Denmark, Greenland, Norway, Russia, Canada and the USA met in the so-called “Arctic Ocean Conference” – taking place in Ilulissat/Greenland between 27-29 May – in order to discuss how to “improve co-operation on the administration of the Arctic seas, where the environment is fragile”.
The conference must be seen as a first step to reduce tensions over the extension of the relevant countries sovereignty to the arctic waters that are believed to hold wast natural resources. The conference agreed upon the Ilussiat Declaration which basically (only) confirms that the States “remain committed to the [extensive international legal framework applicable to the Arctic Ocean] and to the orderly settlement of any possible overlapping claims”. The States underlined that the “law of the sea provides for important rights and obligations concerning the delineation of the outer limits of the continental shelf, the protection of the marine environment, including ice-covered areas, freedom of navigation, marine scientific research, and other uses of the sea”. What is meant by “law of the sea” are inter alia the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It surely remains to be seen if this initiative really does put an end to the “race for the North Pole”. I would guess that it doesn’t. Instead, it is likely that a broader approach will be necessary also involving the United Nations in order to provide a separate legal framework with regard to the resources that may be found in the Arctic. Not at least since the Law of the Sea convention is not (yet) ratified by all States involved.
What surely is encouraging though, although there were no direct actions decided with regard to this, is the acknowledgment of the environmental changes that affect the Arctic.