Last week the EU published a call for an integrated Arctic policy (read it here). With this document the EU joins a long list of countries that have either already formulated such a policy framework (a.o. Norway, Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark, Germany, Sweden, India and Italy) or are in the process of doing so (e.g. the Netherlands, France and Spain).
This blog has featured a number of posts on the Arctic (1,2,3) and spoken about good reasons for policy formulation, such as invasive species, ballast water and oil, and in that respect the policy call of the EU is full of good intentions. Its three priority areas are (page 4):
- Climate Change and Safeguarding the Arctic Environment;
- Sustainable Development in and around the Arctic;
- International Cooperation on Arctic Issues.
These are all noble goals, that are well worth pursuing, but still the cynical economist in me asks: why now? Why do we suddenly see an explosion of policy papers regarding the Arctic, also in countries that do not have a direct stake in this area (e.g. the Netherlands, India, Italy). I cannot seem to get that quote of the Dutch minister for foreign affairs Bert Koenders out of my head when he doubled the money available for Arctic research:
De Nederlandse regering vindt het heel belangrijk dat dit onderzoek wordt voortgezet, ten behoeve van het klimaat, maar ook omdat dit geostrategisch een belangrijke locatie is. Er moet een goede afweging zijn tussen de belangen van scheepvaart, exploratie en de natuur.
This roughly translates as:
The Dutch government thinks it’s important that research is continued for the good of the climate, but also because this is an important geostrategic location. We will have to make a good trade-off analysis between the interests of shipping, exploitation and nature [emphasis mine].
Incidentally, note the order of interests: shipping, exploitation and nature. Of course it is only logical that a country such as the Netherlands takes an interest as soon as shipping is involved, and the geopolitical importance of the Arctic and the North pole has been recently illustrated by the discussion of who owns the North pole. However, all of this makes me suspect that the EU is actually just acting to be part of the rush, while they still can.
When it comes to the pure direct economic values of the Arctic I see two potential sources:
- Natural resources such as oil and fish
- Potential for shipping (not necessarily long transport, but tourism, and transport to local harbours)
It seems that the EU has discovered that, too, because they write in their policy document on sustainable development:
The wider Arctic region is rich in natural resources such as fish,minerals, oil and gas. […] The European part of the Arctic also has significant potential to support growth inthe rest of Europe. However, as the EU does not currently have a complete north-south traffic connection, it could explore the merits of strengthening links to the Arctic through trans-European networks. (p.8-9)
The offered policy response in the document mainly talks about innovation, investment and potential for growth, but hardly about the specific challenges to make that development sustainable, or to grow green. Having just taught a course on Green Growth, I know: “It’s not easy, being green”, but I had hoped for a bit more effort.
Image credit: By Cantwell, George G. – Library University Washington; first published in 1900, “The Klondike, a souvenir”, Rufus Bucks Publisher, Seattle, 1900 (no page numbers). Digitally altered image to remove caption at lower left (see uploaded version for original)., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17281180
Thanks for sharing your perspective on EU’s Arctic Policy. I do not necessarily see though where the “gold rush” lies or what you’ve seen in that recent EU policy document that can characterize it as “non-green”. EU’s stance on Arctic issues is not a new thing: see policy documents of 2008 and 2012 respectively. Although I can see some repetition in those documents and generally in recent discussions on the problems the Arctic is facing, addressing concerns and enhancing cooperative prospects as well as investments in scientific research shouldn’t harm..After all indigenous peoples of the Arctic have been suppressed over the years and are now experiencing numerous challenges; biodiversity up north is at stake due to the retreating icy barriers and the rapid pace of development; pollutants in Arctic ecosystems and so much more! Indigenous communities and Arctic coastal states are still at the heart of those challenges of course but since the Arctic is now open to new players (especially on shipping and resource exploration as you emphasize, e.g see China) some consensus from the rest on environmental protection and sustainable development could only seem like a good sign. July’s declaration among the Arctic 5 to prevent unregulated fishing in the Central Arctic Ocean illustrates that pretty well I think; last week already these discussions seem to have expanded and now include a bunch of other-non Arctic nations. Joining forces and sharing expertise to address scientific gaps on such issues that relate for example to the Arctic high seas, can only sound as a positive sign to me. Despite the fact that we can probably only speculate on the potential incentives of each nation that looks eager to get involved in Arctic issues, one thing is for sure, “what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic”, anymore at least !
The “gold rush'” as I see it is the EU trying to be at the negotiating table when the resources of the Arctic are at stake. My main worry is that the EU’s policy paper, despite its noble wording, is mainly written to show that they are supposed to be part of the negotiations and get a stake in the resources and shipping interests. Yes, the EU has a real stake there, and I only applaud if the development in the Arctic is sustainable, but I can’t help but wonder if that has been the real driver for this policy.
This brings me to your second point, the “non-green” part of the policy. You have a fair point that the Arctic is not developed and living standards for the indegenous peoples are not up to par, let alone that they have been mistreated in the past. However, I’m not claiming that we shouldn’t do any sustainable development in the Arctic, or that the policy is non-green. I just think it is not enough. If you read the proposed policy response, as I wrote above, my personal opinion is that sustainability is usually stuck on as an afterthought. For example with sustainable innovation they first talk about potential benefits (fair enough, with renewable energy included) and only halfway the page they mention that “These [research] outcomes should embed the assessments of sustainability of processes and technologies to ensure social and environmental protection”, without further mentioning it in the rest of the section.
As to investment in research and international cooperation, both are important and well, but let me just state that the faith I have in international agreements is not that large. After all UNCLOS requires us to manage fish stocks in the High Seas such that they produce some sort of a maximum sustainable yield, and I guess we can safely argue that that certainly isn’t too well implemented….
Reblogged this on mkour.