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Protected Sea Area Arctic – a proposal on how to make the Arctic a legally protected area

Global warming is melting the arctic polar ice cap at an alarming rate. At the same a race is on for the natural resources, such as gas and oil, which previously have been inaccessible because of the ice. The more oil and gas consumed, the faster the arctic polar ice cap will melt. 

The five arctic coastal States: Russia, USA, Canada, Norway and Denmark (through Greenland) have the sovereign right to extract natural resources from their respective continental shelf. Where a coastal State intends to establish, in accordance with article 76 of United Nation Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the outer limits of its continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles, it shall submit particulars of such limits with supporting scientific and technical data as soon as possible but in any case within 10 years of the entry into force of UNCLOS for that State (Annex II, article 4).

Hence, there is intense struggle between the arctic states who each attempts to prove that their continental shelf is extends towards the arctic as far as possible. There are several reasons why the Artic should be protected: to stop global warming, prevent pollution from vessels and accidents, and to protect endangered species. An example of what could happen is the oil tanker Exxon Valdez which in 1989 hit Prince William Sound’s Bligh Reef, Alaska. It spilled 11 million gallons (42 megalitres) of crude oil. This has been recorded as one of the largest spills in history and largest ecological disasters. The cold environment of the Arctic is very sensible to pollution.

In their pursuit over rights to extract natural resources and new trade routes the Arctic states have a vested interest that the arctic polar ice cap continues to melt. This is a dangerous logic which we should attempt to break.

It is possible to protect the arctic polar ice cap with some legal innovation and political courage. As a consequence of public pressure Antarctica already has the protection that the Arctic needs. The parties of the Antarctica Treaty adopted in 1991 the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty which prohibits the extraction of natural resources for other purposes than scientific research (article 7). However, there are difficulties with transplanting the legal regime concerning Antarctica to the Arctic. The former is a mass of land surrounded by sea, while the latter is a sea surrounded by land. Hence, legal innovation is required. For example, it may be possible to adapt the concept of PSSA (Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas) for this purpose.

Already, a Swedish parliamentarian, Birgitta Ohlsson has tabled such a proposal through a written submission to the Swedish Government. In his answer, Carl Bildt, the Swedish Foreign Minister stated that Sweden within the EU framework is pursuing greater protection of biodiversity, including the establishment of protected areas in the sea. With the Swedish presidency of the Arctic council 2011-2013 in mind, his aspiration is that the maritime environment of the Arctic will have a stronger protection.              

Please join in your support for this modest proposal to protect the Arctic.

2 Comments

  1. zee zee 25 November 2008

    is there anway we can get involved in this?

  2. Mark Klamberg Mark Klamberg 27 November 2008

    Zee,
    I am lobbying the politicians I know.

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