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131 Scramble for the North Pole

18 . 05 . 2021


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POLAR NEWSREEL: A new batch of new satellites brings broadband connectivity services to some of the world’s hardest to reach places. German start-up Rocket Factory Augsburg has signed a contract with Norway's Andøya Space for a 2022 maiden flight of the company’s RFA One small-satellite launch vehicle. The Nunavut community of Iqaluit has declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. And the [Icelandic volcano spits lava fountains up to 300 metres]( ) into the sky.

SCRAMBLE FOR THE NORTH POLE: Just a few weeks back media outlets around the globe where alarmed when Russia submitted an extension to its claim in the Arctic Ocean, quoting Canada’s Foreign Minister: “You cannot claim any more.” Diving into that raises the question who actually owns the North Pole and why is it important?

Beginning in 1925 numerous countries have claimed parts of the Arctic based on the so-called Sector Principle, which extends the territorial claim along the longitudes of its land-territory towards the North Pole. Canada was the first country to do so, followed by the Soviet Union and Norway. Later those claims have been based on scientific evidence in the legal framework of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) finding a peak in 2007 when Russia planted a flag at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. Under current international law, the North Pole and the region of the Arctic Ocean surrounding it are not owned by any country. As of now, three nations have submitted claims for the seabed below the Arctic Ocean, Russia, Canada and Denmark (Greenland) but none of the claims have been accepted yet and it might take years. So eventually, all three nations will need to sit down and start negotiations on the final delimitations of their Arctic territory, including their competing claims to the pole, and that’s a truly exciting chapter of human history.

One might ask, what all the fuzz is actually about. It’s an estimated 90 billion barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas that are thought to lie under the polar oceans, although the central North Pole region is not thought to be especially rich in fossil fuels.

Claiming the North Pole and thus ownership over it has to do with its symbolic importance rather than access to natural resources. This plays into the narrative of Arctic sovereignty, protecting your Arctic territory, and upholding your Arctic presence. Being able to extract the estimated 90 billion barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas from the seafloor in the middle of the Central Arctic Ocean, is technologically a long ways off. The North Pole is more of a symbolic prize in all this.

Episode 56: The Whiskey War

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