Thursday, 13 September 2007

The Arctic Gold Rush

Apologies for the light posting. Here's one I wrote a few weeks ago but didn't get around to posting:

For years climate scientists and environmental campaigners have worried about the impact that climate change is having on the Arctic. These impacts range from native villages sinking as the permafrost thaws, to more polar bears giving birth on land as the sea ice melts. And because the dark ocean water absorbs more heat than the reflective ice, a thawing Arctic could lead to faster and faster melting.

Now the world has recognised another unintended consequence of climate change in the Arctic.All that melting ice has uncovered a vast untapped frontier within easy reach of the industrialised economies. Geologists estimate that the ocean floor beneath the Arctic ice holds valuable deposits of iron, gold and other minerals - along with as much oil as Saudi Arabia.

And the rush is on. A month ago Russia launched a surprise expedition to plant a flag on the ocean floor beneath the North Pole and lay claim to a vast swathe of the Arctic sea floor. Then the Financial Times reported that Canada is also prepared to make a claim:

"The Russians sent a submarine to drop a small flag at the bottom of the ocean. We're sending ouor prime minister to reassert Canadian sovereignty," said a senior government official according to Canadian press."

Canada is focused on maintaining ownership of the Northwest Passage, an ice-free transit route that promises to slash shipping times between Asia and the Atlantic. With so much manufacturing taking place in China, that could help to reduce overall shipping-related carbon emissions.

But those savings would be dwarfed by the emissions from using all that oil, regardless of who owns it. It's ironic that climate change has exposed a vast new reserve of fossil fuels which, if used, will accelerate the warming.