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The North Pole – climate change, with a direct impact on foreign policy

“The eternal ice”

“The eternal ice”, © dpa Themendienst

05.10.2018 - Article

For many years, we have known that the Arctic is an important topic for the environment. However, climate change in the Arctic also has a significant impact on foreign policy.

Along with the French and British Embassies in Berlin, the Federal Foreign Office held a panel discussion on “The Arctic – More than a Melting Region” on 2 October. The event addressed the conflicting economic and geopolitical interests of various countries in the Arctic and explored possible solutions. Germany supports the peaceful, cooperative and environmentally safe development of the Arctic in accordance with international law.

The ice is melting in the Arctic

For a long time, the Arctic, home to four million people, was regarded as the “eternal ice”, a natural barrier that was at most of interest to natural scientists. But that is no longer the case. Temperatures in the Arctic are rising two or three times more rapidly than elsewhere on the planet. The ice in the region could have disappeared entirely by the mid-century. Huge areas of ice are now only half as thick as they were 50 years ago. The melting Arctic ice is already responsible for a third of the rising sea level, while permafrost thawing is leading to further warming.

What is Germany doing?

The Arctic
The Arctic© dpa Themendienst

Germany’s focus is on providing support for climate, polar and marine research in the Arctic, mainly in close cooperation with the Alfred-Wegener-Institut für Polar- und Meeresforschung and the co located German Arctic Office linked to this research institute. Scientific collaboration aimed at conducting research on the region plays a crucial role in our bilateral relations with the countries that border the Arctic. Alongside its expertise, which is recognised worldwide, Germany’s research infrastructure is particularly important in this regard. There has been a long tradition of joint expeditions, such as on the Polarstern research ship. In order to further enhance research cooperation, Germany, the European Commission and Finland will co-host the second Arctic Science Ministerial in Berlin on 25 and 26 October. Regular exchange with other ministries takes place in what is known as the Arctic Dialogue, the German cooperation network for the Arctic.

Many countries want to expand their influence in the Arctic

The polar region sparks many economic interests. It is home to large reserves of oil and gas that have not yet been tapped into and to huge amounts of fish. Furthermore, new trade routes have emerged as the result of the melting of the ice in the Arctic, particularly in the Northwest and Northeast Passages, which link the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans to the north of the American and the Eurasian continents. As early as 2007, Russia underlined its territorial claims in the region by hoisting the Russian flag in the North Pole. China is also integrating the Arctic in its plans for the Belt and Road Initiative. Canada, the US and Denmark have also expressed territorial claims.
The Arctic Council is the central forum for international dialogue on foreign-policy issues in the Arctic and provides a space for law-making in the region. Germany, the UK and France are observers on the Council. The Federal Foreign Office takes the lead as regards drawing up Germany’s position in the Arctic Council.

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