Climate change is bringing new environmental and security challenges in the Arctic, as the melting ice cap opens up new navigation and fishing routes, and competition for its natural resources heats up, say Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in a resolution voted on Thursday. They called for measures to protect the vulnerable Arctic ecosystem, ban oil drilling there and keep it a low-tension and cooperation area.
The resolution was passed by 483 votes to 100, with 37 abstentions.
“The Arctic region is very sensitive and vulnerable. If we destroy this area by using the resources there unsustainably, we shall not only be destroying a unique region, but also accelerating climate change and polluting a source of clean water. The effects on global fish stocks would also be catastrophic,” said co-rapporteur Sirpa Pietikainen (EPP, FI).
MEPs point out that Arctic has been warming about twice as fast as the global average and that sea ice has been shrinking significantly since 1981, to about 40 percent less than its summer extent 35 years ago.
They call for a ban on oil drilling in “icy” Arctic waters of the E.U. and the European Economic Area, as the use of fossil fuels will further accelerate climate change. This does not automatically imply a total ban on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, as, also on Thursday, the European Parliament rejected a proposal for a total ban of oil and gas exploration in the Arctic.
The MEPs also reiterated their 2014 call to halt the use of heavy fuel oil (HFO) in maritime transport on the Arctic sea. Should this not prove feasible at international level, the Commission should come up with rules to prohibit the use and carriage of HFO for vessels calling at E.U. ports, they add.
Four million people living in Arctic region, as well as its fauna and flora, are the first to experience the negative consequences of the increased pollution. So “the vulnerable Arctic environment, as well as the fundamental rights of indigenous people, must be respected and protected with more stringent safeguards,” say the MEPs.
EP co-rapporteur Urmas Paet (ALDE, ET) said: “The geopolitical importance of the Arctic is growing. Our main goal is to keep the region as a low-tension area and prevent its militarization.”
MEPs note the increased presence of Russian forces in the Arctic, which by 2015 “had established at least six new bases north of the Arctic Circle, including six deep-water ports and 13 airfields”. They also pay attention to China’s interest in accessing new shipping routes and energy resources.
MEPs advocate efforts to keep the Arctic a low-tension area and stress “the important role of the Arctic Council” in “maintaining constructive cooperation, low tension and stability” in the region.