I think everyone knows that environmental issues are exceptionally important for the period that Sweden holds the Presidency of the Arctic Council.
The Council is an intergovernmental organization that in recent years has become more robust, and after extensive negotiations last year we were able to conclude the first binding agreement between the eight member states. It was about the rescue operations in the Arctic region.
While we were in agreement that the next step would be to launch negotiations on an agreement for cooperation in dealing with the environmental impact of oil exploration in the Arctic, mainly various forms of emissions.
That work is ongoing, and I have every hope that it will be possible to close a deal on time. Norway, the United States, Russia, and Greenland are the ones most closely involved in this work, but environmental organizations also have a seat at the table where these matters are discussed.
In addition we are also working to strengthen prevention efforts related to oil exploration and to protect sensitive areas in the Arctic.
In some quarters, people want us to work toward having all these countries prohibit the extraction of oil in the Arctic Ocean.
This is a point of view which currently has a small chance of success
As long as the extraction is under coastal states’ jurisdiction, they also should have the right to decide. Currently, there is no desire by the coastal states to impose a global moratorium.
We would simply hit our heads against the wall and waste the opportunity for progress that now actually exists when it comes to environmental protection in the Arctic. It would hardly be responsible – especially towards the environment.
In our western neighbor, Norway, these issues have been discussed intensively for a long time, and my impression is that in Norway managed to achieve a good balance between the competing interests.
Awareness of the demands the environment places is very strong.
In Russia there is much that needs to be improved.
The country’s dependence on the extraction of energy in the arctic regions, such as the Yamal Peninsula and Kara Sea, will probably increase, and then the work we have currently launched in the Arctic Council to protect the environment is of the utmost importance.
In May next year we will hand over the Arctic Council presidency to Canada, and when I visit Ottawa as well as the country’s northernmost areas in the coming weeks to, these issues will be the focus of the talks.
Carl Bildt is Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. This article was originally published in Swedish on the Newsmill opinion website.