On March 13, the EU Parliament may suggest a ban on oil and gas exploration in Arctic areas. – Alarming, says Eirik Sivertsen.
The concrete proposal about a total ban on oil and gas exploration in Arctic areas was submitted during the ongoing revision of the EU's Arctic Strategy.
- These proposals, which are quite alarming for Norway, have been submitted towards the very end of the process and came as a surprise to most, Eirik Sivertsen says to High North News. He is Member of the Norwegian Parliament for the Labor party and leads the Parliament delegation for Arctic parliamentary cooperation.
The proposed changes passed two parliamentary committees in the EU Parliament in the end of January this year and will probably be discussed in a plenary session on March 13.
What is meant by 'the Arctic'?
Sivertsen stresses that the proposals do not define what the Arctic actually is, i.e. which geographic areas one refers to when speaking of 'the icy Arctic waters'.
- Our argument when meeting all EU politicians in this context has been that it is the Law of the Sea, a UN Convention, that regulates the various states' rights on their own continental shelf.
We do, of course, see it as a problem if the EU tries to decide on Norwegian economic interests, even though we do agree that all activities – including those in Arctic wters – must follow the strictest security requirements and standards.
In a letter sent to a number of MP's of the EU, and who work on High North issues, Sivertsen discusses the problematic aspects of the proposals that are on the table.
Ban on subsidies
In the letter Eirik Sivertsen particularly refers to three specific points of the proposal, and writes (a.o.):
"I will strongly encourage the European Parliament to remove the three following items when deciding on a new strategy:
Calls on the Member States to ban fossil fuel subsidies that lower the cost of fossil fuel energy production, with a view to discouraging the exploitation and use of fossil fuels; urges the Commission and the Member States to work in international fora towards a future total ban on the extraction of Arctic oil and gas in order to achieve the goal of a low-carbon economy
Calls on the EU to promote strict precautionary regulatory standards in the field of environmental protection and safety for oil exploration, prospection and production internationally; calls for a ban on oil drilling in the icy Arctic waters of the EU and the EEA and for promotion by the EU of comparable precautionary standards in the Arctic Council and for Arctic coastal states;
Stresses that Arctic waters are vulnerable to the offshore drilling of fossil fuels, use of which will contribute and accelerate the climate change threatening the region; is of the view that the EU must cooperate with international partners to put an end to offshore drilling in the Arctic waters;"
The Law of the Sea applies
In his letter, Siversten stresses that the Law of the Sea (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea – UNCLOS) determines that the coastal states have sovereign rights to exploration and extraction of natural resources on their own continental shelf.
- It is unclear, or not defined, what the document in question refers to when using the term 'Arctic'. If it refers to everything north of the Arctic Circle, well, then Norway has conducted oil and gas activities in the Arctic for years already.
Cannot be solved in the Arctic
We must, time and again, point out to our European colleagues that Norway is a modern industrialised country, not an area to be treated as if it were a reservat.
"The problems caused by climate changes in the Arctic are not created in the Arctic, nor can they be solved in the Arctic alone. People who live in the Arctic have the same rights and duties as people in other parts of the world, including what has to do with a sustainable resource development and extraction", Sivertsen writes.
Not a part of the EEA, however…
According to Eirik Sivertsen, the EU's Arctic Strategy will not automatically become a part of the European Economic Agreement and become applicable for Norway's maneuvering.
- Nevertheless, I find it problematic that the EU tries to affect Norwegian interests directly in this manner. This is politics, and therefore applicable to the EU's attitude towards activities in the High North. We must take that seriously, Eirik Sivertsen says.