Officials from five Arctic nations are gathering in Denmark for some high-stakes talks about the future of the Arctic. The stakes are high not only for world energy supplies and national security, but also for the environment and the state of the climate.
The talks have taken on urgency after recent summers have ushered in record melting in the Arctic. Prominent scientists recently predicted that the North Pole itself could become ice-free this summer, one year after a record melt opened up the fabled Northwest Passage. Computer models are now predicting an ice-free Arctic by 2030, if not earlier far ahead of the pace envisioned by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The question is: Which nation can claim which parts of the Arctic Ocean and the potentially huge oil reserves locked under the ocean floor?
The melting of the Arctic is one of the clearest signals of global warming, and scientists are increasingly confident that there's nothing natural about the melting. It's primarily due to our pollution from the burning of fossil fuels. As the ice disappears, so go many species, including polar bear.
Of course, the main reason the United States, Russia, Canada, Norway and Denmark are so interested in the region is the oil and gas, in addition to new shipping routes.
Until now, the story of the Arctic has been dominated by two lines: that Russia last year planted a titanium flag at the North Pole, in a stunt meant to show how serious it is about claiming territory, and that the United States had not signed the international treaty governing land claims. Denmark, by hosting these talks, is trying to move past those issues.
If responding to the melting by extracting and burning more fossil fuels seems shortsighted, it is. By the time the Arctic loses its ice, the world should be well along its way toward halving its carbon dioxide emissions, if parallel U.N. talks are successful. The salivating diplomats scanning the barren Arctic for oil hardly leave us with a sense of optimism about those goals.
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