Arctic: Keep it In My Backyard (KIMBY)

16 May 2013

The Arctic Council is meeting this week in Kiruna Sweden an appropriately choice for the venue considering that mans’ impacts on the Arctic climate will be high on the agenda. Kiruna hosts the largest underground iron mine in the world where in response to ground deformations caused by mining, the city will be relocated over the coming years. Later this week at Kiruna the eight Arctic States (Russia, Finland, Denmark for Greenland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, the U.S. and Canada) will sign a ‘Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response’ agreement. The agreement aims to strengthen cooperation, coordination and mutual assistance on pollution preparedness and response in the Arctic in order to protect the marine environment from pollution by oil. Despite this noble promise the agreement does little more than reinforce existing international agreements.

The focus of the agreement is ‘preparedness and response’. When considering the current state of affairs in the Arctic, in the case of a major oil spill, preparedness is impossible: there are no current possibilities of cleaning up an oil spill in an icy environment. Arctic States cannot relocate Arctic ecosystems and the communities that rely on them in ‘response’ to a major accident. Long, dark, cold winter conditions only increase the difficulties and facilitate bioaccumulation of oil. At the Arctic Frontiers Conference in Tromsø this January a representative from the Sami people spoke loud and clear over fear of a major accident. He underlined the lack of clarity in terms of liability in the case of an accident and the related compensation to impacted communities. The new agreement does little to ease his concerns over transboundary pollution. Since 2011 over 37.5 million tons of oil has been transported by Russian ships past Lofoten islands Norway in the Arctic.

The Arctic Council, an exclusive club, aims to show the rest of the world that it is the appropriate body to govern the far north so far it is failing. A demonstration of key leadership would have been setting up preventive measures. Even though oil and gas exploration and exploitation is cooling off on the American Arctic front this summer due to an overall acceptance that oil companies are not prepared, things are heating up on the Barents front. ENI, in cooperation with Rosneft is preparing to carry out seismic surveys for drilling. Norway is looking closely into possibilities to exploit the zone and the Shtokman project appears to be on again. However, Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya platform in the Pechora Sea has delayed production due to safety issues.

The agreement is the third not, as mentioned by the Arctic Council in their press release, the second, legally-binding agreement among Arctic States. The first was the 1973 Polar Bear Agreement which took a beating early this year when the American proposal to list the Arctic mascot under Appendix I of CITES was refused. The second the “Nuuk Agreement” signed under the umbrella of the Arctic Council in 2011 covers Search and Rescue. And lastly, this week, the ‘preparedness and response’ agreement.




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