How to avoid the water wars in the Arctic
The global economy and climate are now facing an “existential threat”, writes Stephen Keen.
The US, Russia and China have been waging war over waters around the world since at least the mid-19th century, but it’s been a cold war of its own.
At least, it was until now.
As a result, the US, Britain and Canada are at loggerheads over Arctic waters, and the Arctic is no longer a hot potato for global power brokers.
On Monday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi joined dozens of foreign ministers in a joint statement to declare an end to the “war of words and aggression” between the US and Russia over the Arctic.
They also reaffirmed the need for an immediate and lasting peace in the region, and pledged to work with allies to combat the spread of climate change.
“We must confront this existential threat to the survival of our species,” Tillerson said.
“We must stop the cycle of war, economic warfare and the exploitation of the environment.”
Lavrov said the US had not taken a position on the dispute but it “will not be bullied into silence” by a conflict.
But even if the US doesn’t get into the fray over the disputed waters, the Arctic could still prove to be a major problem for the US.
A growing number of scientists have warned that climate change and sea-level rise will make the region a more vulnerable region to a sea-levels rise of 1.5 metres (6 feet) or more.
In addition, rising sea levels are already already affecting the northern hemisphere, and could trigger a catastrophic ice-free winter in the summer months.
This would mean that many of the world’s coastal cities would be submerged, with a higher risk of flooding and coastal erosion.
These fears are backed up by a growing body of evidence that suggests the Arctic region could become less hospitable to human habitation by the end of the century.
If that happens, the effects on life on the continent would be catastrophic, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The US, meanwhile, is currently trying to develop an ambitious Arctic plan that includes a $1 trillion investment in sea-water defences, a new deepwater oil and gas pipeline, and a $5 billion “deep-water mine” in the Kara Sea.
With all of this in mind, the fact that Russia and the US are now publicly calling for an end of all hostilities between the two countries seems like a good sign that tensions might be coming to an end.
It’s unclear what will happen to the frozen northern shelf that is home to a significant number of Arctic fisheries.
The Arctic Ocean is home of one of the planet’s last remaining marine sanctuaries.
According to experts, there is currently no guarantee that a sea ice recovery in the North Pole will occur in the near future, given that the ice is thinning in the Southern Ocean.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has been trying to sell the US military to a new generation of Arctic military leaders who are also reportedly keen on investing in Arctic offshore oil and mining projects.
However, Tillerson and Lavrov have been adamant that the US will not join them in any of the planned Arctic projects.