New computer modeling suggests the Arctic Ocean may be nearly ice-free in the northern hemisphere summer as early as 2014, as delegates were warned at the Copenhagen climate change summit. In fact some scholars, including Dr. Michael Byers, author of a just-published Carnegie Council paper, believe that it could occur even sooner. He predicts that a complete late-summer melt-out could happen in 2013, just three years from now.
This raises not only environmental concerns, but also a host of new commercial opportunities and rivalries, along with potential security flashpoints.
On the one hand, the melting ice will open up new shipping channels to transport oil and gas from and through the Arctic. On the other, there have been competing claims for portions of the resource-rich Arctic territory, with Russia perhaps in the vanguard of articulating and enacting claims of "national interest."
To learn more, read these timely Carnegie Council papers that focus on international cooperation-or otherwise-in the Arctic. The papers are:
- The Arctic: The Next "Hot Spot" of International Relations or a Region of Cooperation?
by Dr. Yuri Morozov, of the Moscow-based Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences.
- Cold Peace: International Cooperation Takes Hold in the Arctic
by Dr. Michael Byers, of the University of British Columbia.
"Both our North American and Russian scholars represented here agree that climate change is the paramount challenge in the Arctic," says David Speedie, Director of the Carnegie Council U.S. Global Engagement Program.
"Nevertheless they have very different perspectives. Dr. Morozov focuses more on strategic interests and potential conflicts, while arguing that Russia has taken a lead in advancing prospects for international cooperation in the Arctic, based on the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea—which the United States has yet to ratify. Dr. Byers is remarkably optimistic, believing that the Arctic 'has become a zone of quiet cooperation, as countries work together to map the seabed, protect the environment, and guard against new, non-state security threats.'"
"Overall," concludes Speedie, "we may see the balance tipping in favor of cooperation rather than competition in this critical region. Dr. Byers describes a 'web of international law that extends across the Arctic,' and which even extends to a joint U.S.-Russia notification agreement on military flyovers. More generically, the 1996 Arctic Council has 'institutionalized cooperation' on non-military (especially environmental) matters among the eight Arctic countries—a lesson, perhaps, not to be lost in Copenhagen."