Saturday, 18 July 2009

The rights of Arctic peoples - Not a barren country

The rights of Arctic peoples

Not a barren country

Economist - UK
The Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), which brings together Inuit representatives from around the Arctic, declared "sovereignty" over the Arctic's natural ...

"... From New Zealand to Peru, the cause of indigenous people is one that stirs passion and widespread sympathy. A common struggle is either to curb mining or gain a share of the proceeds. In Canada a pressing demand is for consultation about their fate well before the prospectors arrive; in many places (Australia for example) the aboriginal peoples are struggling with social problems from alcoholism to domestic violence, brought by Europeans' arrival and the end of traditional nomadism.

But if the indigenous peoples have a good chance of asserting real economic and political power anywhere, then it is probably the Arctic. The polar peoples are still relatively numerous; few outsiders have been able to adapt to the beautiful but harsh physical environment. And most of the countries where they live happen to be democracies.

The sense of pride in Greenland is palpable. Greenlandic has become the official language. Embassies will soon be replacing consulates in Nuuk. "It's our land, our language, we have to do things ourselves," explains a local woman....


A pair of trump cards

Two factors, however, may boost Inuit bargaining power. One, oddly, is climate change. The receding ice cap in Greenland, and the melting of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, are both threats and opportunities for his region, argues Mr Kleist. On the one hand warmer winters can make life harder for hunters, especially for those who rely on predictable sea ice. More rain and snow fall on Greenland in the winter. In some low-lying parts of the Arctic, the rising sea and storms are forcing whole villages to up sticks. Elsewhere melting permafrost is harming roads and runways. That raises costs for mining companies, seeking gold, rubies, diamonds, zinc, iron and more.

But warmer weather also stokes tourism: watching icebergs, for example, in Ilulissat, the third-largest town, where plans to extend the airport for long-haul flights are under way. The loss of pack ice also makes sea-transport in the Arctic easier for longer periods each year. And fishermen report a rise in some fish stocks.

Thinner sea ice is also making it easier to drill for oil and gas in the region, a second factor which could improve its prospects. Many local leaders worry that a large hydrocarbon industry in otherwise untouched parts of the Arctic threatens a vulnerable ecology—but they can hardly ignore a potential bonanza.

In the short term, many decisions about energy extraction in the polar regions will be made in courts and legislatures much farther south. For example, courts in the continental United States have been hearing disputes between oil firms and environmental groups about drilling in Alaskan waters.

A mixture of green challenges and the uncertain geopolitical outlook (Russia has identified the Arctic as a place where its aspirations may well conflict with those of neighbouring powers) mean that the world's oil and gas companies will have some hard calculations to make before they plunge into the melting waters of the pole. Almost all the sovereign powers in the region are making claims under the United Nations Law of the Sea, which allows countries to claim ownership of economic rights in parts of the seabed that are a physical extension of their own territory. Canada has until 2013 to file its claim—and intends to do so.

No comments:

Post a Comment