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The Arctic, where ice has so far been a barrier, could become an open bridge in the future between widely separated and different nations. Ice melting at sea and on land will open up new trans-Arctic transport routes and give access to new mineral and fishery resources, even while it disrupts traditional habitats. The Arctic is rapidly changing. Arctic sea ice shrank to its lowest-ever recorded level by September 2012, fallen below 4 million square kilometers for the first time ever.

On May 15th 2013. In the far northern Swedish town of Kiruna, foreign ministers of the Arctic Council member countries met, putting an end to the Swedish Chairmanship of the Arctic Council (2011-2013). Sweden was represented by Carl Bildt, minister for foreign affairs, and Lena Ek, minister for the environment. The host, Carl Bildt, welcomed his counterparts, among whom were US Secretary of State John Kerry, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the Canadian Minister for the Arctic Council Leona Aglukkaq and representatives from other Scandinavian countries, and outlined the main achievements of the Swedish Chairmanship, before handing over the gavel to Ms Leona Aglukkaq, thus marking the start of the Canadian Chairmanship over the Council for the next two years.

Carl Bildt strongly underlined the growing importance of the Council, which presented its vision for future cooperation in the Arctic. “In its two years as Chair of the Arctic Council, Sweden has contributed to strengthening cooperation within the Arctic Council.

In his welcoming speech, Carl Bildt pointed out that global warming is happening twice as fast up north in the Arctic region than in the rest of the world. Therefore, he were pleased to witness that Arctic issues and the region had come more and more into global focus.

The Arctic Council served as a negotiating forum for the establishment of the Arctic Oil Pollution Agreement.

The countries that make up the Arctic Council Russia, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, the U.S. and Canada – meeting in the city of Kiruna  sign a treaty on oil-spill preparedness and response, discuss their agenda for the next two years and possibly vote on adding to the roster of permanent observers, which includes Spain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the U.K. and Poland. They were also joined by nations with observer status, including China and the European Union.

Talks are accelerating on binding pollution and safety rules for shipping through Arctic waters, a long-delayed objective that could assuage Canadian concerns as climate change makes the Northwest Passage increasingly attractive to foreign vessels. Canada is currently the chair of the Arctic Council 2013-2015. On March 26, the Energy Security Initiative (ESI) at Brookings hosted a discussion to launch the release of Offshore Oil and Gas Governance in the Arctic: A Leadership Role for the U.S., its Policy Brief on how the U.S. can meet the challenges posed by this activity, especially as it assumes Chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2015.

Even, at the Arctic Council ministerial meeting in Nuuk in May 2011 the U.S. delegation displayed a somewhat renewed commitment to participation in Arctic matters, symbolized with the same high level presence of Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton and Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar. The U.S. delegation also took an active stance in the meeting and promoted increased work in the different Arctic Council working groups. The end result was the historical signing of the Search and Rescue agreement by the eight Arctic Council member states, and further commitments to increase cooperation in the region.

In January 2014, the White House issued an Implementation Plan for the National Strategy for the Arctic Region providing more detail on how to achieve the strategy’s major objectives. The Implementation Plan identifies two related areas to advance U.S. policy in the region regarding hydrocarbon development: promote Arctic oil pollution preparedness, prevention, and response internationally, and work through the Arctic Council to advance U.S. interests in the Arctic Region. With regard to the latter, the plan specifically calls for developing “a robust agenda for the U.S. chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2015.”

A variety of scientific research was presented during the Kiruna meeting with a strong focus on the preservation of biodiversity in the Arctic marine environment. Two main documents have been adopted in Kiruna: a statement on the ‘Vision for the Arctic’ outlining the Arctic states’ and indigenous Permanent Participants’ joint vision for the development of the region, and the Kiruna Declaration, which sets out the work of the Council during the Canadian Chairmanship (2013-2015). The Arctic programme during the Canadian Chairmanship will include the establishment of a Circumpolar Business Forum to provide new opportunities for business to engage with the Council.

Climate change is often said to be one of the greatest and most complex problems facing humankind. The European continent is not immune to the impacts of a changing climate. EU climate policy has rather developed alongside the challenges that require an international response and international agendas on climate negotiations since the 1980s. The Parliament was the first of the EU institutions to call explicitly for common policy measures to combat climate change.

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea UNCLOS is the most critical legal mechanism, serving as a binding international convention governing the use of the world’s seas. It is not specific to hydrocarbons or other natural resources, but provides a broad framework and principles for governing oil and gas activities. In particular, it emphasizes pollution prevention, control, and response, the harmonization of standards, and cooperation on issues related to regulation and liability.

There are a number of bilateral projects and legal instruments throughout the Arctic region that address offshore oil and gas governance, especially pertaining to oil spill response. The Arctic Council was instrumental in establishing the Arctic Oil Pollution Agreement. It should be noted, however, that this is a legally binding agreement independent of the Arctic Council; all member states used the Council as a negotiating forum in drafting and negotiating it, but it is not issued or enforced by the Council. The Agreement’s objective is “to strengthen cooperation, coordination and mutual assistance among the Parties on oil pollution preparedness and response in the Arctic in order to protect the marine environment from pollution by oil.”

Political commitment and leadership are generally considered very important for the establishment and development of policy integration. The European Union, on account of its geography and policy linkages with the Arctic, possesses an overriding interest in participating in the international debate on the region. The European Union (EU) has a significant impact on the socio-economic, security of supply and environmental protection aspects of the Arctic region.

Because while Arctic Council governments and state-owned companies will be involved in Arctic development, it’s going to be private companies that are going to be developing and thinking about oil and gas in the Arctic, and there is significant commercial interest and growing activity in the region. In this context possible oil pollution might cause severe damage to our environment.

The main effects of climate change on the Arctic include the widespread melting of glaciers and sea ice and rising permafrost temperatures. This poses increasing challenges to Arctic wildlife and communities, which are potentially faced with increased flooding, compromised infrastructure, ecosystem changes and invasive species.

There may also be economic benefits from reduced sea ice and higher air and water temperatures, including increased opportunities for fisheries, tourism, shipping, and hydrocarbon exploitation. Many of these benefits are highly dependent on infrastructure development. Scientific understanding of environmental concerns in sensitive environments in deep Gulf waters, along the region’s coastal habitats, and in areas proposed for more drilling, such as the Arctic, is inadequate. The same is true of the human and natural impacts of oil spills.”

Three Member States – Denmark (/Greenland), Finland and Sweden – have territories in the Arctic. Two other Arctic states – Iceland and Norway– are members of the European Economic Area. At the same time, the Arctic ocean. The countries that make up the Arctic CouncilEU is a relative newcomer to Arctic policy – and it may appear to have limited options for influencing non-EU Arctic policy.

Although Greenland left the EU by a popular vote in 1985, it is also still connected to the EU through the Danish membership and thus classified as one of the EU’s Overseas Countries and Territories (OCT). Iceland and Norway are also part of the European Economic Area (EEA), granting access to European markets and modes of cooperation.

In the context of rapidly growing interest in the Arctic, a wide range of actors, from non-Arctic states to NGOs, have been forced to re-think their own relations to this remote region.

The European Union has also started a process of legitimising itself as an Arctic actor and laying the groundwork for its own Arctic policy.

Internal cohesion concerning the Arctic is a critical challenge for the EU, which also faces external pressures in its relations with the Arctic littoral states. Revealingly, the EU counts three Arctic Council states amongst its members, but has gone through a difficult process of obtaining the status as an observer to the Arctic Council. After rejection in 2009 and deferral in 2011, it was finally accepted in May 2013, albeit with final approval pending on its ability to resolve conflicts with Canada, particularly concerning its import ban on seal products.

After the Lisbon Treaty was implemented in 2009, the EU aimed to gain international prominence through the newly established European External Action Service (EEAS), led by a High Representative for Foreign Affairs (Duke, 2008). For Sweden, Denmark and Finland, the Arctic represents an area of both domestic and foreign policy, but the EU tends to emphasise more strongly on the foreign policy aspects in its Arctic communications, whilst also using domestic policies to legitimise its Arctic engagement.

Understanding the EU as a foreign policy actor is therefore crucial when discussing the reasons for its policy development. The EU depends on open, safe and secure seas and oceans. We have strategic maritime interests around the globe and we need to be able to safeguard adequately and efficiently these interests. By strengthening our capabilities, sufficiently responding to maritime risks and threats as well as enhancing cooperation with our international partners.

EU foreign policy is made when member state preferences align and they find a shared interest for common action. In addition to geography, multiple policy linkages exist where the EU or some of its member states have a vested interest in Arctic development.

These help drive the EU’s aspirations of an Arctic policy and provide additional legitimacy for its Arctic engagement. Second, fish stocks and access to Arctic fishing for the EU fisheries fleet are of similar importance, with the union conducting bilateral fishery quota negotiations annually for access to Arctic coastal territories belonging to Norway, Iceland and Greenland. Decisions made in Brussels concerning the EU’s common fisheries policy, market regulations and its bilateral fishing agreements with Arctic countries therefore act as a strong link to the Arctic region.

EU participation in Arctic decision-making can occur through many policy pathways, including stronger EU environmental laws, EU Foreign affairs Council increasing its cooperation through multilateral agreements and international leadership. Most recently, as underscored by Foreign affairs Council meeting Brussels, 12 May 2014―The Council adopted conclusions on developing a European Union Policy towards the Arctic Region. The Council welcomes the Joint Communication of the Commission and the High Representative of June 2012 on Developing a European Union Policy towards the Arctic Region, which sets out the path for the EU’s increased engagement in the Arctic.

The Council also takes note of the important considerations of the European Parliament in its resolution of 12 March 2014 on the EU strategy for the Arctic.

The Arctic is a region of growing strategic importance and the Council agrees that the EU should now further enhance its contribution to Arctic cooperation. Rapid climate change, a major concern and cause of fundamental changes in the Arctic, combined with increased prospects for economic development in the Arctic region call for the EU to engage actively with Arctic partners to assist in addressing the challenge of sustainable development in a prudent and responsible manner. The Council confirms its support for the further development of the work in the European Arctic, in particular as regards environmental activities as well as the development of the transport connections in the region, including new maritime routes. The Council values the practical work of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council in this regard.

The Foreign Affairs Council notes the resource policy developments in the Arctic states including in the Barents Region. The EU should pursue long-term partnerships and policy dialogues contributing to securing access to, and promoting safe and sustainable management of raw materials and renewable natural resources.

Recalling the Conclusions of 8 December 2009, the EU Foreign Affairs Council welcomes the significant range of activities the EU is already undertaking in the region across the EU policy spectrum, in particular a valuable contribution to Arctic cooperation through research and cooperation with partners in the fields of environment, transport, energy, and maritime safety.

The Council also stresses the important role played by EU Member States in the Arctic Council as members and observers in promoting cooperation in the Arctic in accordance with their respective status. The Council recognises the efforts of the Arctic states to develop joint approaches and best practice to address the potential environmental impact and safety concerns related to increasing activities in the region. In this context, the collaboration of the EU and its agencies with Arctic Council bodies in addressing common Arctic challenges should be strengthened.

The Council supports the view that the EU action should now be strengthened by: supporting research and channelling knowledge to address the challenges of environmental and climate changes in the Arctic; acting with responsibility to contribute to ensuring economic development in the Arctic based on sustainable use of resources and environmental expertise; intensifying the EU’s constructive engagement with Arctic States, and other partners to find common solutions to challenges that require an international response.

Understanding why the EU has commenced the establishment of an EU Arctic policy must therefore take into account the internal institutional aspirations of the European Commission and the established European External Action Service (EEAS). The Council recognises the Arctic Council as the primary body for circumpolar regional cooperation.

The Council re-affirms its agreement to and its strong support for the observer status of the EU in the Arctic Council, and notes that the EU is committed to work actively as an observer of the Arctic Council and contribute to its activities.

The Council urges Canada to use the current positive momentum in EU-Canada relations to help resolve the remaining issue so as to allow for the full implementation of the Kiruna decision regarding the EU’s observer status as soon as possible before the next EU/Canada summit. The Council agrees that this would facilitate an even more effective EU contribution to Arctic cooperation.

Scientific Cooperation goal is “to work towards an arrangement on improved scientific research cooperation among the eight Arctic States.” Cochaired by Russia, Sweden, and the U.S., recommendations will be presented to the Ministerial Meeting in 2015. While the Arctic region has experienced warming and cooling cycles over millennia, the current warming trend is unlike anything previously recorded. The Arctic may become an important source of oil and gas in the future, containing an estimated 6.7% of the world‘s proven oil reserves and 26% of proven natural gas reserves.

Under international law, no country owns the North Pole, and the five nations with Arctic coastlines — Russia, the U.S., Canada, Norway and Denmark are limited to their 200-nautical-mile economic zones. According to Arctic yearbook 2011-2012, Iceland is the only country located entirely within the Arctic region, and its prosperity relies heavily on the sustainable utilization of the regions´natural resources. Early 21st century Iceland is a small island nation and Nordic country with a unigue geopolitical location in the North Atlantic.

Iceland has since then redefined its geopolitical position in the High North and become very active in Northern issues supporting both Arctic cooperation in many fields and global cooperation on Arctic issues. China and Iceland have signed a free trade agreement, boosting Beijing’s presence in an Arctic region that world powers are looking at for new shipping routes, minerals and oil. New passages linking Asia to America and Europe will be as revolutionary as was the 1869 opening of the Suez Canal, which boosted European trade with Asia by connecting the Mediterranean to the Red Sea and shortening the journey for cargo vessels, according to President Olafur R. Grimsson of Iceland in the Bloomberg sources.

New infrastructure developments such as pipelines, roads, harbour facilities and other transport infrastructure for the exploration of the Arctic‘s large reserves of oil, gas and other minerals, are causing land fragmentation, threatening biodiversity, and heightening the risk of polluting land and water ecosystems. Oil contamination and large oil spills create clean-up challenges and can threaten Arctic livelihoods. The EU‘s increasing reliance on fossil fuel imports to meet energy needs, particularly from Russia and Norway, as well as its expanding renewable energy and energy efficiency policies are major drivers of its Arctic impacts.

The Arctic could also become an arena for more traditional power politics. Geopolitical thinkers such as Halford Mackinder, Alfred Thayer Mahan, and Nicholas Spykman long debated the relative merits of land and sea power. Thus, EU should remain partial solution to the problem and be presented as the complete answer or even a suitable one of Arctic Council. The Council supports the view that the EU action should now be strengthened to have important role on the Arctic issue of sustainability Arctic policy with a far lesser impact on the environment.