Arctic continental shelf claims: Mapping interests in the circumpolar North

09-01-2017

As climate change has led to record sea ice decline, the Arctic has resurfaced as a region of global geopolitical relevance. The visibility of Arctic issues has increased, with international attention zooming in on the Arctic Ocean and the North Pole. The Arctic – one of the least populated areas on Earth – has been a peaceful and stable arena for growing intergovernmental and non-governmental cooperation since the end of the Cold War. However, potential competition for natural resources and new navigation routes has sharpened the focus on divisions between the states that have coasts on the Arctic Ocean. Overlapping continental shelf claims, combined with Russia's increasing assertiveness, have sparked concern over potential new or rekindled disputes. The focus on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea – the international 'constitution for the oceans', which also regulates the Arctic Ocean – has increased accordingly. At the same time, the importance of the Arctic as an element in national identities and narratives plays a key role in the discourse on national Arctic policies, which are aimed at both international and domestic audiences, thus linking geopolitics and emotions.

As climate change has led to record sea ice decline, the Arctic has resurfaced as a region of global geopolitical relevance. The visibility of Arctic issues has increased, with international attention zooming in on the Arctic Ocean and the North Pole. The Arctic – one of the least populated areas on Earth – has been a peaceful and stable arena for growing intergovernmental and non-governmental cooperation since the end of the Cold War. However, potential competition for natural resources and new navigation routes has sharpened the focus on divisions between the states that have coasts on the Arctic Ocean. Overlapping continental shelf claims, combined with Russia's increasing assertiveness, have sparked concern over potential new or rekindled disputes. The focus on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea – the international 'constitution for the oceans', which also regulates the Arctic Ocean – has increased accordingly. At the same time, the importance of the Arctic as an element in national identities and narratives plays a key role in the discourse on national Arctic policies, which are aimed at both international and domestic audiences, thus linking geopolitics and emotions.