NATO Parliamentary Assembly
HomeNEWS ROOM201124 June 2011 - CHANGING ARCTIC CLIMATE DEMANDS ATTENTION

24 June 2011 - CHANGING ARCTIC CLIMATE DEMANDS ATTENTION

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Climate change is occurring more rapidly and profoundly in the Arctic than anywhere else in the world, presenting both dramatic challenges and opportunities for its coastal states as well as for the wider international community. While on the one hand, tensions remain low in the region and an institutional and legal framework is in place to manage potential areas of contention (as demonstrated by the border demarcation agreement recently reached between Norway and Russia), actors such as NATO, the EU, and non-coastal states have legitimate interests and may be useful contributors to a peaceful and responsible evolution of the region.

These were among the main themes of discussions at the 77th Rose-Roth Seminar organized by the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in the Arctic Circle city of Tromsø, Norway June 22-24, 2011, in cooperation with the Norwegian Parliament.

Some 50 members of parliament from 19 member and partner nations were joined by senior government officials including the Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas Gahr Støre and leading scientists, academics and representatives of civil society to discuss “Changes in the High North:   Implications for NATO and Beyond.”

Renewed international interest in the Arctic region in recent years stems from its large energy reserves, which are becoming more accessible because of climate change and technological developments, and the increasing demand for oil and gas, the participants were told.   Retreating ice is opening channels for navigation that could create both cost and emissions savings for shipping companies, as well as allowing increased tourism in the region.

However, increased activity in the Arctic  presents significant challenges as well, including the difficulties of responding to accidents requiring search and rescue, as well as the potential damage to local ecology from commercial use and the danger of pollution.   The unique climatic and geographic, and demographic conditions of the Arctic severely complicate responses to such events.

While the possibility of a geopolitical race to the Arctic  has found purchase in media reporting on the region, the reality is that few new investments are being made in Arctic capabilities, and that those underway should not be cause for alarm to any interested party.

Finally, NATO’s role should be the subject of continued discussion, many participants agreed, particularly given that several Arctic coastal states are NATO members and therefore NATO had never ‘left’ the region.   These discussions should, however, begin with the clear and unambiguous understanding that no militarisation of the Arctic is under consideration, and that the Alliance  ’s role would be only in support of the functioning regional arrangements already in place. 

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