Committee On Thin Ice—The Arctic Council Struggles to Discuss Non-Arctic State Cooperation in the Region

BY ISAAC BYKHOVSKY, Financial Times

Saturday morning started with The Netherlands opening debate by stating that the committee “needs accountability.” The next speaker, Japan, fought accountability and touted responsibility by stating “Non-Arctic states need to ask permission to speak and vote…in such a council.” By the third day of committee, the merits of unity and cooperation had melted away from delegates minds—and the discussion on the responsible use of resources in the Arctic becomes contentious.

Iceland and Sweden both echoed the sentiments of Japan—indicating an unfortunate alliance which seemingly alienates non-Arctic states. Granted, these sentiments may be a bi-product of the resolutions from those non-Arctic states. In an interview, France states “The extraction of resources [from the Arctic] is acceptable, as long as conducted through the merits of sustainable development.” From an economic perspective, the Financial Times agrees with this statement. The opportunity for economic development in the Arctic is the next frontier for innovation—yet the importance of safe resource use must be pivotal for this committee. There have been notable examples for economic downturn due to unsafe natural resource use throughout the world—specifically in Youngstown, OH in the United States.

Figure 1 The delegate from France leads the Protect IPO bloc

When the fracking industry came to this rust belt town, residents of Youngstown were eager to be apart of this growing energy industry. The added employment and economic stability were accepted with open arms by the locals—but soon this boom became literal. Within months of starting this fracking operation, residents of the city noted that their water supplies were catching fire, and there were numerous reports of earthquakes throughout the city. After months on investigation, it was found that natural gas from the fracking process was leaking into the water table, causing gas to penetrate water supplies and shift the ground of the city.

It is clear in The Arctic Council that every state wants to prevent such occurrences in their respective countries, but unfortunately there is no cohesive plan to do so. Central and Western European nations continue to view the Arctic as a prosperous frontier which they hope to utilize and respect, while Nordic states see the Arctic as a nature preserve in their backyard—solely focused on its protection, and not its use.

In the coming hours, the Financial Times will lead a Press conference focused on the economic ramifications of resource extraction from the Arctic.  

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