Ambassador analyzes Arctic policy
By Stephanie Mc Feeters, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Arctic border states must cooperate to regulate the Arctic region and preserve its unique, rapidly-changing ecosystem, Danish Ambassador to the United States Peter Taksoe-Jensen said in a lecture on Tuesday in the Haldeman Center. Taksoe-Jensen, a former assistant secretary general of legal affairs to the United Nations, spoke to an audience of approximately 50 people in his lecture, “Arctic Challenges and Opportunities: A Danish Perspective.”
Melting Arctic ice has opened up new shipping routes and access to natural resources such as gas, oil and uranium, Taksoe-Jensen said. Uncharted waters and an abundance of ice make the Arctic a dangerous place to sail, he said, though the current melting ice makes the transportation route more viable.
“Things that could not be done earlier are now possible,” he said.
A strong governing body must regulate maritime law as more cruise ships and oil tankers take advantage of the new shipping routes, Taksoe-Jensen said. Without regulation, the region is susceptible to “a new Titanic” and “oil spills that could spoil the ocean ecosystems,” he said.
If oil tankers are allowed to travel without regulation, “it’s only a question of time before we would have an environmental disaster,” Taksoe-Jensen said. Denmark, Canada, Norway, Iceland, the United States and Russia must take responsibility as Arctic border states and cooperate to solve such problems, he said.
Taksoe-Jensen said many see the Arctic as “the last new frontier,” but he warned against looking at it “as the Wild West.”
“The best way to move forward is to actually have a framework where we can manage the challenges and opportunities by working together,” he said.
One possible avenue for collaboration is the Arctic Council, the current regulatory body of the Arctic, Taksoe-Jensen said. The council was established in 1996 and currently includes Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Russia and the United States. While international cooperation was previously limited to scientific research, countries’ shared interests are becoming more and more political, he said.
The Arctic Council convened in a landmark meeting in Nuuk, Greenland, this May to discuss scientific cooperation, marine pollution and shipping, Taksoe-Jensen said. All but one of the member countries sent their equivalent of a foreign minister, reflecting the importance of Arctic issues on the world stage and signaling a “much higher integration of cooperation” in the future, he said.
Delegates at the meeting signed an international search and rescue agreement, which Taksoe-Jensen called “a huge step forward” because it is the first legally-binding agreement among member states. Current international Arctic policy largely consists of guidelines rather than laws that can be enforced, he said, citing the International Maritime Organization’s guidelines.
Meaningful laws must be enacted before companies become accustomed to traveling through the region without having to follow any strict regulations, he said.
Denmark established a new Arctic policy in August that commits Denmark to “ensuring a peaceful, safe and secure Arctic, promoting self-sustainable development and respecting the vulnerable environment in close cooperation with our international partners,” he said.
The Danish vision is “very progressive but also grounded in reality,” Ross Virginia, the director of the Institute of Arctic Studies at the Dickey Center for International Understanding, said in an interview with The Dartmouth. Dartmouth is “very engaged” in Arctic issues through the Institute of Arctic Studies, which aims to spread awareness of Arctic issues, Virginia said.
Taksoe-Jensen’s lecture was sponsored by the Dickey Center.