Thursday, August 23, 2007

Something else that came up there...

...was the issue of national rights in the Arctic. For example, the Star mentioned that
Harper drew the president’s attention to comments made last weekend by the former U.S. ambassador to Canada, Paul Cellucci, who said it makes sense to recognize Canadian sovereignty over the Arctic waters.

The president offered little reaction and certainly did not reverse his country’s longstanding official view - that the northern islands belong to Canada but the waters are international territory.
Why this seemingly sudden attention to what might seem to be a rather arcane issue of sovereignty over "the frozen North?" Probably it's due to the fact that it ain't so frozen any more, as the International Herald Tribune described last week:
Arctic sea ice reached its lowest extent on record Friday, and the melting is continuing, the National Snow and Ice Data Center reported.

"Today is a historic day," said Mark Serreze, a senior research scientist at the center. "This is the least sea ice we've ever seen in the satellite record, and we have another month left to go in the melt season this year."

Satellite measurements showed 2.02 million square miles (5.26 million square kilometers) of ice in the Arctic, falling below the Sept. 21, 2005, record minimum of 2.05 million square miles 5.32 million square kilometers), the agency said. ...

The polar regions have long been of concern by climate specialists studying global warming, because those regions are expected to feel the impact of climate change sooner and to a greater extent than other areas.
That impact is not only being felt, it's being lived by the people in the region. The Anchorage Daily News said last week that
[t]he Arctic sea ice in Northwest Alaska is usually within 30 miles of Wainwright in August. Today it's more than 300 miles away, much farther than it's ever been.

Wainwright hunters have usually bagged more than 100 walruses by this time in the season. They've bagged fewer than 20 this year. ...

All over the world experts are talking about global warming. In the village of 600 Inupiat west of Barrow, they're living it. ...

For most of the 1990s, the ice edge in August was 30 miles or less from Wainwright, [Tony Fischbach of the US Geological Survey] said. Sometimes it still is, like last year.

But often now, it's more than 100 miles away, he said. This year it's the farthest away it's ever been.
Some have, of course, tried to pass this off as a natural occurrence, part of a natural cycle, pointing in this case to unusually clear skies in June, which helped to accelerate seasonal melting. However, Serreze insisted while there was some natural variability, "We simply can't explain everything through natural processes. It is very strong evidence that we are starting to see an effect of greenhouse warming." In fact,
the melting is occurring faster than computer climate models have predicted.

Several years ago he would have predicted a complete melt of Arctic sea ice in summer would occur by the year 2070 to 2100, Serreze said. But at the rates now occurring, a complete melt could happen by 2030, he said Friday.

There still will be ice in winter, he said, but it could be gone in summer.
So was it the situation faced by the people of the far north that was the topic of discussion at the summit? The fate of the walruses, threatened because the edge of the ice is over water too deep for them to feed at the bottom like they normally do? Or maybe the polar bears? Or maybe the underlying problem of global warming?

Of course not, silly person, it's the minerals and fossil fuels that are important. Because the more that the polar cap melts, the more accessible they are so the more the rights to them need to be grabbed and fast. New Scientist magazine reported in its August 18 issue (subscription required):
The sabre-rattling continues around the Arctic Circle. In July, Canada said it will spend CAN$3 billion on new ice-breakers to patrol the region. Russia responded this month by apparently planting its flag on the seabed beneath the North Pole. Now Denmark has dispatched researchers to assess whether it can lay claim to the major source of the dispute: the Arctic's untapped oil and gas reserves.

The team set off from Tromsø on 12 August towards the Lomonosov Ridge, a seabed structure that cuts across the pole from Greenland to Russia. No one owns the ridge, but Russia has put in a sovereignty claim to the United Nations. Any country that can show that the ridge is an extension of its own coastal continental shelf can attempt to gain ownership.
Canada, Denmark, and Norway will oppose the Russian move before a UN commission intended to oversee such claims, while at the same time pushing their own. Canada "seems to be going for the military option," New Scientist says, planning a military training center and deepwater port on its furthest-north territory. The Harper government, as I noted at the top, also reasserted its claim to the Northwest Passage, a claim the US resists, saying the land is Canada's but the waters are international.

But the US is in an odd position, NS points out:
It never ratified the UN treaty that covers claims to the continental shelf and so cannot appeal via that route.
As a result, Bush - yes, our very own Georgie-boy - is proposing that the Senate adopt it, that is, ratify a treaty of the United Nations, the hated, fur'ner-dominated, sovereignty-stealing United Nations, so the US can get in on the business of controlling the resources under the Arctic, of getting its cut. Because global warming produces new business opportunities! Woo-hoo! And there are, after all, priorities.

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