Representatives of NATO and the alliance of legislators will meet in Iceland nations Thursday to discuss the security challenges that may arise as melting the Arctic Circle.
The area – one of the planet’s most fragile and pristine ecosystems – sits atop a wealth of untapped fossil fuel. And the melting of polar ice in the Arctic more accessible to ships, several countries argue over jurisdiction in the area.
“The interest is reflected in … claims by relevant stakeholders, and resumed a military presence in the area,” NATO said on its website. “As a region of strategic importance enduring NATO and allied security, progress in the High North require careful consideration and ongoing.”
U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 90 billion barrels of oil, 44 million barrels of natural gas liquids and 1,670 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas in the frozen north of the Arctic Circle.
At the same time, the water in the Arctic is warming so fast that the entire region could be ice-free in 2013.
And Russia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland are struggling to claim the property of the Arctic ice.
Unlike Antarctica, which has a treaty banning land claims, there is no agreement on the vast expanse of the Arctic. So questions about the rights of drilling and shipping lanes are a bit murky.
According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, countries have the right to exclusive economic zones of 200 miles of their coasts. However, some countries are trying to extend that zone.
Russian scientists want to prove that the seabed below the North Pole is part of the Eurasian continental shelf, an area called the Lomonosov Ridge.
If so, the region would be under Russian control. Moscow argued before a UN commission in 2001 that the ridge is an extension of its continental territory. But the United Nations asked for more evidence.
Danish scientists are trying to prove that the Lomonosov Ridge is connected to Greenland, Canada, and scientists are looking for links between the ridge and Ellesmere Island, a Canadian territory.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer will attend the two-day conference in Reykjavek.