The North Pole: Who Does It Belong To? – Tiffany Lee, Canada & Anna Louise Todsen, Denmark

The North Pole was once dismissed as a frozen wasteland, but during the past decade, its value has certainly changed in the eyes of the five Arctic countries and the race for the Arctic sovereignty is heating up.

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A detailed map of the territories and claims

The battle for the North Pole

The Arctic region consists of international and territorial waters and land. All of the land and territorial waters belong to one of the five Arctic countries: Russia, Norway, Denmark, Canada and the United States. However, currently, no country owns the international waters including the North Pole, and the five Arctic countries are limited to an exclusive economic zone (EEZ – a sea zone prescribed by the UN Convention on the Law of the SEA) of one nautical mile.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) defines the rights and responsibilities for countries when it comes to the use of world oceans, and it has determined that a country has 10 years to make claims to an extended continental shelf after having validated the convention. All of the five Arctic countries except the U.S. have acceded to the convention and have all claimed certain areas of the Arctic region and must make any desired claims by 2013, 2014, 2006 and 2007. If the claim is validated, it gives the country exclusive rights on or below the seabed.

An attractive seabed

The reason behind this desire for ownership of the Arctic seabed isn’t the enormous amount of icy wilderness present there but what’s underneath. The US Geological Survey estimates that there is about 22% of the world’s undiscovered oil and natural gas sources in the seabed of the Arctic and the ongoing global warming is opening up previously unusable shipping routes between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The United Nations panel in New York will have a final say in who’s going to control of the area that turns out to be way more valuable than previously thought.

What the Canadian government says

On December 24, 2013, the Canadian minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, wished Santa Claus a merry Christmas Eve as a Canadian citizen with a new Canadian passport. In his official statement, Kenney referred to Santa Claus’ home in the North Pole as Canada when he granted him the “automatic right to re-enter Canada once his trip around the world is complete”. The infamous Christmas figure has not yet issued a statement responding to the Canadian government officials a year after his citizenship was granted. However, this new passport did not come out of the blue. A few weeks prior, the Canadian government sent in its claim to the Arctic. After 10 years of mapping, the government has written up claiming a part of the Arctic seabed, and when Prime Minister Stephen Harper realized that this claim went all the way up the Arctic but did not reach the North Pole or other desirable areas, he ordered for it to be remapped to include them. However, since this was last minute, the Canadian government ended up telling the UN that their inclusion of the North Pole was only preliminary and would provide further evidence. What does this mean for Canada’s claim to the North Pole? Is it valid in any way? The government hopes to claim the North Pole for the resources that may lie underneath. The province of Alberta is famous for its oil and Canadians have seen the immense economic benefits that oil can bring, as Alberta is now thriving in this modern economy. Albertans and some British Columbians and possibly some Saskatchewanians benefit from this oil, but if the bulk of the wealth being shared is near the province, who will benefit most from the resources of the North Pole? The wealth from Canada’s oil has not been able to benefit all, as the income inequality gap still remains wide here in 2015. However, claiming the North Pole would most likely create many employment opportunities for Canadians from coast to coast, as we have seen in Alberta, so perhaps this wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

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Bdr. Yannick Tessier and Sgt. Claude Gelinas at the North Pole, holding a Canadian flag

The Validity of Harper’s Claim

In my humble opinion, I do not believe this claim to the North Pole’s validity can be judged yet, as the Canadian government has not yet given any substantial evidence. On the other hand, as a Canadian concerned about climate change, I fear that if the Conservative government, under Harper’s leadership, receives the Arctic under its control, they will exploit the Arctic for it’s resources and further the damage Canadians place on the environment. However, as there are not enough actions preventing climate change, the famous Northwest Passage may open. If the Northwest Passage opens up, it is in Canada’s national interest to claim it, as it could bring positive revenue from the trade ships travelling through it. However, the UN has declared this as international waters. Should the Canadian government focus on claiming the passage or the disputed North Pole area? As for the North Pole, if the government scientists who wrote up the claim did not include the Arctic after 10 years of mapping, can the claim really be valid? If there was any real evidence for the North Pole being apart of the Canadian continental shelf, wouldn’t they have originally included it? Why wouldn’t they? It is supposedly in Canada’s national interest to expand their oil exports. Huh. Some food for thought, eh?

The Danish Claim

The eventual ownership of the Arctic seabed would increase the Danish influence on the management of the Arctic nature and resources but it would also enlarge the Danish vote in a future where the Arctic will have an increasing geopolitical importance. That is why the Danish government has not hesitated when investing money in researches aiming to prove that Greenland, a semiautonomous Danish territory, is connected to the region around the North Pole by a long underwater mountain, which justifies a Danish claim for the Arctic Seabed.

On December 15th 2014, Denmark has declared a daring claim to ownership of 895,541 square kilometers of the continental shelf around the North Pole based on scientific data maintained from 12 years and $55 million invested in intensive research.

But the eventual economic advantage that the ownership of the resource-rich area around the North Pole isn’t the only factor affecting this dispute. Through this claim, Denmark is also proving a political point to the independence-seeking Greenland and showing that the Danish government is capable of taking their interests in account. In Greenland, this claim is very popular, and for Greenlanders, it’s not just about the resources in the Arctic seabed, but it’s also just as much about the feeling of being a part of the Arctic.

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A map of Denmark’s Claim

Is it provocative?

But have the Danes gone to far, when claiming an area which is 20 times larger than the kingdom’s actual size? Are the Danes being too greedy? The claim may sound provocative in the ears of the other countries competing for the resource-rich area, and may bring them into conflict. The Danes are claiming the whole Lomonosov Ridge while Canada and Russia only are claiming a part of the ridge, and the Danish bid has been criticized by various Arctic experts. Canadian professor Michael Byers describes it as “ironic that the only country that right now could be said to be acting provocatively in the Arctic tic is Denmark. That is out of character with the country’s tradition of constructive diplomacy” in an interview with the Danish newspaper “Politiken”. But the Danes are firm in their claim, and defend themselves, stating that the Lomonosov Ridge is still scientifically proven to be a natural extension of Greenland, and therefore, belongs to the Kingdom of Denmark.
Seen through a Danes eyes, I agree with some of the Arctic experts: the Danish claim may be a little too greedy, and I understand why the other countries may find it a bit provocative. Could owning just a part of the Lomonosov Ridge not be enough?

Danish experts states that Denmark has good chances in getting at least some of the territory they asked for.

Canadian reactions to Denmark claiming North Pole

A year after Canada, Denmark claimed the North Pole with much more substantial evidence. While Prime Minister Harper is most likely not pleased, Canada still seems to enjoy a decently friendly relationship with Denmark. In the past, our two countries have teamed up against Russia in their claim for Lomonosov Ridge and there have not been any particularly angry reactions from the Canadian government on this recent claim. Most of the Arctic relations have been dealt through diplomatic discussions, rather than duking it out on the military front. Lets hope it stays this way.

From a Canadian civilian perspective, I don’t know which country should get the North Pole. If the government of Canada has legitimate evidence to prove that the North Pole is apart of our continental shelf, I am all for Canada gaining Arctic sovereignty, as it may unlock more economic potential for our nation. However, as the friendly Canadian I am, I would certainly give Denmark or Russia the North Pole if they had proof that the North Pole was actually theirs. If two, or maybe even three, countries realize that they share the North Pole, why not split it? “This is my half of the pole and this is yours. Alright, now, let’s discuss world peace and extreme poverty. And heck, lets find a cure for HIV and AIDS while we’re at it, because we figured out who the North Pole really belongs to”. While I say all of this simplistically, I must also acknowledge that countries may falsely claim dear Saint Nick’s home as their own. Perhaps the United Nations should create their own team to map the Arctic, but how can we ever be sure? Do we need outsiders to help ensure that the information is true? And who would these outsiders be, exactly?

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Is Santa’s home worth it?

The Arctic claims are certainly news to keep an eye out for, as the nations involved are very invested and with the global temperature of our Earth rising faster than ever, the countries and the United Nations will need to act soon. The rising debate among the nations involved shows us that even in 2015, we are still focussed on our own national interest. By focussing on our economic interests, we are not thinking about how the ownership of the Arctic will affect the world as a whole. Our world is facing a climate change crisis that not enough governments are acknowledging. Drilling in the North Pole will advance this change in our global temperature, and affect all of humanity. On the other hand, we could create many jobs and economic opportunities for the nation who receives control of the North Pole. Personally, from my perspective, I don’t think this will improve the future. I believe nations should be working together to address more pressing matters, such as health care, poverty, and clean energy. But nonetheless, the United Nations will be addressing who receives control of the North Pole. Who do you think has a valid claim to the North Pole? Let us know what you think!

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