The Washington Times on October 10, 2013, reported on a meeting of the Arctic Council Assembly seeking to avoid a polar free-for-all in one of the planet’s last untapped economic frontiers, representatives from more than three dozen nations will gather in Reykjavik, Iceland, to try to set some rules for tapping the natural resources and navigating new shipping lanes opening in the Arctic.
Reflecting the intense interest in the frozen north’s economic potential, the inaugural gathering of the Arctic Council Assembly has attracted delegates not only from the United States, Canada, Russia and other border nations, but from countries as far as way as China, Brazil and Pakistan.
Alice Rogoff, publisher of the Alaska Dispatch and a member of the new assembly’s advisory panel, said she expects the Arctic to become an economic powerhouse in the coming years, comparing its potential to China’s economic growth since 1980.
The Arctic is “going from very little, virtually nothing in terms of the world’s large capital flows, to what will become the dominant region of the Earth within 50 years,” she said.
Globalization, economic development, energy exploration, environment protection and international security are the driving forces of the assembly and could be the source of fierce policy disputes in the next several years. Some smaller powers say they don’t want to get trampled in the rush as the major powers stake their claims.
“The U.S. could be more engaged and could be more involved,” Mr. Grimsson of Iceland said. “The Arctic is America’s backyard. It is one of the most resource-rich areas in the world. If America wants to continue to be a big economy in the 21st century, American companies and the American economy need to have a strong Arctic” plan.
Organizers say that more than 900 people from 40 countries will take part in the talks, which run from Friday through Sunday. Among the Americans scheduled to take part are Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican; and Brookings Institution President Strobe Talbott…
The United States, Russia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Finland and Sweden — the eight countries through which the Arctic Circle passes — have staked claims on the territory, which has become more accessible in the past seven years as global temperatures have risen and long-frozen sea lanes have thawed.
In 2012, the Arctic lost more sea ice than had ever been recorded. Since 1980, the Arctic has lost approximately 40 percent of its sea ice cover, according to NASA glaciologist Walt Meier.
One upshot from the receding ice is the opening of the Northeast Passage, a shipping lane connecting South Korea to northwest Russia. With up to four ice-reduced months during summer, shipping companies hope more cargo that once had to navigate the Suez Canal can be shipped along this route.
Ship transit through the Bering Strait, the gateway from the North Pacific Ocean to the Arctic, more than doubled from 2008 to 2012, according to the National Geographic.
Ms. Rogoff noted that the new route going over the North Pole reduces the average Europe-to-Asia shipping times by 45 percent.
Polar scientists believe 20 percent to 25 percent of the undiscovered oil and natural gas in the world is in the Arctic region. In addition to the oil, natural gas and rare minerals, the Arctic holds rich fishing regions and potential new clean-energy sources.