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The rest of the world and the Arctic

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By Clive Tesar

One of the struggles at the heart of discussion of the Arctic is over who has the right be there, and to use arctic resources. Most of the governments that ring the Arctic Ocean are busily working on claims that will extend their rights to the sea bed. The question is, who else has the right to be there once all the claims are adjudicated? The UN convention on the law of the sea doesn’t settle the questions of shipping, or even all the questions about fishing.

For instance Xia Liping, a scholar at Tangji University in Shanghai, came here to the Arctic Social Sciences meeting to talk about China’s interest in the Arctic. He told an audience here that China is expecting the climate changes that cascade down the Northern hemisphere from the Arctic will likely trigger food insecurity in China. As a result, he suggests that China may have to look at the Arctic Ocean as a source of food.

Iulian Romanyshyn from Maastricht University in the Netherlands examined the arctic interests of the EU. As he pointed out in his talk, it is hard for the EU not to be interested in the Arctic when 3 of the eight Arctic Council countries are EU members (a fourth, Iceland, is likely to join the EU soon). And once again, there’s the matter of all of those arctic fish …

While the Arctic Council countries, together with the Indigenous peoples’ organisations that are an important part of the council look at their agenda over the next few years, they are likely to find that they increasingly face the clamour of those who ‘want in’ to the Arctic. Making cooperative rules now on how arctic resources should be managed will help later when the arctic interests of other countries move from theory to immediate demand.

The WWF Global Arctic Programme’s Head of Communications, Clive Tesar, attended the International Congress of Arctic Social Sciences in Iceland in order to track trends and the latest information about the peoples of the Arctic, as they are so central to WWF’s conservation efforts in this area.

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