- Front Page
- Municipal Affairs
- Bon Voyage
September 27, 2010
By Peter C. Glover
MOSCOW, Russia, Sept. 27, 2010/ Troy Media/ – Exploitation of the Arctic’s rich mineral resources can be done “in cooperation” with “disputes being resolved peacefully” and showing “concern for the environment.” This was the chief message Vladimir Putin wanted to deliver in person to The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue conference held in Moscow last week.
With Canadian and other representatives of the Arctic Council in attendance, it was a welcome message of glasnost reiterated by Russian participants throughout the two-day forum – which the sponsoring Russian Geographic Society is set to make an annual event.
There was even a message from the Russian president in the makeup of the 300-plus invited delegates. Apart from representative news organizations, including Troy Media, most attendees were “explorers and scientists” to whom, as Putin made clear when announcing the conference earlier this year, all matters Arctic “should be left.”
With Russian icebreakers already staking claims, however, the new forum amounted to a statement-of-intent, with Putin’s Russia now de facto “chair” on global Arctic policy. But then facts are facts – and although the UN Law of the Sea Department has yet to confirm it — at least 60 per cent of the Arctic is Russian territory.
Climate data and energy riches
Day one of the conference concentrated on climate issues and mineral, particularly hydrocarbon resources. However, a major theme running through both of the two days was the urgent need for better, more consistent scientific data in respect of climate issues.
Alexander Bedritsky, adviser to Putin on climate change, stated that “the Arctic is central to our global understanding” of climate, but revealed “global warming produced uneven temperature ranges” in the region. It was Olav Orheim, senior advisor at the Research Council of Norway, who got to the root cause for the lack of clarity in better understanding Arctic climate issues, lamenting the lack of cogent and reliable scientific data. The lament quickly became a refrain.
Vladimir Kattsov, president of the Voeikov Main Geological Observatory in St. Petersburg, said that while the Arctic was “more vulnerable to climate change” than other regions, the Arctic ice was “shrinking less significantly,” and it was “not clear what causes speedy melting.” Echoing the earlier call, Kattsov, too, reiterated the need for much better eco-data to be able to assess prospective “quantification of climate impacts.” All of this would thus, said Kattsov, enable us to “know when and what we should do” in response. In other words, we currently don’t know what to do because the data aren’t up to scratch. If this latest convocation of experts was expected to bring climate clarity, in a year when the IPCC has been accused of relying on unreliable climate data and the UK’s University of East Anglia mysteriously “lost” most of its data, it didn’t.
Alexander Bedritsky told the conference that Moscow State University would shortly be launching the Lomonosov new space satellite system that would greatly help to gather much more reliable Arctic ice data. In his closing remarks the vital importance of reliable climate data was picked up by Putin. “In dealing with climate change, we must be realistic and base our efforts on the recommendation of experts.” “Not,” he warned, “on press speculations, but on objective data in scientific research.”
What lies beneath
The conference was informed that the latest surveys suggested that the Arctic holds up to 13 per cent of the world’s untapped oil reserves and as much as 30 per cent of its untapped gas, 84 per cent of it in offshore waters.
Leopold Lobkovsky, vice president of the Shirshov Institute of Oceanology, informed us that as much as “100 billion tons of oil equivalent” may be exploitable in the Arctic region. “That’s comparable,” he said, “with the oil and gas reserves of the Gulf.” Once again, however, “cooperation” and “a lot of investment” were both key to their extraction. This, Lobkovsky noted, was equally subject to those with Arctic borders completing their mapping data and resolving ongoing territorial disputes.
On that point, Professor Michael Byers, of the University of British Columbia’s Department of Political Science, told the conference that Canada was in fact already “with the program” in pursing “dialogue” with the United States and others to resolve its current Arctic disputes. And again taking up the theme of access and cooperation through better scientific data, Byers called for “the sharing of the science now.”
Canada has until 2013 to submit its mapping data and Arctic claims to the UN. The U.S. has no deadline for its seabed mapping data and claims, as it has yet to sign the UN’s Law of the Sea charter.
Troy Media asked Stephen Bigras, executive director, Canadian Polar Commission, after he co-chaired one of the conference sessions, how he saw Canada’s role in this new development. “The Arctic Council deals with the eight Arctic bordering states,” he told me, “while this new forum will provide for a wider audience of stakeholders and noncontract partners in the polar science to play their part.” He added, “It will also greatly help us to expand investment in important research infrastructure.” Bigras said with enthusiasm that “Canada is playing a major role in all this, not least through the provision of the world-class Cambridge Bay Arctic research facility, which will play a significant role from 2017.”
What came through from this conference loud and clear – as Putin intended – was twofold. Firstly, to make the Territory of Dialogue an annual ‘jaw-jaw’ event that represents a genuine Russian commitment to Arctic co-operation. Secondly, that Russia, as the ‘self-appointed’ chair of Arctic policy, prefers the role of the Arctic’s international broker to one of a new Cold War protagonist.
The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue conference was hosted by the Russian Geographical Society at the Moscow State University in Moscow on Sept. 22 and 23.