I started this as a comment to the Open Thread, but it got too long. The subject is also worthy of a discussion. The entry could have been more comprehensive, but was prepared during lunch-break – please chime in.
POLITICIANS and scientists may debate why the earth is warming, but the fact remains: the Arctic ice cap, estimates say, has shrunk by nearly half in the last 50 years.
For starters, conflicting territorial claims among the countries that border the Arctic Ocean will rapidly acquire a new urgency. A quarter of the world’s oil and natural gas resources lie in the Arctic, but until recently polar ice rendered many of these deposits inaccessible.
Yet perhaps the most significant consequence of the melt is the rising potential for Arctic navigation. The polar thaw may lead to what would be the most transformational maritime project since the Panama Canal: an Arctic Bridge.
Because the Arctic lacks a comprehensive legal framework akin to the 1961 Antarctic Treaty, which ended territorial claims and established Antarctica as a demilitarized region of international scientific cooperation, the United States should play a leading diplomatic role in adjudicating the growing international contest over the Arctic. It should also negotiate an Arctic security arrangement with Canada. (my emphasis)
The improved accessability to the resources of the Arctic will inevitably lead to increased tensions in the absence of an Arctic Treaty similar to the one for the Antarctic (it’s already started in a small way). Russia, Canada and the US have strategic interests in the region. Smaller nations like Iceland, Denmark and Norway have also traditionally been very active in the area – both in terms of geographical exploration and extraction of resources. Other nations will be attracted, e.g. to the rich fishing resources.
In view of the above, the need for an “Arctic Treaty” is becoming urgent. Googling the term did provide some results, but suggest that there is no current progress. This link (the top result) points to a working draft from 1991.
The WWF is calling for a treaty:
“We need a new Arctic treaty to regulate access to the Arctic,” said Samantha Smith, head of the WWF global conservation group’s Arctic Programme. The chill Alaskan environment has yet to recover from the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill.
Another resource page on the issue is here (page is from 2000).
What can be done to limit further military expansion and non-sustainable exploitation of the Arctic region? Very little appears to be happening in international fora.