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The Climate Summit and the economic activities in the Arctic
14/12/2015 - 08h00

Marcelo Rech

While the world leaders seek an agreement on the climate that prevents the temperature increase on Earth, a relevant fact has been ignored and may turn in serious damage to the environmental security: the economic activities in the Arctic, a region that is rich in natural resources as oil, gas and ores. The interest of the great powers in the economic exploitation grows more each day, which represents a serious threat to the planet.

According to preliminary estimates, the Arctic would be responsible for around 25% of the oil and gas reserves still not exploited. Besides, the region is rich in deposits of gold, diamonds, platinum, tin, manganese, nickel and lead. Since the great countries have given priority to the sea traffic through the North Sea – which takes half of the time regarding the traditional route between Europe and Asia through the Suez Canal –, the economic activities within the Arctic Circle are increasingly more intense.

The problem is that not all countries observe and respect the risks of development of the Arctic. A study by the International Council of Clean Transportation (ICCT) shows that the biggest damages to the region are being caused by the actions of the United States. The situation is so serious that Washington woke up for the irreversible problems that may arise.

Recently, the North American government started a strategy of planning of its economic policies for the Arctic. However, politicians and specialists of the United States worry about the fact that the country is behind other nations, like Russia, for example, in terms of military presence and policies of development for the region.

In September, President Barack Obama announced, in Alaska, that the United States will accelerate the building of icebreaker ships for the Coast Guard. Today, the country holds the 5th place regarding the number of vessels of this type, behind Russia, Sweden, Finland and Canada.

The inconsistencies are especially worrying. Washington had shut down the programs of national and international companies in the Arctic, but has just authorized Shell to prospect oil in the region. The company will use two drilling rigs for the establishment of six wells in the Chukchi Sea. The decision of the White House was condemned by environmentalists of the whole world.

They consider a mistake to authorize this kind of activity, since the climatic conditions in the Arctic are complicated and the ecosystem is fragile. In 2012, Shell had one of its rigs stranded and paid more than US$ 1 million in fines for water and air pollution.

For the Natural Resources Defense Council, an eventual oil leak in the Arctic would be impossible to clean. The fear is that a constant production activity will turn in accidents like the one that happened in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, in which millions of oil barrels were poured, causing incalculable damage to the environment.

Several North American congressmen already consider a change in the legislation to make more rigid the standards of exploitation and production of oil, especially in the Arctic. It would not be a bad idea if the subject entered once and for all in the global agenda on the climate.

Marcelo Rech is a journalist and analyst of the Institute InfoRel of International Relations and Defense. E-mail: