Posts tagged “arctic resources”
Resources, Routes, and Boundaries
The Arctic is considered the last frontier in energy exploration and development. The region catches headlines from time to time — an international maritime boundary dispute between Russia and Norway, the 2007 planting of a Russian flag under the North Pole, and lately, the effect of melting sea ice. The latest Intergovernmental Panel (IPCC) report on climate change will expose how the oceans are literally taking the heat, compared to the atmosphere. This bodes ill for the Arctic, as warming oceans melt sea ice. The U.S.’s Arctic policy, articulated earlier this year by President Obama, is to advance national security, pursue responsible Arctic stewardship and strengthen international cooperation.
Arctic States, and members of the Arctic Council, with land masses contiguous to the Arctic Ocean, are Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the U.S. These countries have the right, up to 200 nautical miles, to claim an exclusive economic zone which allows them exclusive jurisdiction over the natural resources, both in the water column and in the seabed. And, these States will be able to claim additional continental shelf jurisdiction beyond 200 miles. The current international legal framework for which these claims are made, resides under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Iceland, Finland and Sweden have land above the Arctic Circle, and are part of the Arctic Council. Recently twelve countries were given observer status, including China, India, the U.K., Germany, and other large EU states.
Western policymakers are becoming increasingly anxious about China’s foothold into Greenland, particularly its desire to produce the semi-autonomous island’s rare earth metals – the materials used in high-end electronics, from smart phones and smart bombs to clean energy technologies, including wind turbines and advanced batteries. But policymakers can rest assured that there is more to China’s foray into Greenland than meets the eye – and not as much cause for concern.
A Thawing Frontier
Greenland’s icy frontier is transforming before our eyes. Climate change is contributing to a hastened retreat of the island’s massive ice sheet and ushering in new opportunities for the 57,000 people living in the northern hinterlands.
The island’s extractive industries are poised to be the biggest winner, as the thawed ice reveals new deposits of raw materials, everything from iron ore to aluminum.
(Read More: Rocking the Boat in the Energy Rich South China Sea)
Rare earths are the big prize. The small town of Narsaq sits near one of the world’s largest deposits of rare earths. According to Greenland Minerals and Energy Ltd, one of the island’s leading mineral development companies, that deposit could contain about 10.3 million metric tons of rare earth metals, equivalent to about 10 percent of the known global reserves (which today total about 110 million metric tons, according to the U.S. Geological Survey).
As I have been researching and writing about Arctic energy development recently, there’s one important – and easy – policy prescription that often comes up: joining the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). As I mentioned in my article, “Energy Development in the Arctic: Threats and Opportunities” the USGS estimates that the Arctic region has 22% of the world’s undiscovered energy resources – and 84% of those resources are expected to occur offshore (so 18.5% of the undiscovered resources are on or under the Arctic seabed).