Le Monde; "The Arctic region is threaten because of its richness in oil and gas"

The following article was published in Le Monde 6/11-2006:

The Arctic is doubly exposed to the consequences of global warming. First of all, the region undergoes concrete impacts of the rise of temperature, which is more sensitive at the poles: the melting of the permafrost undermines the foundations of entire villages and compromises their future existence. Furthermore, the temperatures in the region could increase by 3oC to 4oC in fifty years, which means twice the average forecasts.

But, it is especially the prospect of a disappearance of the sea ice during summer, which worries because it would open up to an exploitation of the natural resources we have only seen the beginning of. The Arctic conceals approximately 25% of the world’s oil and gas reserves, which excites the lust for exploitation.

Admittedly, the environment is still relatively preserved in this region, but is should not be forgotten that it undergoes already the pollution emitted by the industrialized world. In particular, it is the accumulation of heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants, which contaminate the animals and us. These regions could be deeply distressed by such a rush towards the Arctic. Their environment must thus be protected hammered several scientists, Tuesday October 31 during a seminar organized in London by the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (Imarest).

The scientist Ola M. Johannessen (Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center/University of Bergen, Norway) remained us of the consequences of the increasing atmospheric CO2. The area of the Arctic sea ice in September has decrease by 15% over the last twenty years or so. The ocean is ice-free for a longer and longer time each summer. And if the CO2 concentration doubled, the sea ice would disappear completely during summer in 2070.

Geostrategic conflicts

Such changes risk moving along “the exploitation of the fossil resources, but also the opening of new sea routes”, warned Jacqueline MacGlade, director the European Environment Agency (EEA), adding that “the fishing industry will also follow the migration of fish towards the north”. “The access to the region will be distressed”, supplemented Lawson Brigham, who represented the Arctic Council, a multilateral organization, gathering the eight coastal States (Denmark, Finland, Sweden, the United States, Canada, Russia, Norway and Iceland). “During the summer of 2005, 150 cruise boats circulated close to the Greenland coastline”.

What will be the environmental impact on the very fragile Arctic, and also on its inhabitants? “This zone is not deserted, 4 million people live here”, remained Dr. MacGlade. For the moment, the maritime and petroleum industry awaits the situation. The technical obstacles are numerous: to navigate in these areas, partly covered with ice and to exploit them requires adapt and expensive equipment, and inured labor. Regular and reliable information on the evolution of the weather or the thickness of the ice are still lacking. Moreover, the geostrategic conflicts are numerous. Until now, international Arctic waters are hardly of interest. Today, the Arctic states lured by these prospects, claim that the UN has to extend their sovereignty, based on the extension of their continental shelf. “The international statute is more protective”, said Ralph Rayner, oceanographer and vice-president of IMAREST. But, he adds: “Once the territorial conflicts between States will be solved, the exploitation of the Arctic could be developed very quickly”.

“Can we let this economic development be held on the basis of bilateral relationship between the private companies and the States, on only commercial bases?” asks Jacqueline MacGlade. According to her, it should at least be made sure that the international conventions of environmental protection will be respected and that the future of the indigenous populations will be taken into account. It is still time to introduce rules, which will make it possible to act correctly in this area, affirms she. But will the concerned States be able to make the necessary restrictions?”