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Arctic Council meet in Nuuk: The lowdown on what is and isn’t being discussed

Today, Foreign Ministers from Norway, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Russia, Greenland, Denmark and the U.S. met for the Arctic Council’s ministerial meeting in Nuuk

Greenland to discuss the future of the Arctic. In the absence of a Foreign Minister (Lawrence Canon was not re-elected) Harper appointed Leona Aglukkaq, MP from Nunavut (Health Minister before the recent election) to represent Canada.

The meeting, which has drawn international media attention, is seen as one of the most important in the history of the Arctic Council. It is being framed as critical in outlining next steps for the ‘development’ of the Arctic, including oil, gas and mineral exploration and exploitation.

This is why the Council of Canadians has been working with Canadian and international partners in the lead up to this meeting to demand a moratorium on offshore drilling in the Arctic.

No Small Irony: Melting Ice Increases Opportunities for Arctic Offshore Drilling

Too few Canadians recognize that we are already moving towards offshore drilling in the Beaufort Sea.  Well known corporations including BP and Chevron are investing millions exploring for resources – drilling could begin as early as 2014. The National Energy Board is currently engaged in an Arctic offshore drilling review. The scope of the review is too narrow, focusing on the technicalities of how to make offshore drilling safe, not fully considering whether drilling is safe at all faced with a climate crisis and the Board is heavily slated towards the interests of Big Oil (for more information).

Offshore drilling is beginning off the shores of Greenland and a spill could threaten Nunavut and Labrador, BP is hoping to develop off the coast of Russia, Shell wants to drill off the coast of Alaska and lets not forget that Norway is also in the queue to exploit these reserves.

Council of Canadians: Leave it in the Ground!

On Monday a joint open letter was sent to the Foreign Ministers of Canada, Norway, U.S., Denmark, Russia and Greenland signed by 18 organizations from these countries demonstrating international unity in opposing Arctic offshore drilling.

You can a copy of the open letter noting all signing organizations here.

We also partnered with the Indigenous Environmental Network yesterday to simulate an Arctic Oil Spill outside of the Department of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa.  You can read our press release here and watch news coverage from the Ottawa Citizen and the Aboriginal People’s Television Network along with pictures of the action on our website. A photo of the action was also included in a number of Postmedia papers and in Nunatsiaq News.

The Lowdown on what is and isn’t be Discussed:

The official agenda of the Arctic Council Ministerial meeting is available here. Here are a couple of items we’re following related to the substance of the meeting, future of the Arctic Council and behind the scenes dynamics.

Wikileaks Reveal Race to Exploit the Arctic

Perhaps the more interesting stories to emerge (thanks yet again to wikileaks) confirm the behind the scenes wrangling happening over Arctic resources. As reported in the Aboriginal People’s Television Network, cables confirm Harper has advised against NATO involvement in the region, ““He commented that there is no likelihood of Arctic states going to war, but that some non-Arctic members favoured a NATO role in the Arctic because it would afford them influence in an area where ‘they don’t belong,’” the cable said.”  This likely refers to the interests of the EU and China in accessing increasingly accessible transportation routes and resources.The obtained documents also reveal that U.S diplomats believe Canada is more bark than bite when it comes to Northern Sovereignty.

According to BBC, the cables released in the lead up to the Nuuk meeting also,”..claim the Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller joked with the Americans saying “if you stay out, then the rest of us will have more to carve up in the Arctic”.

Also, as reported by the BBC, “They [cables released by wikileaks] also report comments by the Russian Ambassador Dmitriy Rogozin to Nato saying “the 21st Century will see a fight for resources and Russia should not be defeated in this fight”. The US embassy cables also expose US concerns about Canada’s territorial claims to the North West passage and to “seabed resources that extend to the edge of the continental shelf” (BBC: Wikileaks cables show race to carve up Arctic)

Offshore Drilling Remains Contentious Issue

One of the items on the official agenda is the signing of the Nuuk Declaration.  This Declaration outlines principles for ‘sustainable development’ as brought forward by the Inuit Circumpolar Council. You can read the declaration here.

As reported by Nunatsiaq Online “the ICC says Inuit “welcome the opportunity to work in full partnership with resource developers, governments and local communities in the sustainable development of resources of Inuit Nunaat.” But the ICC also says the development of oil and gas and mineral resources in Inuit lands must be sustainable.”

Offshore drilling remains contentious. As reported by the CBC, “Jimmy Stotts, president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council in Alaska, said he doesn’t think Arctic oil and gas development is sustainable at this time.”We’re not convinced, at least in Alaska, that it’s sustainable so far, despite statements that are made by government or industry or others,” Stotts told reporters.”We’re still waiting for somebody to prove to us that they can clean up an oil spill in the Arctic Ocean.” Shell’s proposal to drill off the coast of Alaska has been strongly opposed by a broad network of Indigenous communities, eNGOs and community organizations. CBC also reports that concerns are being expressed over offshore plans off the coast of Greenland and potential impacts on whales. In Canada, a written submission to the National Energy Board from the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation calls for a pause until Inuvialuit can be assured of the prevention of a blowout, timely stoppage and containment of a blow out.

New Research: Arctic Ice Melt Progressing Quicker than Predicted

Meanwhile, climate change is progressing more rapidly than predicted in the Arctic. New research from the Oslo-based Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) finds climate change in the Arctic could raise world sea levels up to 1.6 meters by 2100.

As reported by Reuters, “ Such a rise — above most past scientific estimates — would add to threats to coasts from Bangladesh to Florida, low-lying Pacific islands and cities from London to Shanghai. It would also, for instance, raise costs of building tsunami barriers in Japan.”

The Conservation Council of New Brunswick issued a media release today about how this new prediction stands to impact New Brunswick, “The consequences for communities along our eastern coast of a 160 cm rise in sea level are grave,” says Raphael Shay, Climate and Energy Coordinator at CCNB Action.  “Government must place a top priority on drafting a new climate action plan to continue on the successes of the current plan, which ends next year,” he said.

The media release also reports, “In 2006, Environment Canada published the most comprehensive Canadian study into the impacts of sea-level rise on southeastern New Brunswick. It found a 100 centimetre sea-level rise, which was the previous worst case scenario, would flood $118 million worth of properties in Shediac Bay alone. This includes 653 residential properties as well as several commercial, institutional, recreational properties and farms. The same study found that investing in early adaptation strategies in Kent County could increase employment by 8-18% compared to significant job losses of 25-30% that would occur in the tourism sector if no action is taken to guard against sea-level rise.”

Arctic Council under Fire:

There remain ongoing criticisms of representation within the Arctic Council.  As reported by the CBC, groups like the Inuit Circumpolar Council and the Arctic Athabaskan Council want more say. Both are of six permanent participant Arctic indigenous groups which means they can take part in forum meetings, raise their views but not vote. “”We don’t have a right to vote. That right is reserved to the states,” Stotts told CBC News from Nuuk, Greenland, where high-level officials from the eight Arctic Council nations will meet on Thursday. “We would argue that we should have more decision-making authority.”” (CBC: Indigenous Groups want more say at Arctic Council)