The Arctic Vision of the EU by Josep Borrell & Virginijus Sinkevičius
The Arctic faces serious, even existential challenges, including climate change. The European Union stands ready to step up and modernize its engagement to help ensure that collaborative approaches to address these issues outweigh potentially damaging strategic competition.
BRUSSELS – The Arctic is changing rapidly due to the impact of global warming, increasing competition for resources and geopolitical rivalries. Regarding the future of the region, the European Union has both interests to defend and a significant contribution to make. We intend to intensify our engagement there through climate action, international cooperation, sustainable economic development and putting people first.
The European Green Agreement will make Europe the first climate neutral continent by 2050, and our legally binding commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 sets a global benchmark. The Green Deal and the EU’s new approach to fostering a sustainable blue economy are at the heart of the Union’s Arctic strategy. Among our main proposals are a call to keep oil, gas and coal in the ground, including in arctic regions, and the establishment of a permanent European presence in Greenland.
This task could not be more urgent. Climate change is on everyone’s mind, but it’s happening more than twice as fast in the Arctic as elsewhere. Some of the region’s coastal stretches will soon become ice-free during the summers – and possibly during the winters, too. Melting ice and thawing permafrost release large amounts of methane, further accelerating global warming, while rising sea levels increasingly threaten coastal communities around the world. The August 2021 report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlighted that human actions are at the root of these developments.
Already, the melting arctic ice is opening up shipping routes and facilitating access to oil, gas and minerals, some of which serve as key inputs to help meet the growing global demand for innovative technological products. It’s no wonder then that the Arctic is increasingly crowded, with a growing number of actors expanding their engagement. Increasingly, the kind of strategic competition that is so prevalent elsewhere in the world is now also shaping the Arctic landscape.
China, for example, has described itself as a “near Arctic state” and has added a “Polar Silk Road” to its transnational Belt and Road initiative. It is investing heavily in Russian liquefied natural gas fields and is considering shorter shipping routes. Russia, meanwhile, is building heavy icebreakers and considering the Northern Sea Route to increase domestic and international shipping, as well as to rebuild military capabilities in the region that had fallen into disuse since the end of the war. cold.
These developments show that Europe must define its geopolitical interests in a broad sense to promote stability, security and peaceful cooperation in the Arctic. Of course, the eight Arctic states have the primary responsibility here, but many issues affecting the region can only be addressed through regional or multilateral cooperation. The EU will thus extend its collaboration on these issues with all interested parties, and in particular with allies and partners such as the United States, Canada, Norway and Iceland.
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When it comes to maritime search and rescue, for example, we need regional or circumpolar cooperation between national coast guards, and should make more use of our satellite systems to reduce risk at sea. EU is committed to the success of the agreement to prevent unregulated high seas fishing in the central Arctic Ocean. Another regional priority is social inclusion: the challenges facing indigenous reindeer herders do not stop at national borders. We also work more effectively together when it comes to zero-emission shipping standards, good telemedicine practices, renewable energy or reducing plastic pollution.
With decades of experience in promoting regional cooperation, the EU will play its part. We are one of the main proponents of multilateralism and take our multilateral commitments seriously, especially those related to the fight against climate change. And the Union is of course itself part of the Arctic. Three of our member states have a territory there, and we enact laws that apply in five arctic states. We are active in several regional bodies, including the Arctic Council, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the Northern Dimension, where we work with Russia, Norway and Iceland, notably on environmental clean-up.
The EU will extend its engagement in the Arctic to the entire political spectrum. This means paying close attention to the interests and perspectives of young people and indigenous peoples, who have unique knowledge of local landscapes and are direct witnesses to the changes that pose imminent threats to all of us.
Obviously, we need an integrated approach. This means combining our climate and environmental goals with economic opportunities and joint action against common security threats, including those resulting from the climate crisis. For example, boosting a strong green transition will enable Arctic regions to create jobs in sectors such as carbon neutral energy, as well as develop sustainable approaches to connectivity, tourism, fisheries and innovation.
Europe will continue to use its substantial research budget and earth science expertise to better understand and counter the effects of climate change. And we will seek to increase the EU’s strategic autonomy in minerals that are important for the green transition, ensuring that the extraction of these key raw materials is carried out in accordance with the highest environmental standards.
The Arctic faces serious, even existential challenges. The EU will step up and modernize its engagement to help ensure that collaborative approaches to tackle it outweigh potentially damaging strategic competition.