By Martin Banks - 22nd September 2010
The EU certainly has an important role to play in future dialogue on arctic issues
Lars Moller, of the Arctic Council
The EU has "much to contribute" in tackling climate change and other related issues in the arctic, an international conference in Moscow has heard.
Speaking at the opening of the two-day event in the Russian capital, Lars Moller, of the Arctic Council, said he supported the European commission's application for observer status in his organisation which brings together eight countries, including EU members - Denmark, Sweden and Finland.
The Arctic Council is a political forum dedicated to international cooperation and collaboration in the arctic and Moller said commission involvement in the body would "further enhance the EU's contribution in dealing with issues relating to the arctic".
Moller, a senior arctic official with the council, said, "The EU certainly has an important role to play in future dialogue on arctic issues and both I and Denmark endorse the commission's application for observer status."
One example of current EU input, he said, was a research project in Svalbard, Norway, which had benefited from "significant funding" from the EU. The project is designed to develop greater understanding of the region.
He said that, given the increased international focus on the arctic, the Moscow conference, which concludes on Thursday, was "timely and pertinent" and also indicates the importance that the Russian Federation once again attaches to the arctic.
He said, "The arctic is changing, first and foremost as a result of climate change. This will present new challenges and opportunities and we have to ensure that we benefit from these."
The Dane also used a keynote address to appeal for the council to be strengthened, pointing out that, at present, it has no permanent secretariat, no budget and that its decisions are non-binding.
The event in Moscow has attracted some 400 experts, including politicians, scientists, NGOs and business representatives from 15 countries to discuss the future of the arctic. Talks at the forum, which will be attended by Russian president Vladimir Putin, will focus on the environmental issues in the arctic, the rights of indigenous peoples in the region and the development of energy resources.
International security and cooperation in the arctic will also be a key focus.
Although the event is not expected to bring any major breakthroughs in long-standing arctic disputes it is hoped the forum may help determine the trajectory of arctic development.
Olav Orheim, a senior advisor with the Norwegian research council, said the arctic was currently experiencing "rapid change".
He said, "It is quite remarkable what we are seeing, particularly over the past four years. Nowhere else on earth are we witnessing such dramatic change, change which impacts directly on the global climate."
He cited, as example, the fact that this year and for the first time, ships had been able to navigate the north west passage in the arctic without encountering any ice.
"We are living in dramatic times but the important thing to remember is that for sound management of the arctic requires strictly research-based knowledge," he said. "We cannot tackle the various arctic-related problems without multi-national cooperation."
Another speaker, Artur Chilingarov, Putin's special envoy for international cooperation in the arctic, said, "Not so long ago the arctic was a scene of confrontation between two world systems but this is changing and it is now a good example of international cooperation and good neighbourly relations."
He said Russia and Norway set a good example for other arctic nations by settling their territorial claims in the region, believed to contain vast oil and gas reserves.
Moscow and Oslo recently signed a treaty on delimiting the two countries' maritime border and cooperation in the Barents Sea, ending a 40-year dispute over an area of seabed some 175,000 square kilometres large, roughly the half the size of Germany.
The zone will now be divided into two almost equal parts, with the continental shelf and exclusive economic zones of the two countries clearly drawn.