Beginning on Thursday, May 26, Canada’s Carleton University will host a conference on cooperation in the Arctic between three of the region’s five littoral states: Canada, Norway, and Russia. High-ranking officials from each country will be in attendance, including the Russian Ambassador to Canada, Georgiy Enverovich MAMEDOV, the Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister, Espen Barthe Eide, and the Norwegian Ambassador to Canada, Else Berit Eikeland. The conference, entitled “Canada/Russia/Norway Dialogue and Cooperation in the Arctic,” will provide an interesting contrast to the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting, which took place two weeks ago. Now, the three countries’ representatives will meet in a more academic setting, where professors will also have a chance to voice their perspectives on the prospect of cooperation in the Arctic.
The conference covers a wide range of the importance issues facing the Arctic today. There will be three panels, each with a different overarching theme.
- Best practices for dialogue and cooperation between Arctic nations: Panelists will discuss how the working relationship between Norway and Russia, perhaps one of the most actively fostered in the Arctic region, can be a model for Canadian-Russian cooperation. Improving ties with Russia is actually one of the major goals of Norway’s High North strategy. Yet to see relations with Russia become a central tenet of the Northern Strategy would be a somewhat stunning reversal, given Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s championing of physical, tangible sovereignty in the North. Still, the generally open and receptive discussions between Norway and Russia, which paved the way for the settlement of a a 40-year old boundary dispute in the Barents Sea last year, could be a lesson for how Canada should approach its neighbor across the North Pole, and vice versa. The UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf will ultimately decide what the scientific evidence says regarding ownership of the Lomonosov Ridge, but it will be up to Canada and Russia (and any other involved parties) to hammer out the agreement.
- Being an Arctic ocean coastal state – challenges and opportunities in developing best practices for circumarctic transportation: While the Search and Rescue Agreement was finally signed at the last Arctic Coucil Ministerial Meeting, there are still many more issues that the Arctic littoral states must resolve, notably the regulation of shipping and transportation. The SAR agreement describes what should happen when there is an accident, but more needs to be done to mandate safe shipping practices in the Arctic. The sticking points of the Northwest Passage and, to a lesser degree, the Northeast Passage will be discussed, as well. Until the U.S. and Canada can agree on whether the NWP are Canadian or international waters, there will be little, if any, headway made in regulating the passage.
- Best practices for ecosystem based management in the Arctic: Under this umbrella falls the topic of climate change and all of its ramifications, from increased opportunities for oil and gas drilling to melting permafrost. Jan Thompson, the Director for Norwegian-Russian Environmental Cooperation, will be one member of the panel. Environmental cooperation between Norway and Russia dates back to 1988, before climate change was a major, newsworthy issue – but when cleanup of polluted Soviet waters was. The two countries’ depth of experience working together demonstrates why their collaboration should be a model for Canada and Russia.
With that in mind, the next day of the conference will see roundtables take place discussing Canadian and Russian plans for working together, in both the diplomatic and business spheres. We’ll see what types of plans and discussions this conference produces and compare these to the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting.