Members of European Parliament (MEPs), gathered for a plenary session here, on Thursday called for a ban on Arctic drilling and increased efforts to keep tensions in the region low as polar ice melts at alarming rates.
Adopted by 483 votes in favor against 100, with 37 abstentions, the resolution indicates increasing concerns across Europe about the future of the Arctic region as seas continue to warm and polar ice recedes.
Arctic sea ice has been declining rapidly over the last several decades, with minimum ice coverage in the region reaching record lows four times in the last 13 years, and with 2016 as the warmest year on record for the Arctic sea, according to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center.
Data from the European Environment Agency as well indicates that as much as 280 billion tons of arctic ice has been lost per year between 2013 and 2015.
The receding ice has presented both new opportunities and new risks, as new shipping lanes open up and previously unreachable natural resources become more readily accessible.
According to a January European Parliament briefing on Arctic continental shelf claims, the new routes could shorten shipping time up to 40 percent between Europe and Asia.
In their Thursday resolution, however, MEPs expressed concern about new environmental and security challenges, asking for measures to protect the fragile and unique Arctic ecosystem.
“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 the Parliament’s co-rapporteur on the resolution, Sirpa Pietikainen (European People’s Party group, Finland).
Four million inhabitants of the Arctic region, along with flora and fauna, would be the first affected by the negative consequences of rising pollution levels.
For this reason, “the vulnerable Arctic environment, as well as the fundamental rights of indigenous people, must be respected and protected with more stringent safeguards,” argued MEPs.
Considering the danger of fossil fuel extraction in particular, the parliamentarians called for a ban on oil drilling in the Arctic waters of the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA), noting that fossil fuel use is also accelerating climate change.
“The geopolitical importance of the Arctic is growing,” added co-rapporteur Urmas Paet (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, Estonia). “Our main goal is to keep the region as a low-tension area and prevent its militarization.”
Parliamentarians stressed the importance of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum, in “maintaining constructive cooperation, low tension and stability” in the region.
The Arctic Council is made up of Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States, as well as six organizations representing indigenous peoples.
Key international legislation, however, has not yet been ratified by all the Arctic states, notably in the case of the United States not having ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS).
This legislation, in force since 1994, provides important guidelines on use of the world’s seas and their natural resources.
With three EU member states (Denmark, Finland and Sweden) as well as two EEA states (Iceland and Norway) as Arctic states, the Union has pushed for a unified policy toward the region.
The January European Parliament brief argues that the EU will focus on “climate action and environmental research, sustainable development, telecommunications, search and rescue, as well as cooperation with Arctic states, institutions, indigenous peoples and local communities”. Enditem