Climate change and evolving regional ocean governance in the Arctic
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Climate change has had major impacts on the Arctic region, most dramatically exemplified by the severe and sustained downward trend in the region's ice cover evident in recent summers. These ongoing environmental changes are leading to notable development opportunities, for example in terms of the gradual opening of long-blocked sea lanes and with respect to accessing valuable marine resources. These developments are, in turn, driving significant geopolitical and socio-economic shifts amongst Arctic nations and between Arctic nations and the international community.
Consequently the Arctic has been the focus of unprecedented interest and attention in recent years. Much of the contemporary narrative on the Arctic tends to characterise the region as an arena for resource-driven jurisdictional and geopolitical rivalry among competing interested States. Such States primarily, but not exclusively. comprise the Arctic littoral States; in fact, considerable interest in the region has been shown by extra-regional powers.'
This chapter challenges salient aspects of this seemingly prevailing and remarkably persistent, yet arguably also rather misleading, vision of the Arctic as a potential or indeed likely zone of conflict. We provide first a contextual overview of climate change impacts on the Arctic. Key territorial and maritime jurisdictional developments are then addressed, and it is suggested that the maritime claims of the Arctic littoral States are in keeping with international norms. Emerging socio-economic pressures in the Arctic system that have largely come to prominence in the context of a warming Arctic are then explored; in particular, suggestions that the Arctic may be a last great frontier for seabed oil and gas exploration is critically examined. Similarly, the potential for Arctic navigational opportunities to transform global sea borne trade routes is put in context.
These observations are underpinned by a detailed examination of developments at the sub-regional level through a case study of the Barents Sea. This approach illustrates how the complex challenges posed by changing environmental conditions, coupled with increasing socio-economic activity, are being addressed in practice. It is suggested that developments in the Barents Sea tell an alternative, and far more promising. Arctic story than the tales of competition and looming conflict generally associated with coverage of the Arctic in recent years.
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