Climate change, technological advances, and rising global demand for resources may unlock the potential of considerable economic possibilities in the Circumpolar North in the 21st century. The melting of Arctic sea ice to record lows in recent years has prompted many nations, principally those with Arctic Ocean coastlines—the United States, Canada, Russia, Norway, and Denmark (Greenland)—to reassess their commitments and interests in the icy reaches atop the globe. Many forecast Arctic summers will be free of ice in a matter of decades, potentially opening the region up to hundreds of billions of dollars in investment, including energy production, shipping, and fishing. The thaw will also pose new security demands as greater human activity induces states to increase their military and constabulary presence.
While most experts dismiss the prospects for armed aggression in the Arctic, some defense analysts and academics assert that territorial disputes and a competition for resources have primed the Arctic for a new Cold War. Meanwhile, environmentalists are concerned that a new era of Arctic exploration and development could spoil one of the planet’s last great frontiers, a pristine habitat home to iconic wildlife and native communities that have subsisted there for thousands of years. Climatologists warn that the extraction of fossil fuels in the Arctic will contribute to global warming at a time when they believe nations should be paring back greenhouse-gas emissions and pursuing alternative energy sources. But for many, the debate is less over whether the region should be developed, but rather if it can be done sustainably and peaceably. The Arctic is emerging on the world stage, and it is not yet settled whether businesses, governments, and other operators can fully manage the unique risks it poses.
This video is part of the Council on Foreign Relations’ InfoGuide Presentation, "The Emerging Arctic": Http://www.cfr.org/arctic