Pushing the boundaries
Canada plans claim that would include North Pole
Ranger Joe Amarualik, from Iqaluit, Nunavut, drives his snowmobile on the ice during a Canadian Ranger sovereignty patrol near Eureka, on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut. Canada plans to make a claim to the North Pole in an effort to assert its sovereignty in the resource-rich Arctic, the country's foreign affairs minister said Monday. AP Photo
TORONTO — Canada plans to make a claim to the North Pole in an effort to assert its sovereignty in the resource-rich Arctic, the country’s foreign affairs minister said Monday.
John Baird said the government has asked scientists to work on a future submission to the United Nations claiming that the outer limits of the country’s continental shelf include the pole, which so far has been claimed by no one. Canada last week applied to extend its seabed claims in the Atlantic Ocean, including some preliminary Arctic claims, but it wants more time to prepare a claim that would include the pole. Asserting Canada’s rights in the Arctic has been a popular domestic issue for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, though at least one expert on the issue described the planned claim as a long shot.
“We are determined to ensure that all Canadians benefit from the tremendous resources that are to be found in Canada’s far north,” Baird said.
Countries including the U.S. and Russia are increasingly looking to the Arctic as a source of natural resources and shipping lanes. The U.S. Geological Survey says the region contains 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 15 percent of oil.
Currently, under international law, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the U.S. — the five countries with territories near the Arctic Circle — are allotted 200 nautical miles from their northern coasts. Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, exclusive claims can be expanded for Arctic nations that prove that their part of the continental shelf extends beyond that zone.
Baird said Canada’s submission last week set out the potential outer limits of the country’s continental shelf in the Atlantic — a claim of about 1.2 million square kilometers. Canada’s follow-up submission will include a claim to the Lomonosov Ridge, an undersea mountain range between Ellesmere Island, Canada’s most northern land mass, and Russia’s east Siberian coast. That claim would extend Canada’s claim 200 nautical miles beyond the North Pole.
The submission that Canada filed with the U.N. is essentially a series of undersea co-ordinates that map what the government claims is the country’s extended continental shelf.
The U.N. submission is also political, said Michael Byers, an expert on Arctic and international law at the University of British Columbia.
“(Harper) does not want to be the prime minister seen publicly as having surrendered the North Pole, even if the scientific facts don’t support a Canadian claim,” Byers said. “What he’s essentially doing here is holding this place, standing up for Canadian sovereignty, while in private he knows full well that position is untenable.”
The U.N. submissions do not lead to a binding decision, but lay the groundwork for future country-to-country negotiations over competing territorial claims that could take years to resolve. Checking the science on a claim likely will take five years, said University of Calgary Arctic expert Rob Huebert.