Steffen Weber, Cécile Pelaudeix, and Iulian Romanyshyn: EU's New Arctic Communication: Towards Understanding of a Greater Role
China and Arctic Affairs
2012 has witnessed increasing Chinese involvement in Arctic affairs. In April, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Iceland and Sweden, and signed an agreement on collaborative Arctic scientific investigation with Iceland. In July, China launched its fifth Arctic scientific investigation and its research ice-breaker Xuelong took the Northern Sea Route as its transit route for the first time. Reasonably, questions concerning China's intention and interests in Arctic affairs are widely speculated.
For China, Arctic affairs can be divided into those of a regional nature and those of global implications. It has been China's position that the former should be properly resolved through negotiation between countries of the region. China respects the sovereignty and sovereign rights of Arctic countries, and hopes that they can collaborate with each other and peacefully resolve their disputes over territory and sovereignty.
In contrast, China maintains that global Arctic affairs need to be handled through global governance and multi-party participation, because such trans-continental issues as climate change, ice melting, environmental pollution and ecological crisis all pose serious challenges to humankind as a whole and cannot be solved by any single country or region. Instead, solving them requires that all nations work together to provide the necessary public goods that Arctic governance entails. Certainly, countries of the region bear more responsibilities in Arctic affairs, yet non-Arctic countries also have their interests and responsibilities to assume. As an important international body leading the governance of Arctic issues, the Arctic Council should provide an inclusive and open platform that can bring in all the positive forces to facilitate good governance for the Arctic and for the planet. Such is the rationale behind China's bid for permanent observer status in the Arctic Council.
Indeed, China has no direct interest and does not seek to gain its influence in the Arctic region. Peace-keeping, environmental protection and technologic advancement in the region are compatible with the interests of all nations, including China. As a signatory of the Svalbard Treaty and the UNCLOS, China enjoys the legitimate rights that are prescribed by the treaty and the convention. Therefore, China's scientific activities that are carried out according to international law should be viewed as an indispensible part of the world's undertaking to explore answers and solutions to the region's environmental problems.
The most pressing issue of Arctic governance is to strike a balance between exploiting natural resources and protecting natural and social ecology. When the possibility increases in exploiting natural resources and commercial shipping along the Arctic sea routes, it will undoubtedly have some impact on China's economy, especially on its foreign investment, trade, shipping and energy supply. As a big economy that heavily relies on trade and foreign energy supplies, China has to estimate the possible changes and their consequences and make preparations accordingly.
Generally, China should abide by three principles when it gets involved in Arctic affairs and protects its interests: act according to the relevant international law; follow the trend of globalization; and maximize bilateral interests between China and the Arctic countries. It is China's belief that cooperation with the Arctic countries not only provides more opportunity for China to make contributions to the region, but also demonstrates China's resolution as a protector of the environment and strong supporter of Arctic governance.
Yang Jian is Vice President of Shanghai Institutes for International Studies
EU's New Arctic Communication: Towards Understanding of a Greater Role
Steffen Weber, Cécile Pelaudeix, and Iulian Romanyshyn
On 26 June 2012 the European Commission and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy issued a long-awaited Communication on the EU and the Arctic region, initially due in June 2011. The joint Communication represents a follow-up to the first Commission Communication published in 2008 and responds to the 2009 Council Conclusions on Arctic issues, and the 2011 European Parliament resolution on a Sustainable EU policy for the High North. The new Communication comes at an important point in time. Since 2008 all Arctic states adopted or upgraded their respective Arctic strategies. Simultaneously, the Arctic Council will face in May 2013 a decision on granting the EU and a number of other interested states an observer status.
Continuity or Change?
Using the terminology of the 2008 Communication, current joint Communication shall signify a "second layer" of an Arctic policy for the EU, given that the other EU institutions have already expressed their positions. The joint Communication presents an elaborated synthesis of EU's contribution to the Arctic since 2008 varying from funding research, fighting climate change, supporting economic and cultural development of indigenous peoples, shipping, and maritime safety. With regard to the ends of the policy, EU's objectives towards the region remain unchanged in relation to 2008 Communication. They include addressing the challenges of environmental and climate changes in the Arctic; economic development based on sound environmental impact assessment and sustainable use of resources; constructive engagement and dialogue with Arctic states and indigenous peoples. Noteworthy, the EU proposes to boost funding for the Arctic research, already an important contribution, within the proposed Horizon 2020 research and innovation platform (€80 billion).
As the European External Action Service strengthens its capacity, the EU pushes forward an idea of an effective raw materials diplomacy and enhanced bilateral dialogues with Canada, Norway, Russia, US and Iceland on Arctic matters. Another noticeable change is the prominent place given to Arctic monitoring through space technology, for which a specific document 'Space and the Arctic" is added to the Communication. Having a shared space competence through the Lisbon Treaty, the EU is putting forward the considerable contribution it can make to the monitoring of the region, inter alia maritime safety, through its innovative technology.
Indeed, a major change in the new Communication lies in the recurring reference to the concept of "cooperation" which appears as a key message. The Communication aims at convincing that the EU has a significant - and improvable - understanding of the region, and wants to cooperate in meeting the challenges faced in the region. The High Representative Catherine Ashton pointed out the necessity "to show the world that the EU is serious about its commitment towards the Arctic region", while Maria Damanaki, Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, insisted on the determination "to listen and to learn from those who live and work [in the Arctic]. We are committed to making the European Union's contribution in the Arctic constructive and meaningful".
What Vision for the Arctic?
Although the EU kept its main objectives in the Arctic region largely untouched, the form in which the new document communicates them to the outside world significantly differs. Overall the documents give a very balanced report of EU engagement and interests, but lack some more concrete actions and vision. Given the Arctic states criticism of the EU's assertive rhetoric in the past, the new document follows the tone of the European Parliament resolution and highlights more receptive ideas of knowledge, responsibility and engagement as underlying principles of EU's approach. The reference to enhanced multilateral governance, which proved to be another source of friction, is replaced by a neutral heading of international cooperation. In a recent speech, Maria Damanaki explained that "We want to ensure that what we do in the Arctic aligns with what others are doing". A statement that questions the vision the EU might develop regarding the Arctic region. The joint Communication does too little to help answer the question. First, the specificity of EU objectives does not really emerge from the document. The European Union wants to engage more with Arctic partners to increase its awareness of their concerns and to address "common challenges in a collaborative manner". Second, if the first Arctic Communication comprised a mix between policy objectives and benchmarks with 49 "proposals for action", in the new Communication any indication of benchmarks disappears and it is not clear whether the EU will follow them in the future. No action plan is delivered or mentioned as planned for the next multi-annual financial framework. The document lacks indication on what is the "way forward" and with which actions to reach it. Regarding "Knowledge", the formulation of research priorities is vague, and so is the cooperation with Arctic states on establishing research infrastructure. In terms of "Responsibility", although it is crucial for the EU to ensure access to raw materials and maritime routes, no references are made in the document to the level playing field, reciprocal market access and anti-discriminatory practices as fundamental principles of EU's external relations. Regarding "Engagement", and the support to the region's stability, no reference is made either to any specific objectives, nor any means.
The joint Communication is actually structured as a combination of a progress report, underlining the huge contribution the EU has already made to the region, and of some elements of policy which do not provide a clear vision of the EU for the region. Clearly, the joint Communication stands as another message to the Arctic Council, of which some members still doubt EU's legitimate posturing in the Arctic. Yet, it remains to be seen whether the new Communication proves to be a smart tactical move to win more support for the status as an observer in the Arctic Council or rather highlights what is missing to present a coherent and ambitious EU Arctic strategy.
Steffen Weber is Secretary General of the EU Arctic Forum. Cécile Pelaudeix is is Research Associate at PACTE-IEP Grenoble and a Research Fellow EU Arctic Forum. Iulian Romanyshyn is a Research Fellow EU Arctic Forum.
A Voice from the Arctic
"The North is our home and our destiny." "Our North, Our Heritage." These dictums are published in Canada's Arctic policy documents and conveyed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the media. These statements have to bring comfort to Canada's Arctic people and guarantee their security. Gwich'in, Métis, and Inuvialuit have made their home North above the Arctic Circle for hundreds and thousands of years. Adaptation, progress, and development are not just words for the indigenous Arctic people; it has been their way of life. Canada's Arctic People remain a strong and resilient people.
Canada's Arctic - its three territories, to be specific - has a sparse population and a vast land mass. However, a huge portion of the land in these territories is 'settled' lands. Modern day treaties negotiated between Canada and the Aboriginal people addressed land ownership, management of resources, compensation, and self-government.
However this does not make for a settled mind. Aboriginal people are constantly addressing new issues; intergovernmental concerns such as devolution, economic development, trade and investment, sustainable development and self-sufficiency. Many factors need to be considered: the cost of development, the cost of living, the uncertainty of climate change, impacts of increased resource extraction and increased shipping routes.
The Arctic Council is the international forum where the indigenous people find some comfort in knowing that their concerns will be heard and their research questions investigated and answered. Through their meaningful participation, Arctic states are informed of the living conditions of indigenous peoples, and their participation is welcomed in the activities and research of its working groups and subsidiary bodies.
The indigenous peoples appreciate the support offered by Observers of the Arctic Council and recognize that cooperation and collaboration not only advances their work but their indigenous agenda as well. However, as new applications have been submitted, the Permanent Participants' unwavering message is that prospective Observers clearly demonstrate how their presence will enhance the role and increase the participation of the Permanent Participants in the Arctic Council. The Permanent Participants are very cautious about some applications, as it is not enough to say that Observers will be sensitive to the needs and rights of the indigenous peoples; they also need to show their track record. New Observers have to accept the Arctic Council's governance structure, as this is the only international forum that guarantees that the voice of the Arctic People gets heard.
Bridget Larocque is Executive Director of Gwich'in Council International.
Thinking About the 'New' Arctic Geography
Lawson W. Brigham
A confluence of globalization, climate change, and geopolitics is heralding a new age of Arctic geography. Landscapes and seascapes at the top of the world today are highly dynamic. Most are rapidly changing under the influence of anthropogenic warming, resulting in new perspectives of the Arctic's physical geography that could not have been envisioned only a few decades ago. The extraordinary changes in sea ice coverage are perhaps the most iconic and compelling images of a new and transformed Arctic. New political boundaries are also evolving – witness the 2010 delimitation agreement between Norway and the Russian Federation in the Barents Sea. After four decades of diplomatic efforts, why has a settlement in this shared Arctic space been reached early in the 21st century? There is little doubt this new geographic boundary and strengthened, bi-lateral cooperation are pragmatic political responses to the economic realities at play in the Barents offshore. Furthermore, once remote, Arctic continental shelves (among the broadest on the planet) have seemingly 'overnight' become coveted real estate due to their potential for hydrocarbon wealth and increasing marine accessibility. Developing seabed maps to define the spatial extent of these shelves has become critically important to the national sovereignty of five Arctic Ocean coastal states (who hold the potential for extended seabed claims), as well to a host of investors, insurers, hydrocarbon explorers and offshore developers...many poised to become influential stakeholders in a future Arctic.
I am sure it is confounding to many that something coined UNCLOS – very familiar to all of us who work on ocean affairs, but arcane and obscure to most global citizens – essentially casts a comprehensive 'legal net' over the maritime Arctic and by itself, alters and shapes the political geography of the region. However, UNCLOS serves a useful geographic function as it reaffirms to a global audience the inescapable fact that most of the place we call 'the Arctic' is indeed an ocean. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, is the critical, international (legal) framework from which new maps – and future hydrographic and navigation charts – will emerge. All the current scientific mapping of the central Arctic Ocean will in the future delineate the extended continental shelves (and sea beds) under coastal state jurisdiction around the basin.
During the research conducted for the Arctic Council's Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (2005-2009), or AMSA, we found compelling and key economic connections of the Arctic to the rest of the globe. The development of the Arctic's natural resource wealth was found to be a primary driver of the need for safe and efficient marine transportation systems. With the world's largest zinc and nickel mines located in the Arctic, an emerging high grade iron ore mine to be located on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic, and hydrocarbon exploration and development already underway in offshore Russia, Norway, Greenland, and Alaska, we could visualize a new economic geography for the entire circumpolar North. These new economic linkages also influenced the Arctic's political geography as evidenced by Greenland's emergence as a possible future independent state. We also discussed in AMSA other wildcards such as the plausibility of future transport of freshwater out of the Arctic to global users, as well as the changing patterns for fishing vessels that might evolve with transformations of the Arctic's rich marine ecosystems. All of these economic possibilities are most certainly influenced by the changing accessibility of the maritime Arctic with the retreat of Arctic sea ice and the emergence of potential summer trade routes.
There is, perhaps surprisingly, an emerging aspect of human geography associated with indigenous Arctic marine use. Why is this new? Because comprehensive mapping of year-round indigenous marine use is essential for the application of multiple use management and mitigation strategies. I submit that none of these worthy efforts and approaches to marine management (for example, marine spatial planning) will have utility or meet with any chance of success without full knowledge of the spatial and seasonal ocean uses of Arctic indigenous people. Also critical to any future decision-making will be the geographic perspectives provided by the thousands of images of the Arctic natural environment accessed each day by polar orbiting satellites with ever more powerful sensors. Similar snapshot images are also available today for the location of all ships underway in the Arctic – products of satellite and land-based receivers of information provided by shipboard automatic information systems (AIS) that are required by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). These comprehensive geographic or operational 'pictures' of Arctic marine traffic are fundamental to the effective monitoring and potential enforcement of future commercial shipping in the region.
Profound changes are underway in the physical, human, economic and political geography of the Arctic. I suspect many of us would be comfortable expressing that a serious geographic revolution has emerged at the top of the planet. One of the great challenges for the wider Arctic community is to use this wealth of geographic knowledge wisely to better communicate with the global community. In my judgment we will have to be more precise in our language, even with basic Arctic geography, and especially when linking with the global media where some misperceptions about the Arctic arise. We must frame our discourse using a more informed understanding of the vast and complex changes in Arctic geography that we are experiencing. These are certainly potential key roles for bodies such as the Arctic Council and the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC), as well as a continuing mandate for the academic community.
Lawson W. Brigham is Distinguished Professor of Geography & Arctic Policy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a Senior Fellow at the Institute of the North.
Designed & hosted by Arctic Portal