Norway joins Canada in seal ban fight

“We consider the EU ban on seal products sales to be in violation of WTO rules”

SPECIAL TO NUNATSIAQ NEWS

PETER O’NEIL, Postmedia News -Original article here


Norway joined Canada March 15 in asking the World Trade Organization to establish a dispute-settlement panel to consider a challenge to the European Union’s seal products ban.

“We consider the EU ban on seal products sales to be in violation of WTO rules and want an independent assessment of a dispute settlement panel in the WTO,” said Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store, according to a translation of the government news release.

The release said WTO-arranged consultations between Norway and the EU have failed.

Canada announced last month that it was asking for a dispute-settlement panel to challenge the ban, which came into force last summer.

The process normally takes a year to reach a conclusion, according to the news release.

Norwegian Fisheries Minister Lisbeth Berg-Hansen echoed past statements by Canadian politicians, saying it is defending a principle that Norwegians have a right to take part in a sustainable harvest and then sell the products.

The European Parliament, dismissing Canada’s argument that the hunt is humane, voted by a margin of 550 to 49 to impose its seal ban in May 2009.

Since then, several rounds of trade consultations through the trade organization have failed to resolve the dispute.

Arctic oil drill splits Norway’s government

Euractiv.com 14 March 2011 -original article here

Norway’s Labour-led coalition government is preparing for crisis talks after one of its parties, the Socialist Left (SV), pledged to hold out against oil drilling in the pristine Lofoten region.

The oil industry views the untapped waters around the Lofoten and Vesteraalen islands as one of the best remaining prospects off Norway, the world’s fifth biggest oil exporter, whose output has fallen by a third in the past decade. But Norway’s green and socialist movements oppose oil and gas activities in the region, which is home to Europe’s largest cod stock and unique cold water reefs.

A decision on whether to order an impact assessment study for drilling in Lofoten – the most divisive issue in Norwegian politics – is due within weeks. On March 9, Labour MPs asked Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg to negotiate a way out of the stalemate with SV, possibly by changing the study’s name or tweaking its scope. But the Socialists rejected this. “We can’t accept any study that leads to opening the region for oil and gas activities,” SV’s energy spokesman Snorre Valen told Reuters. “We simply won’t compromise on this.”

Oil industry pressure
The ruling coalition has survived for six years, partly by delaying decisions on the Lofotens. But pressure from the oil industry, trades unions and some local people is forcing Labour to move on the issue. The SV environment minister Erik Solheim played down the chances of a government collapse to the Aftenposten newspaper.

“The government has for the past six years shown a phenomenal ability to survive. We have like Lazarus risen from the dead, and several times at that,” he was reported saying. Norway’s oil row comes as a report by the US National Academy of Sciences warns of a new struggle for oil and gas resources in the Arctic by 2030. Melting ice cover due to climate change will upset the Arctic power balance and intensify unresolved disputes among countries with Arctic borders. These include Norway, the US, Canada, Denmark, Russia, Iceland, Sweden and Finland.

“The geopolitical situation in the Arctic region has become complex and nuanced, despite the area being essentially ignored since the end of the Cold War,” the study says. It predicts a low chance of conflict but cautions that that “co-operation in the Arctic should not be considered a given even among close allies.”

(EurActiv with Reuters.)

Background

The resource-rich Arctic is becoming increasingly contentious as climate change endangers many species of the region’s flora and fauna but also makes the region more navigable. Up to 25% of the planet’s undiscovered oil and gas could be located there, according to the US Geological Survey.

No country owns the North Pole or the region of the Arctic surrounding it. The surrounding Arctic states of the USA, Canada, Russia, Norway and Denmark (Greenland) have a 200 nautical mile economic zone around their coasts.

In August 2007, a Russian icebreaker reached the North Pole and a Russian mini-submarine planted a titanium Russian flag on the seabed there. The move was widely interpreted as a bellicose claim by Russia to the North Pole seabed and its resources.

Norway covers between 10 and 18% of EU oil demand and about 15% of its natural gas. The country, a member of the European Economic Area since 1994, is the world’s third largest exporter of oil and gas after Saudi Arabia and Russia.

By 2015-2020, natural gas deliveries from Norway to the EU are expected to grow from 85 billion cubic metres to 120 bcm, covering 7-9% of the EU’s entire gas consumption by 2020.

Greenland’s Inuit Premier defends oil and gas drilling

Gloria Galloway, Ottawa, The Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011 – Original article here

The Inuit Premier of Greenland is passionate in defending the need to develop his country’s oil and gas potential – a stance that puts him at odds with Canadian Inuit groups, which have tried to block offshore drilling near their communities.

Kuupik Kleist was one of the speakers at a two-day summit of Inuit leaders who met this week to discuss resource development. Mr. Kleist said Wednesday that there will be oil and gas extraction in and around Greenland and the Inuit want to dictate its terms. Here is what he said in response to questions from reporters; the questions have been edited and the answers trimmed.

More related to this story

Many Inuit and environmentalists in Nunavut argue that any oil and gas exploration could damage a fragile ecosystem. How do you respond to those concerns?

We have a co-operation with the Canadian government on the issue of protection of the environment [as it relates to] the oil industry. And we have that co-operation because of the Canadian experience, which we don’t have … both within the mineral sector and within the oil industry for years. And what we’re looking at is to gain from the experiences, not only from Canada but also from Norway, for instance, which is regarded as an upscale developer of technology.

I have had a dialogue with the Minister for the Environment in Canada who was, in the outset, very concerned about the exploratory drillings off the Greenland west coast. What happened during our dialogue was that now Canadian employees are on the drilling sites off the west coast of Greenland to learn about security.

Do you feel that the oil and gas industry is safe?

You can never ensure 100 per cent that nothing will happen. You have to be honest facing the risks. … [But] companies from the outside have been exploiting natural resources in the Arctic area for centuries now. The Inuit didn’t. Now it’s our turn. It seems like now gradually the peoples of the Arctic are taking over powers then suddenly it becomes much more dangerous, risky and what else you might come up with. You see the environmental groups coming now to the Arctic area and trying to hinder activities conducted by indigenous governments in the Arctic. Why didn’t they do that, like, 100 years ago, 50 years ago, or even just 15 years ago? Now, with technology developed, it’s much safer today than it was before.

Do you think the unrest in Libya and other places in the Middle East will put even more focus on oil exploration in Greenland?

Of course. We are now a full part of the global economy. We cannot hide away or shy away from looking at what’s happening on the rest of the globe. We are a part of it and we need to face that and we have to take precautions according to what happens on the market.

The Greenland ice shelf is melting at an increasing rate. This presents challenges, but does it also hold some potential?

It’s not the fault of Greenland that the ice is melting. Nobody believes that by tomorrow the need for fossil fuels will disappear just because of the ice melting. If Greenland should stay away from exploiting its mineral resources, some other place on the Earth will do it, that’s for sure. But we are doing it under the strongest precautions, we are sticking to best practices, we are sticking to the best available technology and you cannot be sure that the rest of the world would do that.

Is there potential for confrontation between companies and Inuit groups for control of resources?

Of course. That’s not new. That’s always existed. The change that’s been going on is that now we have the insight, we have the powers, we negotiate ourselves. We don’t allow federal governments just to hand over Inuit lands to companies to exploit the mineral resources. It’s in our hands. We need to face all of the challenges that are connected with that kind of activity. The difference is that it’s now us sitting at the end of the table, and of course the confrontations, wherever they might be, we need to face them.

Russia to Resolute: explorers plan to drive over top of the world to North Pole

Original article here

A group of Canadian and Russian explorers will set out to make history this week by driving from Russia to Canada over the North Pole.

Yes, driving.

“It’s the first time … someone will be crossing the Arctic Ocean with a wheel-based vehicle,” said Mikhail Glan, a Russian emigre living in Vancouver. “It’s a very interesting project.”

The eight-member Polar Ring team, which includes two Canadians, is to leave Thursday from an island in the Russian Arctic and roll straight north until it hits the pole. The team will then gas up and take on supplies at an ice camp used by tourists before heading south to Resolute, Nunavut.

“We plan to drive from Russia to the North Pole … Then we’ll drive all the way to Resolute Bay,” Glan said from Moscow. “It’s pretty simple.”

Simple, that is, until you consider that the trip is expected to take about four months and cover 7,000 kilometres in one of the most forbidding parts of the planet — nearly half of it sea ice.

At the North Pole, the sun won’t even rise until March 19. The average temperature is -34 C.

And while southern lakes may freeze into easily crossed white tabletops, the Arctic Ocean does anything but. The thick ice shifts and moves with winds and currents, throwing up huge ridges when pans bump together and leaving wide stretches of frigid, open water when they don’t.

This year is likely to be even tougher than most. There’s less ocean covered by ice now than there has been in any winter since satellite records began.

“There could be lots of open water,” said Glan. “We’re not sure that it will freeze. Most probably not, so we need to drive around.”

But that’s OK. The ice buggies can float.

“We can cross pretty big pieces of open water, but it definitely will slow us down. We hope that the weather will be more or less friendly.”

The buggies are an entirely new design, Glan said.

Other drive-the-sea-ice expeditions have used vehicles that are heavy and tank-like. A 2009 group drove modified U.S. military Humvees between the Nunavut communities of Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay. Polar Ring’s vehicles, powered by nine-litre diesel engines, are relatively light, and look like beefed-up, closed-in dune buggies with gigantic balloon tires.

Proving the worth of those vehicles is one of the reasons for the trip. Glan said a successful drive would demonstrate that wheeled transportation could be an efficient way to get around in the High Arctic — useful to everyone from scientists to resource companies to search-and-rescue teams.

The Polar Ring members, who will post their progress on the web, will also take myriad scientific measurements and track polar bears.

But Glan said one of the main reasons for the trip is to get people excited about the Arctic and Arctic exploration. The Russia-to-Resolute drive is one leg in a multi-year project to retrace the steps of early explorers and to link circumpolar nations with a thin strand of tire tracks on the ice.

“It will help to promote activities in the Arctic and maintain interest in that,” Glan said. “It helps attract attention to the history of Arctic exploration.

“Our goal is to promote it to attract attention, to make it interesting for people. This is a good eye-catcher.”

Those aren’t the only reasons to go, of course.

“Some people ask, ‘Why do you want to do that?’ Other people, they don’t have to ask,” said Glan.

“It’s exploration. It’s adventure. It’s a great thing.”

The team, funded by a variety of Russian corporations and foundations, hopes to arrive in Resolute by late May or early June.It plans to complete the circle in 2014 by driving from Resolute along the Alaskan coast back to Russia.

Glan said Polar Ring has filled in all the necessary paperwork to cross the border into Canada.

Content Provided By Canadian Press.

 

Dispute over Hans Island nears resolution. Now for the Beaufort Sea

JILL MAHONEY
From Tuesday’s Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011

Original article here

Negotiators are now confident that Canada and Denmark will resolve their dispute over Hans Island, and sooner rather than later.

Relations between the two countries have grown irritable at times in recent years because of their competing claims to the barren bit of rock perched halfway between Ellesmere Island and Greenland. Also in dispute is a patch of the Lincoln Sea even farther north.

But the two countries are in negotiations and have embarked on a joint mapping exercise, and both Canadian and Danish officials, speaking on background, said they were confident of reaching an agreement before Canada deposits its claim over the Arctic seabed to the United Nations in 2013.

Shared jurisdiction of the island is one possibility; another is running the border down the middle of the uninhabited, 1.3-square-kilometre knoll, which would give Canada a land border with Denmark.

In a recent poll, a large majority of Canadians said that asserting and protecting Arctic sovereignty should be Canada’s foremost foreign policy priority. In a statement to The Globe and Mail, Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon insisted that it was.

“We continue to exercise our sovereignty in the Arctic while also making progress on outstanding boundary issues,” Mr. Cannon said.

In fact, negotiations are beginning to bear fruit after years in which Canada refused to discuss competing claims. The United States and Canada have long disagreed over where the border between Alaska and Yukon should be drawn, as it projects into the Beaufort Sea. While the Americans have sought a negotiated settlement, Canada preferred to agree to disagree.

But there is oil under the seabed, and petroleum companies are anxious to get at it. Last year, the Conservative government declared its willingness to reach a deal. The two countries have embarked on a joint mapping expedition of the ocean floor.

That exercise may not be completed until 2013, because the ice is too thick for much of the year, and a Canadian government official speaking on background said it might not be possible to complete an agreement until after then. In the meantime, a bilateral “dialogue of experts” is underway, with the next meeting scheduled for Washington in the spring.

Some Arctic-watchers believe the slow pace of the talks over the Beaufort is frustrating an impatient Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“The people at Foreign Affairs already have very full plates,” said Michael Byers, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia who specializes in Arctic issues. “They don’t see the urgency of negotiations now when a solution probably isn’t doable this year or even next year. So you have this tension between the Prime Minister’s Office, which wants to see progress, and the department, which doesn’t see it as a top priority.”

But Canadians officials maintained the pace had been agreed to with the American government. The Americans and Canadians “are committed to a win-win” agreement that satisfies both sides that their interests have been protected, one official said.

The U.S. government agrees. “Our technical teams have held productive meetings on the Beaufort boundary in the past,” the embassy said in a statement. “We look forward to continued discussions in the future.”

The nations that encircle the Arctic have agreed, under the Law of the Sea convention, to submit their claims over what they believe is their fair share of the Arctic seabed to the United Nations for arbitration. Canada’s deadline is 2013.

The UN will not arbitrate in areas where there is a border dispute, and an agreement over the Beaufort border is unlikely before 2014. But officials say this is only a minor impediment, especially since the U.S. hasn’t ratified the treaty anyway.

As for the biggest dispute of all, who controls the Northwest Passage, none of the players has even agreed to talk about it, and no resolution to the question of whether it is in Canadian or international waters is expected in the foreseeable future.

Arctic Defrost Dumping Snow on U.S. and Europe

By Stephen Leah

Photo of German research vessel Maria S. Merian in sea ice northwest of Svalbard in August 2007. Credit:N. van Nieuwenhove, IFM-GEOMAR

XBRIDGE, Canada, Jan 28, 2011 (IPS) – The world’s northern freezer is on rapid defrost as large volumes of warm water are pouring into the Arctic Ocean, speeding the melt of sea ice, according to a new study.

Surface temperatures in parts of the Arctic have been 21 degrees C above normal for more than a month in recent weeks.

“Boats were still in the water during the first week of January,” said David Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada, referring to southern Baffin Island, some 2,000 km north of Montreal. This is a region that receives just four or five hours of weak sunlight during the long winter. Temperatures normally range from -25 to -35 degrees C but were above zero on some days in January.

“It’s impossible for many people in parts of the eastern Arctic to safely get on the ice to hunt much-needed food for their families – for the second winter in a row,” Phillips said in a report.

The warming and melting of the Arctic is happening much faster than expected and new data reveals that huge volumes of warmer water from the North Atlantic are now flowing into and warming up the Arctic Ocean, researchers reported Friday in the journal Science.

“In the past hundred years the waters in the Fram Strait have warmed about two degrees C,” says co-author Thomas Marchitto, of Colorado University’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research.

The Fram Strait between Greenland and Svalbard (Spitsbergen) is the major connection between the Arctic Ocean and the world ocean. An international team of researchers analysed marine sediments and found that temperatures of the northward inflowing Atlantic water varied by just a few tenths of a degree Celsius during the past 2,000 years. However, in the last hundred years temperatures have shot up by two degrees C.

“What’s happening here is very unusual compared to the last 2,000 years,” Marchitto told IPS.

Climate change is believed to be behind this warmer water because over 90 percent of additional heat trapped in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas is going into the oceans, he said.

“The accelerated decrease of the Arctic sea ice cover and the warming of ocean and atmosphere in the Arctic, as measured during the past decades, are in part related to an increased heat transfer from the Atlantic,” said co-author Robert Spielhagen, a palaeoceanographer at the Academy of Sciences, Humanities and Literature in Mainz, Germany.

Sea ice has declined dramatically during the short Arctic summers in recent years, with some experts now projecting that the ice cover will be essentially gone in as little as five years. Just a few years ago, no one thought a summer ice-free Arctic could happen before 2060.

The warming Arctic and melting sea ice is a planetary-scale change since the Arctic Ocean covers 14 million sq km, an area almost as big as Russia. The Arctic and Antarctic polar regions are key drivers of Earth’s weather and climate. The rapid defrosting of the Arctic has already altered the climate system, researchers now agree.

IPS previously broke the story revealing that the snow and cold in the eastern United States and Europe during the winter of 2009-10 was likely the result of the loss of Arctic sea ice. The same thing has happened this year.

As more and more sea ice melts, there is more open water to absorb the summer sun’s heat. A day of 24-hour summer sun in the Arctic puts more heat on the surface of the ocean than a day in the tropics, James Overland of the NOAA/Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in the United States told IPS.

That extra heat in the ocean is gradually released into the lower atmosphere from October to January as the region slowly re-freezes months later than normal. This is a fundamental change – a large part of the Arctic Ocean is radiating heat instead of being cold and ice-covered. That has disrupted wind circulation patterns in the northern hemisphere, reported Overland and other researchers at the International Polar Year Oslo Science Conference in Norway last June.

The result: the Arctic stays warm and mid-latitude regions become colder and receive more snow for much of the winter. Last December was the coldest south Florida has experienced in more than a century of record-keeping.

Most of Britain suffered through its coldest December ever. Up in the Arctic, Coral Harbour on the northwest corner of Hudson Bay was above zero degrees C for two days in early January for the first time in history. Much of the eastern Arctic centred around Baffin Island averaged +21C above normal between Dec. 17 and Jan. 15 this year.

This looks to be the new normal since Arctic experts agree the melting sea ice is now locked into a death spiral.

“In future, cold and snowy winters will be the rule rather than the exception” in the eastern United States and Europe, Overland previously told IPS.

This week the U.S. northeast suffered through its sixth major snowstorm this winter, breaking all snowfall records.

(END)

Feeding The Robotic Guardians Of The Arctic Seas

Strategy page January 19, 2011. Original article here

Although the Cold War ended in 1991, the U.S. and Canada still maintain a string of radar stations from Alaska to Greenland. The system, originally called the DEW (Distant Early Warning) Line, was built in the 1950s, to detect Russian bombers or reconnaissance aircraft coming in. Right across the Arctic Ocean, and the North Pole from the northern coast of North America, is the north coast of Russia. Right across the pole is the shortest distance (for aircraft or ballistic missiles) from Russia to North America.

After the Cold War ended, Canada took over control of the entire system, which is now managed from an underground facility in Ontario. The U.S. still picks up 60 percent of the cost, and has access to information the radars collect.

Even as the Cold War was ending, the DEW line was already being replaced by a system consisting mostly of unmanned radar stations (which cut operating expenses 50 percent and spared many Canadian and American air force personnel periods of duty on the coast of Arctic Ocean). The new North Warning System (NWS) consists of 15 manned long range radars (11 in Canada), and 39 unmanned radars (36 in Canada). This radar system covers an area 5,000 kilometers long and 300 kilometers deep. The DEW line was much longer (going from the Aleutian Islands to Iceland) and deeper (there were two more radar lines farther south, north of the U.S. border.

The DEW Line and the NWS give no warning of ballistic missile attacks, so a different system, using ground and space based radars, has been developed over the last half century. But you still want to know what aircraft are out there over the cold Arctic seas.

A civilian firm provides most of the logistic and technical services to maintain the radars, their generators and communications equipment of the NWS. This costs about $63 million year. The unmanned radars are marvels of automation, built with many redundant systems, so the radars can remain operational until maintenance crews can be flown in from one of the five support bases. This is particularly difficult during the long, cold and dark Winters.