Today at the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø, Norway, Greenpeace called for a “moratorium on all industrial activities in areas historically covered by sea ice” in the Arctic. The conference covers the topic of ensuring the “sustainability of Arctic communities in a changing environment,” so it serves as a natural forum for Greenpeace to announce its desire of a moratorium. In the organization’s view, drilling for oil is part of a devastating cycle that will only exacerbate global warming and harm the fragile Arctic ecosystem. In fact, many industrial activities around the North Pole have only become possible in the first place because temperatures have risen enough to thaw the ice.
Throughout the press release, Greenpeace references the success story of Antarctica, which in 1959 was demilitarized and reserved strictly for scientific research with the Antarctic Treaty System. Yet what is often forgotten is that conditions at the South Pole are drastically different from those at the North Pole. The ATS was signed at the height of the Cold War, when both the US and USSR were attempting to avoid an all-out arms race. The ATS, the first arms control agreement, was possible in Antarctica because the frozen continent at the bottom of the earth really had little strategic worth unlike the Arctic, which is near both Russia, the US and a number of Nordic states. Thus, the Arctic’s geopolitical value and sheer proximity to two great powers makes it a much more contested space, as compared to distant Antarctica. And while Antarctica does have some natural resources, such as fish stocks, coal, iron, and some hydrocarbons, the Arctic possesses a far greater amount of oil, gas, and minerals, all of which tempt both countries and companies.
These differences, however, don’t deter Mads Christensen, the Executive Director of Greenpeace Nordic. In the video below, he says, “We need [the world’s governments] to come together to make a treaty that protects the Arctic for future generations.”
Furthermore, do moratoriums really work? For years, Greenpeace has been involved in drawn-out battle with Japanese whalers, despite there being an international moratorium on whaling. Japan, Iceland, and Norway have all managed to continue whaling by claiming that it is for scientific research purposes. Perhaps the same could occur in the Arctic even if a moratorium were passed, with countries drilling for oil and gas for “research purposes.”