JG - Trade powers slowly colonising the Arctic - Caribbean tourism likely to be end loser
Trade powers slowly colonising the Arctic - Caribbean tourism likely to be end loser
published: Sunday October 7, 2007
David Jessop THIS WEEK IN EUROPE
Three thousand miles and seemingly light years away from any issue that might interest the Caribbean, a territorial confrontation of sorts is under way to control uninhabited parts of the Arctic.
For months now, Russia, the United States, Canada and Denmark have been involved in a low intensity but rapidly unfolding struggle that seeks to determine who owns the land beneath an ocean that for centuries has remained frozen.
The issue first came to public attention when a Russian parliamentary deputy planted a Russian flag using an undersea submersible some four kilometres beneath the ice cap at the North Pole.
He did so with the endorsement of President Putin in a very public demonstration of Russia's claim to the region.
Canada responded, announcing that it would open a deep-water naval base to parallel its arctic military training facility on the northern tip of Baffin Island.
It also said that it would step up its Arctic naval patrols and would henceforth have a "growing, real and long-term presence" in the region.
This, in turn, prompted Denmark to announce that it would invest in developing evidence that made clear its claim on the Arctic through sending scientific expeditions to survey the undersea mountain ridge that is attached to its territory of Greenland.
The United States has also said that it intends to assert its sovereignty.
Speaking recently in Norway, Claudia McMurray, the United States assistant secretary for Oceans and International Environ-mental and Scientific Affairs, noted that the loss of ice and the opening of previously inaccessible areas provided new opportunities for energy exploration in the region.
A U.S. coast guard icebreaker, she said, had recently returned from mapping an area further north than ever before, unimpeded by pack ice.
For the U.S., she said, this raised new issues about access to the region.
At the same time, the U.S. Senate has begun to move towards a vote on ratifying the 10-year-old United Nations Law of the Sea in recognition that Washington has no present locus in any international debate on the future of the Arctic seabed.
Only Norway, which also has a claim on the Arctic, to its credit, has considered the global environmental implications of claiming the Arctic.
Oooguruk Island, the manmade island built by Pioneer Natural Resources, sits off of the coast of Alaska's North Slope, seen in this photo taken Wednesday, September 26. The company built the six-acre island so it could drill for oil on the Arctic Ocean. - AP
What this is all about is an economic opportunity of a kind that has not arisen for the developed world for centuries: the availability of a vast tract of land with an unclear legal title containing as much as a quarter of the world's untapped oil reserves.
It also represents an opportunity to use for at least part of the year, a new low-cost trade route between the Pacific and the Atlantic.
The implication of this quiet struggle for Arctic supremacy is that the nations concerned have reliable scientific projections about the further thinning of the polar ice sheet.
This carries an alarming environmental message for the Caribbean as the melting of the Arctic ice cap not only denotes a rise in sea temperatures and less predictable tropical weather, but also presages sea-level change.
Although scientific opinion is inexact, studies indicate that a one-foot rise in sea level could translate in up to a 200-foot retreat of shoreline because of wave and tidal action.
Given that most estimates of sea level change suggest something between a one- and two-foot rise this century, it is not hard to imagine the economic implications for the Caribbean region where most communities and economic activity are adjacent to the shore.
In the last week, Caribbean foreign ministers attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York, without exception raised the region's concerns about climate change.
Speaking on October 2, Charles Savarin, Dominica's Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that sea-level change threatened the territorial existence of Small Island Developing States. These, he said, "may simply disappear in the next 30 years or less."
"The beaches, coastal tourism plant and loss of coastal communications infrastructure would devastate the tourism economy of most island states," he warned.
"Rising sea temperature is causing death and the bleaching of coral reefs which, in turn, is impacting negatively on fish stocks, the major source of protein of island states."
The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of The Bahamas, Brent Symonette, pointed out that climate change was not just a matter or economics, but of survival. Some 80 per cent of The Bahamas' land mass, he said, is within five feet of mean sea level.
Implications of Climate change
Other concerns about the implications of climate change on Small Island Developing States have been voiced internationally.
In mid September, the European Commission released a policy paper on climate change and developing countries.
Its principal focus was on establishing a global alliance between developing countries and the EU in preparation for the international debate on whatever succeeds the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.
To support its new approach, the EC is proposing funding a number of initiatives for Small Island Developing States and the Least Developed Countries. These include support for research to quantify adaptation strategies; reducing deforestation; creating regional financial vehicles for a clean development mechanism; and reducing disaster risk.
In early October, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation meeting in Davos, concluded that changing climate patterns migh tourism flows to regions such as the Caribbean.
They noted that global warming will particularly affect coastal, mountain and nature-based destinations in Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States. The meeting suggested that the tourism sector needs to focus on adaptation measures in affected tourism destinations in order to safeguard economic returns and jobs.
In a region where the majority lives within five kilometres of the coast, sea-level change is not an easy issue to address.
At the very least, it suggests the gradual migration of large groups of people and a need to reconstruct or defend much of the region's coastal economic infrastructure, including that related to tourism.
Small Island Developing States are likley to be earliest and hardest hit by climate change.
The positive rhetoric at the UN urgently requires the detail necessary for both the public and private sector to make the region's case internationally.
David Jessop is director of the Caribbean Council. Email: