Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Arctic Council Signs Oil Spill Response Deal

KIRUNA, May 15 (RIA Novosti)

 – Foreign ministers from the Arctic Council’s member states have signed a legally binding agreement on preventing and responding to oil spills in the Arctic to protect the region’s waters, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday.
The treaty is “an effective tool protecting the Arctic environment at a time of active exploration of the opening Arctic deposits, and shows the firm responsibility of the Arctic states for the situation in the region,” Lavrov said at the opening of the council’s ministerial session in Sweden’s northernmost city of Kiruna.
Lavrov said he “welcomed” the decision to expand the council by granting the so-called observer status to new states. China, Italy and four other Asian countries - India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore - gained observer status on the Council at a meeting on Wednesday. The Council also said it “positively” viewed the idea of granting the European Union observer status. However, a decision on the EU status has been deferred because of Canada’s concern over an EU ban on import of seal products, which came into effect in August.

“Interest in the Arctic is on the rise. In particular, this is confirmed by the growth of the number of aspirants seeking to obtain an observer status in the Arctic Council,” Lavrov said.
Gao Feng, head of China's delegation to the event, told Xinhua after the decision granting China's observer status was announced: "China will first get to know the Arctic better, and then it will be able to join in international cooperation effectively."
The Arctic Council intergovernmental forum, comprising Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States, was established in 1996 to protect the Arctic region's environment and its indigenous peoples.
Russia has stepped up exploration of its Arctic oil and gas reserves in recent years, and has signed agreements with international partners including Shell, Statoil, Total and ExxonMobil to help exploit the region’s natural resources.

But environmental activists claim accidents in the area could have dire consequences, both because of fragility of the Arctic ecosystem and the complexity of cleaning up spills in remote areas.
The Arctic has also become an increasingly important region in economic and political terms thanks to climate change. The Arctic territories, believed to hold vast untapped oil and gas reserves, have been the subject of claims by the United States, Russia, Canada, Norway, and Denmark, with rising temperatures leading to a reduction in sea ice making hydrocarbon deposits under the Arctic Ocean increasingly accessible.



  1. Arctic states open council to China, India, Korea...

    KIRUNA (Sweden):
    Arctic states agreed Wednesday to let nations that are located nowhere near the Earth's north to become observers to their diplomatic council, boosting rising superpowers China, India and South Korea that are seeking to mine the region for its untapped energy and other natural resources.

    The European Union also was tentatively granted observer status to the eight-state council but must first address several questions about its bid, including concerns about its ban on Canadian seal exports.

    It was an odd but not entirely unexpected move by the long-obscure Arctic Council, which traditionally has served as a watchdog for the rights of the region's indigenous people and protector of its fragile ecosystem.

    Widespread thawing of Arctic ice, which keeps the rest of the world cooler, has alarmed environmentalists but has become an economic lure to nations seeking to ship cargo across once-frozen seas. The global warming is making the Arctic's elusive supply of oil, gas, minerals and precious metals available - in some areas, for the first time ever - as ever-expanding counties like China and India hunt for additional energy supplies.

    Officials estimate the Arctic holds 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil reserves, and 30 percent of undiscovered gas deposits.

    Ministers suggested the inclusion of the energy-hungry nations at the Arctic Council will force them to uphold the diplomatic panel's core goals of safeguarding the region.

    "There is no such thing as a free lunch," said Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide. "By becoming an observer you're also signing up to the principles embodied by this organization, and that is why we have been working hard to make that happen."

    In all, six nations - China, India, Italy, Japan, Korea and Singapore - were granted observer status to the council, joining several previously-accepted counties from Europe. The eight states that are permanent members of the non-binding panel all touch the Arctic Circle, including the United States, through Alaska. Denmark is connected to the Arctic Circle through its relationship with Greenland, which is a semi-autonomous territory.

    Canada's minister to the council, Leona Aglukkaq, voiced mild but restrained discomfort with the new observers to the council, which she said was created "by northerners, for northerners, before the Arctic was of interest to the rest of the world." Canada will chair of the council for the next two years.

    The ministers' short meeting, which is held only every two years, also attracted a scattering of protesters form the environmental group Greenpeace, who held banners outside Kiruna's small city hall urging "No Arctic oil." A hulking black mountain, from which iron ore is mined, served as the backdrop for the meeting in the small Arctic town where snow had melted to slush.

    US Secretary of State John Kerry, sporting a blue suit coat amid the ski sweaters and tribal costumes at the meeting, said the world must crack down on polluting emissions that endanger the Arctic. He said the U.S. and China are two of the globe's largest contributors to emissions.

    "No one nation can solve this," Kerry said. "No one is doing enough. The problem is that everything we do, or everything that another nation does, is going to be wiped out by China or another nation if they continue with coal-fired power at the rate we are seeing. So the warning signals are there."

  2. Arctic biodiversity degrades, says Arctic Council...

    KIRUNA, SWEDEN, May 15 (Xinhua)

    -- The Arctic Biodiversity Assessment (ABA) released at the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting on Wednesday said the Arctic biodiversity has degraded.

    According to the report, "Arctic biodiversity is being degraded, but decisive action taken now can help sustain the vast, relatively undisturbed ecosystems of tundra, mountains, fresh water and seas and the valuable services they provide."

    The ABA identified "climate change" as the most serious underlying driver of overall change in biodiversity. And it called for "an ecosystem-based approach to management" and highlighted the importance of mainstreaming biodiversity by making it integral to other policy fields, for example, in development, plans and operations.

    "The assessment, which explores the potentially dramatic consequences of climate change and other factors that adversely affect species and their habitats in the Arctic, will provide critical information to policy makers on what is needed to secure the ecosystems and species that local communities rely on for their livelihoods." said Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, Executive Secretary for the Convention on Biological Diversity.

    The ABA contains trends of Arctic biodiversity and offers policy recommendations for biodiversity conservation

    It is complied by the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF), the biodiversity working group of the Arctic Council.

    Approximately 230 people, including ministers, delegates from the eight Arctic states, representatives of indigenous peoples, scientists and observers, participated Wednesday's Arctic Council meeting, which marks the end of the two-year Swedish chairmanship and the beginning of the Canadian chairmanship of the Arctic Council.

  3. China holds exercise to deal with oil spills ...

    China has held first ever exercise in its history to deal with oil spills in the sea.

    During the manoeuvres, a collision of a tanker carrying 20,000 tons of oil with an empty cargo ship was simulated. Over 300 rescuers, 38 ships, two aircraft, sanitary transport, as well as local fishermen took part in the exercise.
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