Monday, 30 May 2011

Countries ‘carving up the Arctic’, says Wikileaks

Oil companies “rushing to extract the fossil fuels that caused the melting in the first place"- Ben Ayliffe

Seemingly unconcerned with the accelerated rate of ice melt in the sensitive and frigid North- or perhaps because of it- stakeholder nations have planned to ‘carve up the Arctic’, Wikileaks reveals. Secret US embassy cables released by the whistleblower website show that some countries are eyeing Arctic resources- oil, gas, even rubies and aluminium. Oil reserves in the region are estimated to be equivalent to those the North Sea and are a major factor in the Arctic rush. Another factor: sea routes to the East that will be a third shorter than at present as ice melts; moreover, these will avoid the Suez Canal and the piracy swamped Indian Ocean.

One commentator says that the rush to the Arctic is reminiscent of the 19th century and the division of Africa and her resources by the West. Wikileaks says that the Danish Foreign minister Per Stig Moeller joked with the Americans at a conference, saying "if you stay out, then the rest of us will have more to carve up in the Arctic".

The Arctic Council member states - Russia, the United States, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Iceland – meet regularly to discuss their interests in the Arctic. And, although many are shocked at the rush for Arctic oil and the opening up of sea routes that are serviced by ageing Russian icebreakers- and what environmentalists see as a potentially catastrophic Russian plan to locate nuclear power generating reactors on platforms in the region-analysts say that this commercial momentum in the Arctic is by now irreversible.

Inevitably, there are political undertones to the exploitation of resources. Greenland, an autonomous Danish dependent territory with limited self-government, is seen by the US as on "a clear track to independence", according to the leaked cables. The US sees this as "a unique opportunity" for American gas and oil companies to get a foothold; Former US Ambassador to Denmark James P Cain is quoted in the cables saying that he introduced Greenland's government to New York financiers "to help the Greenlanders secure the investments needed for such exploitation".

Wikileaks reveals that, after Russian Artur Chilingarov planted a Russian flag via submarine on the seabed under the North Pole, a senior Russian official told the US that this was a deliberate move by the Kremlin and that Chilingarov was "following orders from the ruling United Russia party". Russian Ambassador Dmitriy Rogozin told NATO, "the 21st Century will see a fight for resources and Russia should not be defeated in this fight". Tension is also reported between other countries, including allies Canada and the US, over these resources. Canadian Premier Stephen Harper reportedly told NATO to keep out of the Arctic; he felt that some European countries without Arctic territories were trying to use NATO to give them "influence in an area 'where they don't belong'".

Environmentalists are expectedly aghast at these ongoing developments. They point to recent reports by Professor Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University and the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), both of which say that the ice melt has accelerated rapidly in recent years. Professor Wadhams says, in fact, that it has ‘gone off a cliff’, the ice having both thinned and shrunk, and that, in summer, "it could easily happen that we'll have an ice free North Pole within a year or two". The IPCC said in Copenhagen recently, after 400 scientists met at a conference, that sea levels will rise by more than 5 feet in this century.

"Instead of seeing the melting of the Arctic ice cap as a spur to action on climate change, oil companies are rushing in to extract the very fossil fuels that caused the melting in the first place," environmentalist Ben Ayliffe told the BBC.

Oil companies seem to be unmindful of the criticism, though, and are aggressively lobbying their governments to give them a slice of the action. British firm Cairn Energy is reportedly at the forefront of the Arctic oil rush. The company's Commercial Director Simon Thomson told the BBC, "We're leading the charge".


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