New Analysis Finds Climate Change Is Driving New Security Concerns In The Arctic

Press Release
May 1, 2012

Contact: Rebecca Matulka, 202-701-5032, matulkar@c2es.org

 

New Analysis Finds Climate Change Is Driving New Security Concerns In The Arctic

Report Calls for Stronger Multilateral Mechanisms to Avert Potential Conflicts


Arctic melting driven by climate change is reshaping the geopolitics of the far North, and as governments respond with steps such as rebuilding their military capabilities, multilateral mechanisms must be strengthened to head off potential conflicts, according to a new analysis released today by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES).

The report, Climate Change and International Security: The Arctic as a Bellwether, examines a recent spate of Arctic-related announcements and actions by circumpolar states, including the United States, Canada, Russia and several European countries. The emerging security issues in the Arctic, it concludes, could foreshadow climate change’s broader influence on geopolitics globally in the post-Cold War era.

Temperatures are rising in the Arctic at about twice the global rate, and the decline in summer sea ice over the past decade is outpacing scientists’ projections. The rapid melting is driving increased interest in new and expanded shipping routes, oil and gas exploration, and Arctic fisheries.  In the five years since Russia planted its flag at the North Pole, Arctic states have issued a string of major policy announcements and begun reassessing and rebuilding their military capabilities in the region.

“The repositioning we see in the Arctic clearly demonstrates that climate change presents not only huge environmental and economic challenges, but national security challenges as well,” said C2ES President Eileen Claussen, formerly Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs and Senior Director for Global Environmental Affairs at the National Security Council. “These emerging Arctic issues are unfortunately just a preview of the kinds of security challenges we’ll see more of as the world warms.”

The analysis was led by political scientist Rob Huebert, associate director of the Center for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary. Huebert’s coauthors were Heather Exner-Pirot of the University of Saskatchewan, Adam Lajeunesse of the University of Calgary, and Jay Gulledge, senior scientist and director of the science and impacts program at C2ES. Heubert is presenting the report today at the Arctic Forum portion of the American Geophysical Union’s Science Policy Conference 2012.

In their analysis of countries’ announcements and actions since 2008, the report’s authors found that while all support the goal of maintaining cooperative relations in the region, several have also made clear that they intend to defend their national interests there if necessary. 

In policy statements, as well as multilateral actions and agreements, the Arctic countries have demonstrated a sincere desire for the region to be developed cooperatively and peacefully, the report says. For example, in the 2008 Ilulissat Declaration, the five coastal Arctic states—Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the United States—agreed to settle any territorial disputes under accepted principles of international law as they seek to extend their claims to Arctic territory.

On the other hand, the authors note, some countries are rebuilding military forces far beyond “constabulary” needs, such as policing waterways, and others are drawing up plans to. For example, Russia plans to build several new nuclear-powered submarines for fast attack or nuclear missile launch missions, and the Norwegian Air Force has announced plans to acquire 48 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. “Consequently,” the report says, “if political cooperation in the region should sour, most of the Arctic nations will have forces that are prepared to compete in a hostile environment.”

One potential source of tensions is access to shipping routes through the Northwest Passage, through the Canadian archipelago, and the Northeast Passage, along Russia’s coast. While the United States views freedom of the seas for navigation as a core interest in the Arctic, Canada and Russia, each with vastly more Arctic coastline than the United States, put stronger emphasis on territorial sovereignty.

To keep relations from veering toward conflict, the report calls for countries to move quickly to strengthen existing multilateral mechanisms. As a first step, it recommends that the Arctic Council, which includes all of the Arctic states, reconsider its existing prohibition on discussing military security issues. Otherwise, it warns, smaller groupings may emerge, and countries left out may feel threatened.

As another example, the report cites support by the Department of Defense for U.S. ratification of the Law of the Sea treaty, which provides a framework for resolving issues such as the delimitation of the continental shelf in the Arctic.

“The Arctic is a true bellwether on climate-related security issues,” said lead author Huebert. “Arctic states should act quickly to reinforce multilateral mechanisms before resource competition and core national interests take center stage. And other countries should watch closely to learn from our successes or failures in managing this new breed of security challenge.”

 

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About C2ES
The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) is an independent non-profit, non-partisan organization promoting strong policy and action to address the twin challenges of energy and climate change. Launched in November 2011, C2ES is the successor to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, long recognized in the United States and abroad as an influential and pragmatic voice on climate issues. C2ES is led by Eileen Claussen, who previously led the Pew Center and is the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.