TROMSO, Norway – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is trekking northof the Arctic Circle, a region that could become a newinternational battleground for resources. Clinton's trip Saturday to the northern Norwegian city of Tromso isher second to the area in a year. She is bringing a message ofcooperation to one of the world's last frontiers of unexplored oil,gas and mineral deposits and underscoring the region's risingsignificance as melting icecaps accelerate the opening of newshipping routes, fishing stocks and drilling opportunities. |
To safely exploit the riches, the U.S. and other countries near theNorth Pole are trying to work together to combat harmful climatechange, settle territorial disputes and prevent oil spills. "From a strategic standpoint, the Arctic has an increasinggeopolitical importance as countries vie to protect their rightsand extend their influence," Clinton said Friday in the Norwegiancapital of Oslo. Governments should "agree on what would be, ineffect, the rules of the road in the Arctic, so new developmentsare economically sustainable and environmentally responsible towardfuture generations." At the least, the U.S.
and the other Arctic nations hope to avoid aconfrontational race for resources. Officials say the picture looksmore promising than five years ago when Russia staked its claim tosupremacy in the Arctic and its $9 trillion in estimated oilreserves by planting a titanium flag on the ocean floor. The United States does not recognize the Russian assertion and hasits own claims, along with Denmark, Norway and Canada, whilecompanies from Exxon Mobil Corp. to Royal Dutch Shell PLC want toget in on the action.
China also is keeping a close eye on theregion. Moscow has eased tensions somewhat by promising to press any claimsthrough an agreed United Nations process. But Washington, for itspart, has yet to ratify the global body's 1982 Law of the Seatreaty regulating the ocean's use for military, transportation andmineral extraction purposes. One hundred sixty countries have acceded to the pact and the Obamaadministration is making a new push for Senate approval.
Refusingto sign on means the U.S. could be frozen out of its share of thespoils. Arguing for its ratification at a Senate hearing last week, Clintonsaid the treaty would offer the U.S. oil and gas rights some 600miles into the Arctic.
"American companies are equipped and ready to engage in deep seabedmining," she said. "But the United States can only take advantageof the ... mine sites in areas beyond national jurisdiction as aparty to this treaty." The Arctic's warming is occurring at least twice as fast asanywhere else on earth, threatening to raise sea levels by up to 5feet this century and possibly causing a 25 percent jump in mercuryemissions over the next decade. The changes could threaten polarbears, whales, seals and indigenous communities hunting thoseanimals for food, not to mention islands and low-lying areas muchfarther afield, from Florida to Bangladesh. But the rapidly changing climate is also changing the realm of whatis possible from transportation to tourism, with the summer icemelting away by more than 17,000 square miles each year.
During themost temperate days last year, only a fifth of the Arctic Circlewas ice-covered. Little of the ice has been frozen longer than twoyears, which is harder for icebreakers to cut through. Europeans see new shipping routes to China that, at least in thewarmth and sunlight of summer, are 40 percent faster than travelingthrough the Indian Ocean, the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea.A northwest passage between Greenland and Canada couldsignificantly speed cargo traveling between the Dutch shipping hubof Rotterdam and ports in California. And the eight-nation Arctic Council, which is being established inTromso, is hoping to manage the new opportunities in a responsibleway. Talking to reporters Friday, Clinton urged the governments to"begin working together to make plans for what will most certainlybecome greater ocean travel, greater exploration, therefore greaterpollution, greater impact of human beings." "We will of course claim what is ours under international law," shesaid.
"But we know that leaves a great vast amount of the Arcticthat will be a common responsibility." Last year in Greenland, Clinton and her counterparts from othernations took a small step toward international cooperation byagreeing to coordinate Arctic search-and-rescue missions forstranded sailors and others. Officials are now trying to enhance the cooperation, includingthrough joint plans to prevent oil spills in an environment thatwould make cleanup a logistical nightmare. And the U.S. has also been championing measures such as shiftingaway from dirty diesel engines, agricultural burning andhydrofluorocarbons to lessen the effect of short-lived greenhousegases that are a particularly potent source of climate change inthe Arctic.
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