WikiLeaks confirms Arctic oil rush

May 18, 2011
Arctic oil rig
Arctic oil rig

The melting of the Arctic ice cap is the surest sign that dangerous climate change is already upon us. But some of the world’s most powerful governments are not worrying about what to do about it, they’re scrambling to profit from it.

WikiLeaks released a series of leaked US diplomatic cables on May 12 that confirmed the race is on to carve up the Arctic region for previously inaccessible oil, gas and mineral deposits.

One cable from the US embassy in Copenhagen, dated November 2007, advised that climate change means “Greenland’s carbon riches are more easily accessible than before”.

It said Greenland was “an iconic adventure destination for hardy Congressional delegations and down-encased journalists looking for visual proof of climate change ... But Greenland holds strategic value for the United States beyond its starring role in the global narrative of climate change.”

As the ice cover retreats and temperatures rise, Greenland offers “oil and gas reserves to rival Alaska’s north slope” as well as “everything from diamonds and rubies to molybdenum and zinc”.

Greenland is still a colony of Denmark, but is moving towards full independence. Given this, the cable advises the US government to commit to “shaping Greenland’s future” to guarantee US interests.

“With Greenlandic independence glinting on the horizon,” said the cable, “the US has a unique opportunity to shape the circumstances in which an independent nation may emerge”.

It said Denmark, other European countries and “the Chinese, who have shown increasing interest in Greenland” were the US’s main competitors to control the island’s natural resources.

Another cable, dated May 2009, outlined the Russian government’s plans to exploit the Arctic for it’s “vast untapped resources of oil and gas”.

The cable argued that “behind Russia’s policy are two potential benefits accruing from global warming: the prospect for an (even seasonally) ice-free shipping route from Europe to Asia, and the estimated oil and gas wealth hidden beneath the Arctic sea floor”.

However, it also noted the serious environmental concerns raised by Russian scientists. They have warned that “climate change affected the Arctic region disproportionately” and that “warming could increase the spread of certain vector-borne diseases”.

It also said: “Large scale permafrost melting threatens Russian cities, such as Yakutsk, whose foundations are built on permafrost.”

WikiLeaks timed the release of the Arctic cables to coincide with the May 12 meeting of the Arctic Council in Greenland. The council involves the eight countries that border the Arctic — the US, Canada, Denmark/Greenland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia and Iceland.

In contrast to the secret information in the US cables, the eight nations issued a public declaration that recognised the need to address climate change and pledged to “promote environmental protection and sustainable development of the Arctic”.

But no binding agreement or treaty to protect the Arctic was made. Behind the scenes, the Arctic nations are preparing to use force to ensure they can get hold of the Arctic fossil fuel deposits.

Greenpeace International’s Nick Young commented on May 12 on the WikiLeaks cables: “The terrible irony of it is that instead of seeing the melting of the Arctic ice cap as a spur to action on climate change, the leaders of the Arctic nations are instead investing in military hardware to fight for the oil beneath it.

“They’re preparing to fight to extract the very fossil fuels that caused the melting in the first place. It’s like putting out fire with gasoline.”

The Arctic Council also ignored the significance of a major new report by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme.

Its Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost report executive summary said the years 2005 to 2010 had the warmest temperatures ever recorded in the Arctic.

It pointed out that retreat of the ice cap “enhances climate warming by increasing absorption of the sun’s energy at the surface of the planet. It could also dramatically increase emissions of carbon dioxide and methane and change large-scale ocean currents.”

Based on the current greenhouse gas emissions path, the report said “global sea level is projected to rise by 0.9–1.6 metres by 2100 and Arctic ice loss will make a substantial contribution to this”.

Such a rise would displace hundreds of millions of people around the world, including the residents of the Greenland capital Nuuk. The city, which hosted the May 12 Arctic Council meeting, lies at an average of just one metre above sea level.

Video: Greenpeace activists block Arctic oil drilling. Greenpeace UK.

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