POLI 369B(3): International Politics of the Arctic (Fall 2016)
For decades, the Arctic was on the front-lines of the Cold War. Today, the region is changing at an unprecedented rate due to climate change, the extraction of natural resources, and the efforts of coastal states to secure offshore jurisdictional claims. This upper-year undergraduate course canvasses a range of political and legal issues, from the disputes over Hans Island and the boundary in the Beaufort Sea, to shipping in the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route, to the assertion of sovereign rights over areas of seabed more than 200 nautical miles from shore, to the protection of high seas fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean. The environmental, security and geopolitical dimensions of a rapidly opening Arctic will also be considered, along with the role of indigenous peoples and the Arctic Council.
Scientists object as research ship helps £15,500-a-head tourists see the melting ice caps, writes Tom Whipple
The winter job of the RRS Ernest Shackleton is to support British research in the Antarctic, much of it into the effects of climate change. During the summer her role is less austere but, it has been suggested, morally questionable.
This summer the ship, named after the British explorer who was prepared to eat his huskies, will be supporting a cruise liner whose passengers will have a choice of eight restaurants, afternoon tea, golf tuition and an itinerary possible only because of the climate change the Shackleton is supposed to fight.
A Soviet-era SS-19 intercontinental ballistic missile is set to crash in Canada’s Arctic, with some highly toxic fuel on board.
Michael Byers, National Post, 19 May 2016
The missile, modified to boost a satellite into orbit, will be launched from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia in early June. Minutes later, the first stage of the missile will plummet into the Barents Sea north of Norway. Shortly thereafter, the second stage of the missile will fall into Baffin Bay, just east of Canada’s Ellesmere Island.
That second stage could have hundreds of litres of leftover fuel on board. Rockets used for satellite launches rarely consume all their fuel because they are shut down by onboard computers once the desired speed and altitude are achieved.
The fuel used to power SS-19s is unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (hydrazine). A stable compound used to fuel missiles and power the thrusters used for manoeuvring satellites in space, hydrazine is so toxic that technicians wear pressurized hazmat suits when working with it. On contact with air, hydrazine degrades into another, even more toxic compound: nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA).
Arctic cruises are the latest thing in high-end tourism. Icebergs, polar bears, beluga whales, awe-inspiring vistas and isolated Inuit communities – what’s not to like for the jaded traveller?
Michael Byers, Globe and Mail, 18 April 2016
This summer, thousands of people will sail the Arctic’s increasingly ice-free waters. At the very top end, the world’s most luxurious cruise ship, the Crystal Serenity, will traverse the Northwest Passage from Anchorage to New York City. The 1,070 passengers will pay up to $120,000 (U.S.) for the privilege.
But here’s the thing: Arctic cruises involve greater hazards and environmental impact than just about any other kind of tourism.
Given Putin’s threat, the Obama-Trudeau talks need to address the U.S.-Canada Northwest Passage dispute.
By Scott Borgerson & Michael Byers
Wall Street Journal, March 8, 2016
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives in Washington Wednesday for a state visit with President Obama. Much has been made of Mr. Trudeau’s “movie star” good looks and liberal credentials. But top on the two men’s list of priorities should be a far less attractive subject: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his pivot toward the Arctic.
In addition to Mr. Putin’s military intervention in Syria’s civil war and his 2014 “annexation” of Ukraine’s Crimea region, he sees global warming as a benefit along Russia’s northern frontier and is realigning his country’s strategic priorities toward the Arctic.
Tensions with Russia provide a new reason for the U.S. to resolve the Northwest Passage dispute with Canada. Canada claims the channels between its Arctic islands that connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska are the country’s “internal waters.” The U.S. maintains that the waterway is an “international strait” through which ships and aircraft from all countries have a right of uninterrupted “transit passage.”
With the U.S. becoming more engaged on Arctic issues as a result of its chairmanship of the eight-nation Arctic Council, and the Obama administration’s focus on climate change, this is an opportune time to address what has become a shared vulnerability to naval vessels from Russia and other unfriendly nations passing through the Northwest Passage, or terrorists and smugglers seeking to enter North America from there.
Inuit worry about waning sea ice and rising ship traffic in the Northwest Passage
By Leyland Cecco in Iqaluit, Canada, for Al Jazeera America
December 6, 2015
Flowing deeply between ice and rock, the waters of the high Canadian Arctic have been unforgiving for centuries to those who dreamed of a quicker trade route between Asia and Europe.
Expeditions to find the fabled Northwest Passage usually ended in failure, if not death. Perhaps the most infamous was British explorer John Franklin's fourth attempt, launched in 1845, whose crew was stranded for years and, it’s rumored, succumbed to cannibalism.
“The South has always been fascinated with the North and had a great imagination about it,” says Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, an Inuk poet of Greenlandic and Canadian heritage.
This imagination somehow failed to account for the people who actually lived on the land, ice and water that separated the two continents.
“The middle part was seen as this inconvenient emptiness,” says Williamson Bathory.
While the thick sea ice blanketing the region for much of the year frustrated traders, it long served as a bridge for the Inuit, connecting them to neighboring communities and hunting locations inaccessible during warmer months.
Reducing emissions of short-lived climate pollutants, such as methane and black carbon, alongside carbon dioxide could help reduce the warming of the Arctic by up to 0.25 degrees by 2050, says a new report by the Arctic Council.
Cristine Russell, Scientific American (guest blog), 5 November 2015
Call it a contradiction of glacial proportions—an Arctic paradox.
The world pushes for stronger protective measures to curb climate change scientists say is accelerating the destruction of the Arctic—melting ice sheets, thawing frozen soil and threatening the iconic polar bear. Call it plan A.
There is a contingency plan, however, that takes advantage of new Arctic opportunities—in shipping, mining, drilling and national security—if the big melt continues apace. Call it plan B.
Jeannette Lee Falsey, Alaska Dispatch News, October 23, 2015
The only international forum devoted exclusively to the Arctic met in Anchorage this week to discuss everything from research drones to ocean acidification.
The meeting was the council's first under the current U.S. chairmanship and brought together representatives from eight Arctic nations as well as indigenous communities and observers with interests in the region.
Interior Department cancels two future offshore leases in Chukchi and Beaufort seas and will refuse requests from oil companies to renew existing leases
Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, 16 October 2015
Barack Obama blocked off the prospects for future oil drilling in the Arctic on Friday, imposing new lease conditions that make it practically impossible for companies to hunt for oil in the world’s last great wilderness.
The Department of Interior said it was canceling two future auctions of Arctic offshore oil leases in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, and turned down requests from Shell and other oil companies for more time on their existing leases.
By Sara Jerving, Katie Jennings, Masako Melissa Hirsch and Susanne Rust
Los Angeles Times, 9 October 2015
Back in 1990, as the debate over climate change was heating up, a dissident shareholder petitioned the board of Exxon, one of the world’s largest oil companies, imploring it to develop a plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from its production plants and facilities.
The board’s response: Exxon had studied the science of global warming and concluded it was too murky to warrant action. The company’s “examination of the issue supports the conclusions that the facts today and the projection of future effects are very unclear.”
Yet in the far northern regions of Canada’s Arctic frontier, researchers and engineers at Exxon and Imperial Oil were quietly incorporating climate change projections into the company’s planning and closely studying how to adapt the company’s Arctic operations to a warming planet.