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Each Monday, we explain some of the events and issues that we’ll be reading more about during the week ahead. If you have an event you think should be included next week, please contact us.
As the third round of discussions over a temporary moratorium on fishing in the international waters of the Arctic are set to begin in Washington tomorrow, it is the ‘who’ and the ‘when’ that are worth taking most note of.
To begin with, the ‘what’ is the continuation of a process begun in Nuuk, in March 2014, when Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the US (known as the ‘Arctic 5’), the five states bordering the Arctic Ocean), are seeking to delay the start of commercial fishing in Arctic waters that are beyond national exclusive economic zones.
The first meeting, which resulted in a consensus to proceed, passed without much media attention. The second, in Oslo in July, concluded to a mix of fanfare and criticism. That was because the five unilaterally drew up the terms of a declaration specifying the details of limitations that would remain in place until more was known about the effects of fishing in newly opened waters.
Given that the area in question are high seas and legally open to any state to fish, making any agreement work will require the co-operation of non-Arctic states. The big question, says Scott Highleyman, a member of the US delegation and the head of the Arctic Ocean initiative for the Pew International Trust, a research centre, is whether non-Arctic states are prepared to take the wait-and-find-out approach set out by the Arctic 5.
Initial efforts to get them on board an agreement will begin during this week’s negotiations, taking place December 1-3 in Washington. The American hosts have invited China, Japan, South Korea, Iceland and the EU, all of which have large fishing fleets, to take part in the talks. Iceland and the EU, according to Mr Highleyman, are interested in finding out what the scientists have to say before letting their fishermen loose there. The Asian position is somewhat cloudier, but it is less likely to be influenced by conservation than it is balancing commercial interests with political goals, say scholars.
Marc Lanteigne, a senior research fellow with Nupi, a Norwegian foreign policy think tank, suggests that the gesture to include Asian states, especially at a time when they are seeking to increase their influence in the region, will go a long way towards securing the agreement of non-Arctic states on limitations.
“There will be a lot of potential sensitivity over the prospect that the Arctic 5 are attempting to ‘lock up’ circum-polar resources based on their geography, but at the same time there will be an attempt by Asian governments not to be seen as spoilers, especially since scientific diplomacy forms the cornerstone of many developing Asian Arctic policies, especially in the case of China and Japan,” Mr Lanteigne says.
For Tokyo, it will be a matter of which policy area takes precedence, says one Japanese scholar. Others add that, an agreement is possible, but it will be because it is Japan’s long-term commercial interests. Evironmental and strategic interests, on the other hand “will be set aside”.
Diplomats recognise that these are still early times, for the negotiations and even more so for the development of Arctic fishing. The talks themselves might take several more rounds, they say, perhaps not wrapping up until 2016 or even later.
One of the reasons is because the Arctic 5 have yet to determine how far especially the Asian countries are willing to go towards a moratorium, and whether they are willing to put their signatures on a binding agreement, or even whether a binding agreement is enough. This has become especially relevant after Japan, this weekend, announced it would resume whaling in the Antarctic, thumbing its nose at a 2014 ruling by the International Court of Justice.
Another goal of this week’s talks will be to define just where the moratorium would apply.
When it comes to the ‘when’, delegates underscore the importance of concluding a deal before commercial fishing in the international waters of the Arctic begin. That could happy any time soon. Mr Highleyman points out that during the summer, 40% of the Arctic is currently navigable, and the trend is only in one direction.
Including the Asian states makes for reasons beyond the size of their fleets and their Arctic ambitions. Currently, one of the areas most ripe for fishing is the Chukchi Sea, a body of water between the United States and Russia, but easily reachable by Asian fleets.
Diplomats and scientists say they are positive that a deal can be struck, but agree that a deal must be reached before fishing begins.
“We have a political agreement amongst the Arctic 5 right now,” says one diplomat. “But we need to have the co-operation of the states that are likely to fish there so that we don’t get overfishing.”
In this case, helping countries not to fish could be the best long-term option.
Paris, Rome, Madrid, Brussels ... and Nuuk Elsewhere this week, climate will continue to be a big topic of discussion, and one we hope to contribute to, both through our on-going focus on climate change in the region.
As scientists, world leaders and others with an interest in addressing the issue of climate change gather in Paris for the annual UN climate conference, The Arctic Journal begins ‘Our Climate’, a series of interviews with people from the North that provides a first-hand account of how rising temperatures are affecting the region. We start today with Minik Rosing, a professor of geology and one of Greenland's most esteemed scientists. On Wednesday, we talk to Áile Jávo, president of Sámeráđđi, an international Saami policy body.
Elsewhere, expect plenty of Euro-Arctic policy talk this week. Firstly, we learned last week that Italy is preparing to release an Arctic policy paper on December 10, and that Spain is putting the final touches on ‘polar’ policy. This will serve as something of a Mediterranean appetiser for those awaiting the EU’s long awaited Arctic policy due out in 2016.
And, our weekly Greenland focus also relates to the EU, though via Denmark and the referendum there on Wednesday about whether the country will remain on the outside of the union’s justice and home-affairs area.
Like with much else about the EU, the matter is a complicated one, but even more so when Greenland and the Faroe Islands, neither of which are members of the EU, are involved.
Danish officials suggest that the situation will remain status quo for Nuuk, regardless of the outcome of the referendum. Some in Greenland aren’t so sure. Voting to opt-in to more EU rules could have the effect that Brussels, indirectly, determines laws in Greenland, if it requires Copenhagen to pass a law that applies throughout the entire Kingdom of Denmark. Greenland’s justice system, for example, is administered from Copenhagen. Bringing the Danish justice system in line with changes passed by Brussels last week could also have an effect in Greenland.
For this reason, Aaja Chemnitz Larsen, a Greenlandic member of the Folketing, the Danish national assembly, has suggested that Nuuk and Tórshavn should be consulted when changes to the Copenhagen-Brussels relationship are mulled. Some even suggest allowing Greenlanders and Faroe Islanders the right to vote in Danish EU referendums.