session of the Nordic Council in Iceland
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCivil society a key player in integration
  6. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular

Latest News

  1. EU migration pact to deter asylum
  2. 'Era of EU naivety ends', MEP pledges on foreign meddling
  3. Anti-mask protesters pose challenge for EU authorities
  4. EU 'failed' to safeguard civic freedoms during pandemic
  5. The corruption fuelling the Bulgaria protests
  6. EU countries stuck on rule of law-budget link
  7. EU states struggle to better sync Covid-19 measures
  8. EP groups drop homophobe from Sakharov prize

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  2. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  4. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis
  6. UNESDACircularity works, let’s all give it a chance

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us