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25th Feb 2017

MEPs endorse exploitation of Arctic resources

  • The parliament wants the Arctic to be protected, but it also wants it to be exploited for its vast energy resources (Photo: David Lundy)

The European Union must push for an international treaty governing the Arctic if the rapidly melting and delicate region is to be saved, the European Parliament urged in a resolution on Thursday (9 October) that received overwhelming cross-party support.

The European Commission must begin to take a "pro-active" role in the Arctic - until recently a region largely ignored by the EU executive - reads the resolution, which was supported by 597 lawmakers, with 23 against and 41 abstentions.

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MEPs want the commission to win observer status in the Arctic Council - the international body of Arctic-bordering nations - and set up a dedicated "Arctic Desk."

In adopting the resolution, MEPs said they were concerned about the melting ice-cap and permafrost, rising sea levels and how the retreating ice is destroying animal habitats, not least of that of the polar bear.

The chamber wants the commission to open international negotiations that would lead to the adoption of an international treaty for the protection of the Arctic. Currently, the Arctic is not governed by any specific international mechanism, as is the Antarctic under the 1993 Madrid Treaty.

However, in a fudge that allowed both supporters of Arctic preservation and supporters of expanded resource extraction to support the same resolution, the chamber called on the commission to include proposals for joint working procedures for the EU and Arctic countries on both climate change and security of energy supply.

The parliament said it supports the Arctic Council in maintaining the high north as a zone of "low tension," open to international research co-operation, but also to allow the full development of its potential as a future energy supplier region in a "sustainable" manner.

Some 22 percent of the remaining undiscovered and recoverable resources left on the planet are to be found somewhere in the Arctic, including vast gas, oil and minerals, US scientists estimate.

Additionally, while much of the world's fish stocks are in free-fall, those in the high north remain ripe for exploitation, believes the European Commission, which sent fisheries commissioner Joe Borg to the most recent meeting of the Nordic Council of Ministers in Ilulissat, Greenland in September.

Arctic gold rush

At the time, Mr Borg said: "As the ice recedes, we are presented with a first-time opportunity to use transport routes such as the Northern Sea Route.

"This would translate into shorter transportation routes and greater trading possibilities, and will provide a better opportunity to draw upon the wealth of untapped natural resources in the Arctic."

In mid-September, energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs declared: "You cannot say [the Arctic] is a sanctuary ... otherwise, where will we get our energy from?" at a Brussels debate with environmental group WWF.

WWF has called the idea of drilling in the Arctic "perverse," and wants a moratorium on any drilling and commercial exploitation of the region.

The MEPs also said that they are concerned that the ongoing race for Arctic resources could lead to security threats for the EU.

The sentiment echoes a joint EU member state-European-Commission report published in March that called on the EU to boost its civil and military capacities to respond to "serious security risks," resulting from catastrophic climate change.

The threat of an intensified "scramble for resources" in the Arctic "as previously inaccessible regions open up" was singled out for attention.

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