Land Grab 2.0

The AP had an interesting piece on Monday about Canadian efforts to lay claim to lands being newly “discovered” along the Northwest Passage, as global warming continues to melt arctic ice.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said six to eight patrol ships will guard what he says are Canadian waters. A deep water port will also be built in a region the U.S. Geological Survey estimates has as much as 25 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas…

As global warming melts the passage ā€” which now is only navigable during a slim window in the summer ā€” the waters are exposing unexplored resources such as oil, fishing stocks and minerals, and becoming an attractive shipping route. Commercial ships can shave off some 2,480 miles from Europe to Asia compared with current routes through the Panama Canal.

The Northwest Passage is, of course, best known for the failed efforts of explorers to find a navigational northern passage for ships. I wrote some months ago about how global warming could bring back largely stagnant fields of study–like cartography and geography–that have suffered over recent decades from a lack of fresh material.

More troubling and important, however, are the political implications as nations seek to take advantage of newly available natural resources.

Canadians have long claimed the waters. But their government has generally turned a blind eye to the United States, which has sent naval vessels and submarines through what it considers an international strait.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the ice cap is warming faster than the rest of the planet and ice is receding, partly due to greenhouse gases.

“The ongoing discovery of the north’s resource riches coupled with the potential impact of climate change has made the region a growing area of interest and concern,” Harper said.

Professor Anthony D’Amato, who teaches international law at Northwestern University, said Canada’s attempt to secure future economic gains as the area thaws and becomes more navigable was unlikely to change the international community’s view of sovereignty in the area.

“For Canada to now come in and take advantage of the ice break-up is just unacceptable,” said D’Amato. “Just because there’s a change in the weather doesn’t mean there’s a change in the law.”

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