Who Owns the Arctic?: Understanding Sovereignty Disputes in the North [NOOK Book]


Who actually controls the Northwest Passage? Who owns the trillions of dollars of oil and gas beneath the Arctic Ocean? Which territorial claims will prevail, and why — those of the United States, Russia, Canada, or the Nordic nations? And, in an age of rapid climate change, how do we protect the fragile Arctic environment while seizing the economic opportunities presented by the rapidly melting sea-ice? Michael Byers, a leading Arctic expert and international lawyer clearly and concisely explains the sometimes ...
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Who Owns the Arctic?: Understanding Sovereignty Disputes in the North

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Who actually controls the Northwest Passage? Who owns the trillions of dollars of oil and gas beneath the Arctic Ocean? Which territorial claims will prevail, and why — those of the United States, Russia, Canada, or the Nordic nations? And, in an age of rapid climate change, how do we protect the fragile Arctic environment while seizing the economic opportunities presented by the rapidly melting sea-ice? Michael Byers, a leading Arctic expert and international lawyer clearly and concisely explains the sometimes contradictory rules governing the division and protection of the Arctic and the disputes over the region that still need to be resolved. What emerges is a vision for the Arctic in which cooperation, not conflict, prevails and where the sovereignty of individual nations is exercised for the benefit of all. This insightful little book is an informed primer for today's most pressing territorial issue.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"In this comprehensive book, Byers addresses ownership of the oil and gas reserves in the Beaufort Sea, the Arctic activities of the Russians (we shouldn't feel threatened), and the not-so-burning question of who owns tiny Hans Island. As an Arctic-issues primer, this timely, cogent, focused work cannot be beat."—Globe and Mail, Ken McGoogan
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781926706962
  • Publisher: D & M Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/23/2010
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 478,014
  • File size: 525 KB

Meet the Author

Michael Byers holds a Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law. Prior to 2004, he was a Professor of Law and Director of Canadian Studies at Duke University; from 1996-1999, he was a Research Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford University. Dr. Byers' work focuses on the interaction of international law and politics, particularly with respect to human rights, international organizations, the use of military force, the Arctic, and Canada-United States relations. He has published six books, dozens of academic papers and more than 100 op-ed articles.
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Read an Excerpt

From Chapter One: Why Sovereignty Matters

In today’s Arctic, sovereignty matters because of climate change, which is more apparent there than anywhere else on earth. Some of the change is being driven by “feedback loops” that arise out of the precarious balance between water and ice. An increase in average annual temperature of just a fraction of one degree can transform a large expanse of highly reflective sea-ice into dark, heat-absorbing ocean water. It can also turn rock-hard, chemically stable permafrost into a decomposing, methane-emitting morass of ancient plant material. In the last four decades, average annual temperatures in Alaska, the Northwest Territories and western Nunavut have increased by around 3° Celsius.

Climate change is altering the North at astonishing speed. When I visited Auyuittuq National Park in August 2007, park manager David Argument pointed to rapidly retreating glaciers, melting permafrost and strikingly green tundra. Ironically, in a park whose Inuktitut name means “land that never melts,” dozens of hikers were evacuated the following summer when high temperatures created an extreme risk of flash floods.

In nearby Pangnirtung, Mayor Manasa Evic explained that the caribou have all but disappeared, while rising ocean temperatures have caused the collapse of a multimillion-dollar commercial ice fishery. Canada’s northernmost community, Grise Fiord, lost its regular water supply after the source glacier melted away; the intrepid residents have been chopping up icebergs instead. While on board the Coast Guard research icebreaker Amundsen in late October 2006, I witnessed the absence of sea-ice in the Northwest Passage—and saw just how easy it would be for cargo ships to sail through.

In an increasingly accessible Arctic, much depends on Canada having clearly defined boundaries and the undisputed authority to apply its laws within them. The alternative is a Wild West situation, where might makes right and the vulnerable—including the environment and northern residents—suffer.

In the nineteenth century, Canada avoided general lawlessness on its western frontier by deploying the North West Mounted Police in advance of the settlers. Our ability to manage expansion in a mostly peaceful manner contributed to our distinctiveness from the United States, where the frontier was a chaotic and dangerous place. Today, we face similar challenges and opportunities in the Arctic. Securing clarity as to the extent of our sovereign rights, and developing the capacity to assert and protect them, is a national project for the twenty-first century.


Oil and Gas

Sovereignty matters because of natural resources as well. In May 2009, the U.S. Geological Survey released some truly stunning projections of undiscovered oil and gas resources north of the Arctic Circle: 83 billion barrels of oil, which is enough to meet current global demands for three years; and 44 trillion cubic metres of natural gas, or about fourteen years’ worth of supply. With most of the projected reserves located in waters less than 500 metres deep, the resources will likely fall within the uncontested jurisdiction of one or another Arctic Ocean coastal state.

Until recently, vast distances, winter darkness, inclement weather and ever-present thick and moving sea-ice made it prohibitively expensive to access Arctic oil and gas. But increased market prices and climate change have altered the situation. Gazprom is spending $20 billion developing the Shtokman field in the Russian portion of the Barents Sea, which is estimated to hold 3.8 trillion cubic metres of natural gas. On the Norwegian side, the smaller but still sizeable Snøhvit field is already producing. Exxon and bp recently spent $585 million and $1.2 billion respectively to acquire exploration licences on the Canadian side of the Beaufort Sea.

So far, concerns about the security of drilling licences have discouraged oil and gas exploration in areas of disputed sovereignty. But Big Oil, which is willing to deal with just about any government, is starting to push for agreed-upon boundaries. Governments, realizing that clear jurisdiction is a prerequisite for large-scale investment, are beginning to respond. Russia and Norway have negotiated a solution for the south Barents Sea; they are now working on their disputed boundary farther north. In May 2008, Denmark hosted a summit in Greenland at which the five Arctic Ocean countries reaffirmed their commitment to the law of the sea—including an existing scientific mechanism for vetting claims to extended continental shelves. Oil company executives no doubt breathed a collective sigh of relief.

In addition to preventing conflict between countries and providing stability for oil companies, using international law to delimit Arctic boundaries might serve another, less obvious function. We must never lose sight of the fact that the very opportunity to access Arctic oil and gas has arisen because we have burned so much oil and gas already and, by doing so, begun to change the climate. Ultimately, establishing clear boundaries may enable responsible governments to ensure that the carbon stays locked in the seabed, where it cannot contribute to even more, ever more dangerous climate change.



Increased amounts of shipping in the Arctic, related to both industry and tourism, are also making sovereignty more important than before. Although Canada has the longest coastline of any country, most of it is in the Arctic, and our northern coastline had for centuries been rendered inaccessible by thick, hard “multi-year” sea-ice, formed when ice survives one or more summers and new ice accretes to it. Now, climate change is causing the ice to disappear. The minimal summer extent of sea-ice was down 1 million km2 between September 2006 and September 2007, opening the Northwest Passage temporarily. The waterway was free of ice again in September 2008.

Soon, all of the Arctic’s sea-ice will melt away during the summer months. From that point onward, a great deal of ice will still form during winter, but it will be relatively thin, soft “first-year” ice—not the multi-year ice that poses the principal hazard to shipping. Regular cargo ships will be able to operate throughout the year with icebreaker assistance, while purpose-built ice-strengthened vessels will be able to travel alone. Hundreds of such ships are already being built in Finland and South Korea, many of them dual-direction vessels that will sail normally and efficiently in open water, then turn round and use their propellers—like Weed Eaters—to chew their way through first-year ice.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Are the Russians Coming?
Chapter One: Why Sovereignty Matters
Chapter Two: Who Owns Hans Island?
Chapter Three: An Ice-Free Northwest Passage
Chapter Four: The Northwest Passage in Contemporary Policy
Chapter Five: Negotiating over the Northwest Passage
Chapter Six: Who Owns the Seabed?
Chapter Seven: Sovereignty and the Inuit
Conclusion: An Arctic for Everyone
Appendix I: A Northwest Passage Scenario
Appendix II: Model Negotiation on Northern Waters
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