Some recent happenings in the Arctic:
- The Arctic Council will hold its biennial Ministerial Meeting on May 15. The Council is an intergovernmental body that attempts to address the challenges in the Arctic, including monitoring and assessment, environmental conservation, disaster response and resource management. On May 15, the eight member states that compose the Arctic Council – the United States, Canada, Russia, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Finland - will vote to decide the fate of the European Union and China within the Council. The EU and China are vying for promotion to permanent observer status from their current status as “ad hoc” observers. Permanent observer status would guarantee that the EU and China receive invitations to future meetings and increase their influence on the Council. The vote is not without controversy, and indigenous groups are pressuring Canada to block the EU unless they repeal their ban on seal products. The effect of this pressure could have significant implications - like all decisions made within the Arctic Council, the vote to grant permanent observer status must be unanimous.
- Governance in the Arctic has become increasingly relevant because, as Arctic sea ice continues its rapid decline, countries have begun to assess the Arctic’s potential as a future supply of fossil fuels and are seeking increased influence in the area. In particular, on May 3 Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev decreed that Russian energy company Gazprom has the right to access the estimated 63.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Arctic. The viability of oil and gas production in the Arctic, however, is unclear. In March, the Department of the Interior barred Shell from the Arctic after its report found that Shell failed in its Arctic drilling attempt because it was unprepared for the harsh climate. The Obama Administration is requiring Shell to present a plan to address its shortcomings before it can return. This incident demonstrates that less sea ice in the Arctic does not guarantee successful fossil fuel production. Before companies will be able to access the Arctic’s oil and gas resources, they will have to determine how they will overcome the region’s extreme and erratic weather.
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