Sunday, May 19, 2013

Uncertainty About Canada’s Arctic Vision – Analysis - BEFORE YOU GO UNDERSTAND THE PLAYERS, ISSUES & POLITICS

By R. Nastranis
While scientists and environmentalists watch the Arctic as a bellwether of global climate change, and nations and corporations seek to exploit its oil, gas and mineral reserves as well as new shipping routes, rapid and even abrupt changes occurring on multiple fronts across the polar region are threatening to cause irreversible impact on ecosystems and societies, according to experts.
“The Arctic is changing so fast and in so many interacting ways that it affects the very fabric of ecosystems and societies,” says Annika E. Nilsson, a senior research fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and scientific coordinator of the first phase of the Arctic Resilience Report (ARR). “We have to be prepared for surprises, and we need to increase the capacity to adapt and to grapple with conflicting priorities.”
Launched in 2011 as a priority of the two-year Swedish chairmanship of the Arctic Council, the ARR is collaboration between experts in the Nordic countries, Russia, Canada, and the U.S. representing a range of knowledge traditions, including indigenous perspectives.
The Arctic Council comprises Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States. Six international organisations representing the polar region’s Indigenous Peoples have permanent participant status.
A 120-page report released on May 1 at the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Kiruna, Sweden, lays out the ARR’s initial findings and includes a preliminary assessment of critical thresholds in the Arctic, an analysis of societies’ adaptive capacity, and four pilot case studies. The ARR final report will be released in May 2015.
The Kiruna meeting marked the end of the Swedish chairmanship and the beginning of the Canadian chairmanship May 2013-May 2015.
“In its two years as Chair of the Arctic Council, Sweden has contributed to strengthening cooperation within the Arctic Council. At this meeting, we have adopted a vision statement for the future of the Arctic shared by the Arctic states and the Indigenous Peoples. This sends an important signal to the rest of the world,” said the Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt after the meeting.
The ‘Vision for the Arctic’ – described as a forward-looking statement – outlines the Arctic states’ and indigenous Permanent Participants’ joint vision for the development of the region. “Canada is honoured to assume the Chairmanship of the Council,” said Minister Leona Aglukkaq. “The theme for Canada’s Chairmanship is Development for the People of the North,” she added.
During the Canadian Chairmanship, the Arctic Council program will include the establishment of a Circumpolar Business Forum to provide new opportunities for business to engage with the Council; continued work on oil pollution prevention; and action to address short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon and methane.
Canada’s Arctic encompasses approximately 40 percent of the nation’s total land mass and has about 85,000 residents. This broadly defined region has two-thirds of Canada’s marine coastline and a sea which extends from Alaska to the Strait of Belle Isle.
Arctic Council States also signed a new, legally-binding Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic which aims at substantially improving procedures for combating oil spills in the Arctic.
A number of important reports were presented to the Ministers at the meeting:
  • The Arctic Biodiversity Assessment produced by the Arctic Council’s Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna group (CAFF) presents the status and trends in Arctic biodiversity based on best available science informed by traditional ecological knowledge, and includes policy recommendations for Arctic biodiversity conservation.
  • The Arctic Ocean Review coordinated by the Arctic Council’s working group on Protection of the Marine Environment (PAME) analyses the global and regional instruments and measures that govern the Arctic marine environment, and provides policy recommendations for Arctic states to strengthen the conservation and sustainable use of the Arctic marine environment.
  • The Arctic Ocean Acidification assessment produced by the Arctic Council’s Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) working group is the first major scientific study of the impacts that acidification of the Arctic Ocean may have on Arctic marine ecosystems, and the northern communities and indigenous peoples who depend on them.


Commenting change in the Arctic Council leadership, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) experts Kristofer Bergh, Linda Jakobson and Ekaterina Klimenko said: “For the second time since its inception in 1996, the Arctic Council will now be chaired by Canada, a country which by geography and national identity perceives itself as an Arctic superpower. Canada’s stated priorities are to develop the Arctic region economically and improve the livelihoods of Arctic communities.”
“However, some Arctic stakeholders have raised concerns that much of the environmental agenda might get lost in the process and that the coming two years will see a Council preoccupied with a Canadian, rather than a circumpolar agenda,” SIPRI experts said.
As Matthew Willis a Research Associate at RUSI (Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies) points out: “Most strikingly, Iceland’s president, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, chose the 15th of April – exactly one month before . . . (the) summit . . . – to announce the establishment of a new forum, the Arctic Circle, whose vision appears diametrically opposed to the Canadian one.”
“Canada has strong economic and political interests in the Arctic,” SIPRI experts say. “One of those interests became obvious during the Kiruna meeting when the European Union’s bid for permanent observer status was stalled because of the EU’s ban on seal skin products, which is not popular with the Canadian indigenous population.
SIPRI experts averred: “The Nordic chairmanships may prove tough acts to follow. Given the transparency and openness that characterized the Swedish chairmanship, together with the Council’s institutional development and acceptance of new observers, the pressure is now on Canada to affirm that the Arctic is headed towards a new stage of multilateral cooperation.”
The Arctic Council’s ministerial meeting in Kiruna also highlighted the global interest in the Arctic region. “The fact that six non-Arctic states – China, India, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Singapore – were granted permanent observer status indicates an opening up of the Council to the world and signifies a breakthrough that rejects ideas of Arctic isolationism,” Brgh, Jakobson and Klimenko said in an expert comment.
In particular, they said, the Council’s deeper engagement will encourage China to pay serious attention to legitimate environmental concerns pertaining to shipping and possible resource exploration in the fragile Arctic environment.
A SIPRI paper explains that China wants to be part of the Arctic order and, as a rising power, emphasizes the global implications of the Arctic’s melting ice. Although several non-Chinese observers have described China’s actions in the Arctic as ‘more assertive’, and the Chinese Government has taken steps to protect what it perceives as its key interests in the region, China’s Arctic policies are still in a nascent stage of formulation, says the policy paper.
According to its authors, Linda Jakobson and Jingchao Peng, the paper represents the first comprehensive mapping of the agencies and individuals involved in the formulation of Arctic policies and an assessment of the motives underlying China’s Arctic activities. The authors show that, while China recognizes that it is an ‘Arctic outsider’ – without sovereign rights in the Arctic – it nevertheless sees numerous economic opportunities opening up in there. It consequently seeks to influence discussions and decisions on how the Arctic should be governed.
According to SIPRI experts, the Nordic states have strengthened the Council. All eight Arctic Council member states have now had an opportunity to sit in the chairman’s seat. Sweden, whose two-year chairmanship of the Council ended May 15, “has not pushed its national interests firmly in the Council, preferring instead to act as an honest broker”.
Over the past six years – in which three Nordic states, Norway, Denmark and Sweden have held the chair position – the Council has been significantly strengthened institutionally. It is clearly taking steps to become an international organization.
The Arctic states have negotiated two legally binding agreements – on search and rescue, and on marine oil pollution preparedness and response. The Council has also established a Secretariat in Tromsø, Norway. This indicates a development from a decision-shaping body to a decision-making institution.
“The Nordic chairmanships may prove tough acts to follow. Given the transparency and openness that characterized the Swedish chairmanship, together with the Council’s institutional development and acceptance of new observers, the pressure is now on Canada to affirm that the Arctic is headed towards a new stage of multilateral cooperation,” SIPRI experts say.

India And China In The Arctic: Breeching The Monopoly

By Vijay Sakhuja
China’s long wait for a ‘permanent observer’ status in the Arctic Council, a top-level intergovernmental regional body, is finally over. At the Eighth Ministerial Meeting in Kiruna in Sweden, the Arctic Council (five Nordic countries, Russia, Canada, and the US) finally agreed to invite China, India, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Italy as permanent observers to the Council.
Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) has been granted tentative observer status pending the resolution of its dispute with Canada over the 2011 European Parliament ban on seal meat and fur, traditionally produced by the indigenous Inuit people of the Arctic. The application of international environmental organisation, Greenpeace, and six other non-governmental organisations, such as energy industry groups, appear to have been rejected.
The Asian countries have welcomed the decision of the Arctic Council even if it is the ‘back row’ where they will ‘sit and listen’. They do not have voting rights in the Council, not entitled to introduce new ideas or raise problems, will be graded ‘on their behaviour’, and are required to adhere to the ‘principles embodied by this organisation’.

Drivers for Chinese Interests

Among the Asian countries, China has been the most proactive and has invested enormous political and diplomatic capital to ensure its inclusion in the prestigious Arctic Council. China’s interest in the Arctic region is driven by a number of factors such as science, resources (living and non-living), routes, and political influence. It is keen to obtain scientific knowledge of the on-going climate induced changes in the Arctic resulting in the melting of polar ice. In 2004, China established its Arctic research facility at Yellow River Station, located on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen. It has also established in Shanghai a Polar Research Institute of China to train its scientists, and dispatched five research expeditions to the Arctic since 1999.
In 2010, China’s icebreaker Xue Long (Snow Dragon) sailed to the Arctic to collect data for the study of atmosphere, sea ice, and melting of the ice. China plans to build another icebreaker and launch three expeditions to the Arctic in 2015.


China is an energy hungry nation; domestic production has already peaked, and it imports nearly 60 per cent of its energy needs to sustain its economic growth. It is quite natural that China looks towards the Arctic, which is known to contain nearly 13 per cent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30 per cent of undiscovered gas. In November 2010, the Sovcomflot Group (SCF) of Russia and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) signed a long-term cooperation agreement to develop seaborne energy solutions, with the SCF fleet serving the Chinese imports of hydrocarbons. The cooperation envisages shipments of oil and gas extracted from Russian Arctic offshore fields.
China is also keen to exploit mineral resources in Greenland, which is known for substantial deposits of rare earths, uranium, iron ore, lead, zinc, gemstones etc. Likewise, there are also opportunities for the Chinese fishing industry to exploit the new ‘fish basket’ in the ice-free waters of the Arctic, given that Chinese trawlers are seen catching Krill as far as 7500 miles into the Antarctic waters.

Northern Sea Route

China is also exploring the Arctic waters for shipping cargo through the Northern Sea Route (NSR). This route offers a saving of nearly 4,000 kilometres from China to Europe, compared to the route that runs through the Mediterranean-Suez Canal-Indian Ocean-Malacca Strait-South China Sea. Interestingly, China is already trading with the Arctic region, and its trade volume increased ten times to US $1.9 billion between 2001 and 2011. Besides, the Chinese shipbuilding industry is geared to build ice-class vessels for both domestic and international markets.

Politico-Diplomatic Initiatives

At the politico-diplomatic level, Iceland has found China a reliable partner. In 2008, China had come to the rescue of Iceland after the latter’s economy was floundering and the banks had collapsed. Ironically, no EU country had come to Reykjavik’s rescue. China had offered economic sops and since then, Iceland looks towards Beijing favourably. In fact, they have agreed on a free trade agreement, the first ever with an EU member country.
Finally, China hopes to be a responsible stakeholder in dynamics pertaining to the Arctic. A Chinese Foreign ministry official has explicitly stated that China, “recognises Arctic states’ sovereignty over the Arctic region, their sovereign and administrative rights as well as their leading role in the council.” It has thus put to rest any misperception of its future ‘assertive role’ in the region after some Chinese articulation in the past had suggested that China should actively pursue the on-going Polar politics, and avoid being ‘forced into a passive position’.
Vijay Sakhuja
Director (Research), Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi

At Arctic Meeting, European Union Left Out in the Cold

The news from Kiruna, Sweden last week was certainly a game changer for the future of the Arctic region.
Secretary of State John Kerry, flanked by Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski, attends a ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council in Kiruna, Sweden, May 15
Secretary of State John Kerry, flanked by Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski, attends a ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council in Kiruna, Sweden, May 15 (State Department)

As the chairmanship of the Arctic Council forum was passed to Canada, China, India, Italy, Japan, Singapore and South Korea were formally accepted into the “cold club” as observer members. A binding oil spill prevention agreement for the Arctic was also signed, highlighting the resources that are said to be found in the area. But the postponing of the accession of the European Union and the entry of China dominated proceedings following the ministerial meetings in the northern Swedish town.
The European Union’s bid to be an observer in the body was previously rejected in 2009 due to a dispute with Canada over its trade in seal products, illegal in Europe. The same issue likely prevented the European Union from entering the Arctic forum this year.
Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, promised that the bloc would “now work expeditiously” with the Canadians “to address the outstanding issue of their concern.” Given that they hold the chairmanship until 2015, however, it is unlikely that the Europeans will make another attempt at getting observer status before then.
It may also be the case that the Arctic states simply want to keep supranational bodies out altogether. Admitting the European Union could leave the door open to other groups, from NATO to the Gulf Cooperation Council, requesting membership which would change the nature of an organization that, at present, is dedicated exclusively to Arctic issues and peoples.
The United States have also voiced their opposition to European Union involvement, even if Denmark, Finland and Sweden are full members. Other European Union member states France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom are already observers. Why introduce the union as a whole into observership of the council?
The situation has gone beyond the European Union trying to get into the Arctic Council for economic purposes or to assist in introducing legislation concerning sustainable development and climate change prevention. It rather seems the European Union is attempting to increase its influence northward in a diplomatic flexing of its muscles. This would be an inappropriate way of intervening in Arctic issues per Canadian minister Leona Aglukkaq’s promise of “developing the North for the people of the North” during her country’s chairmanship.

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