When I first read about the Arctic Council, it took some serious Googling to determine that it was in fact a real organization. I was surprised to find that it is indeed not a figment of a science fiction writer’s or Internet prankster’s imagination, but rather a council that will, in the coming years, have a wide scope of influence in determining international trade and travel routes.
The Ottawa Declaration founded the Arctic Council in 1996. It is an intergovernmental forum comprised of the United States, Canada, Norway, Russia, Denmark (technically Greenland, which is a fief of Denmark), Sweden, Finland, and Iceland—all nations that have land on the northern pole of the Earth. This council was designed to promote discourse, cooperation, and coordination between the Arctic nations and indigenous populations inhabiting the regions.
With the onset of global warming and a need to locate more natural resources, the Arctic Council has become increasingly influential on the international political scene—the arguments of the past between nations on the Council have included those of maritime borders, the status of the North Pole, and the treatment of indigent peoples.
The polar ice caps are part of what keeps our planet cool; the reflective nature of ice causes sunlight to be directed away from earth; the dark oceans of the Arctic absorb sunlight, which speeds the warming of the planet. In the last century, Arctic waters have risen in temperature by 3.5 degrees, the most rapid rate of warming on the planet. According to some scientists, the Arctic Ocean will remain perennially ice-free by 2030. This brings tears to the eyes of environmentalists (and, frankly, realists afraid of impending global catastrophe, as well). But these statistics belie the political benefits of the warming of the Arctic. The Arctic regions boast vast stores of unexplored oil and natural gas repositories—making it an incredibly desirable investment. Already, nations around the world are clamoring to gain Arctic Council observer status—with somewhat lukewarm responses from the Arctic nations.
So, what are the direct effects of global warming opening up the Arctic Circle? For now, nations that are members of the Arctic Council stand to gain a lot economically, and with regard to trading partners. But other nations hope to be reaping the economic and social benefits, as well. Potential investors (those clamoring for observer status in the big boy’s club of the Arctic Circle) include the EU, China, Japan will all have economic stakes in maintaining the trade routes that cut through the Arctic. The ship time from Asia to Europe will be halved.
Now, this aspect of the melting down of the polar ice caps is positive. Trade perks, like shorter shipping times, are terrific for economies party to the trade routes. However, as I discussed last week, we need to analyze more closely the negative aspects of this—instead of accepting the melting as a reality, couldn’t we look at more effective ways of stopping it?
This post reflects the author’s personal opinions, not the opinions of Arizona Model United Nations.