Arctic: MEPs debate strategy to prevent conflicts over polar region heating up 

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The melting of Arctic ice is unlocking new opportunities in the form of shipping routes and gas and oil stocks, but also increasing tensions and creating risks for the environment. A Parliament report calls for the protection of the Arctic's unique ecosystem and sets out ways to defuse possible tensions. "There is need to avoid the militarisation of the Arctic and respect for international law is essential,"said report co-author Urmas Paet. MEPs debate the report tonight and vote on it tomorrow.

The stakes

The melting of Arctic ice would create new economic opportunities. Not only would it allow access to new stocks of gas and oil, it is also expected to boost tourism and open new trade routes which would cut transport times for goods between European and Asia in half.

At the same time it would pose additional risks to the environment and increase tensions between countries wanting to make the most of the new opportunities. For example, Russia has already increased its military presence in the Arctic, while China is interested in accessing the new shipping routes and energy resources.

Estonian ALDE member Urmas Paet, who wrote the Parliament report with recommendations together with Finnish EPP member Sirpa Pietikäinen, said: “The Arctic has long been an area of constructive international cooperation and it has remained a low-tension cooperative regional order in the world. We want to keep it that way. There is need to avoid the militarisation of the Arctic and also the respect for international law in the Arctic is essential."

Parliament's position

MEPs debate tonight a draft report calling for better protection of the Artic's unique and vulnerable ecosystem, including a ban on Arctic oil and gas extraction. They will vote on it on Thursday 16 March.

The Arctic's temperature has increased steadily over the years, about twice as fast as the global average and the sea ice has shrunk significantly to 40% less than its summer extent 35 years ago.