This week, the University of Cambridge’s Scott Polar Institute is hosting a NATO Advanced Research Workshop entitled “Environmental Security in the Arctic Ocean.” During the workshop, delegates from the NATO countries and Russia, among a number of other participants, will meet to discuss challenges in the Arctic. Policymakers, academics, and non-profit representatives will be in attendance, coming from both Arctic and non-Arctic states (16 countries altogether). Multilateral institutions such as the Arctic Council will also be represented. You can view the full participant list here.

The program, visible here, reveals a number of discussions at the intersection of environmental and geopolitical concerns will take place. For instance, R. Andreas Kraemer, Director of the Ecologic Institute in Germany, will chair a presentation on environmental change in the Arctic Ocean, while Dr. Paal Hilde, Senior Fellow and Head of the Security Policy Section for the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies, will lead a presentation on shared security considerations. Though there are still a vast many people skeptical of climate change, Arctic policymakers seem not to doubt that it is occurring – and fast.

The three goals of the workshop are:

  1. Openly and objectively address the potential instabilities and opportunities in the Arctic
    Ocean as matters of environmental security;
  2. Utilize academic institutions as transparent venues to facilitate shared, interdisciplinary and
    ongoing dialogues that build trust among all Arctic states, indigenous peoples and other
    stakeholders regarding Arctic Ocean issues; and
  3. Consider strategies that both promote cooperation and prevent conflict in the Arctic Ocean.
Admiral James G. Stavridis
Admiral James G. Stavridis

Despite the overtures being made during the workshop, and in recent weeks by figures such as Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, not everything is rosy in the Arctic. The Guardian reports that U.S. Admiral James Stavridis, who is also the Supreme Allied Commander Europe for NATO, wrote in the foreword of the recently published paper by Professor Andrew Berkman:

“For now, the disputes in the north have been dealt with peacefully, but climate change could alter the equilibrium over the coming years in the race of temptation for exploitation of more readily accessible natural resources.”

He continued,

“The cascading interests and broad implications stemming from the effects of climate change should cause today’s global leaders to take stock, and unify their efforts to ensure the Arctic remains a zone of co-operation – rather than proceed down the icy slope towards a zone of competition, or worse a zone of conflict.”

Map of the Kara and Barents Seas
Map: Kara and Barents Seas

Hopefully, this workshop will make some progress towards keeping, or at least promoting, the Arctic as a “zone of cooperation,” In the meantime, the Russian government has granted five new offshore oil and gas licenses in the Kara and Barents Sea. Across the Arctic Ocean, Royal Dutch Shell has just applied for a permit to drill an exploration well in the Beaufort Sea off the coast of Alaska beginning next year – and many Alaskans support the move. These incidents are all the more reason to be mindful of the delicate balance that must be struck between political, industry, indigenous, and environmental interests in the Arctic.

Shell's Desired Well Locations © Anchorage Daily News 2010
Map: Shell's Beaufort Sea Leases © Anchorage Daily News 2010


Environmental security in the Arctic Ocean: NATO Workshop at Cambridge

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