Countries to meet and plan for Arctic future

A tug tows an iceberg to safer waters and away from a possible collision with an oil-drilling platform off the coast of Newfoundland April 21, 2003 in the north Atlantic Ocean.

Jeremy Hobson: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Greenland today for a meeting of the Arctic Council. She's the first U.S. Secretary of State to attend an Arctic Council meeting -- and she's going because climate change is having big environmental and economic effects in the arctic region.

For more on this net's bring in our sustainability reporter Scott Tong. He's with us from Washington. Good morning.

Scott Tong: Hey, good morning Jeremy.

Hobson: So what are we expecting from this meeting in Greenland?

Tong: Well the meeting is a group called the Arctic Council, and they expect an agreement to come out on search-and-rescue operations for potential disasters in the Arctic waters. We've already had one cruise ship that ran aground in the Arctic recently, and there are going to be other ships there. With less ice, more commercial ships will sail through there as well, from Russia, Asia, North America, Scandinavia. And of course, we're going to be seeing more high-tech ships drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic. The last month brought two big oil discoveries: one off of Greenland, one in the Arctic Circle. So also on the agenda on this meeting is: how do you prepare for an oil spill in these treacherous waters?

Hobson: And it sounds like with this oil discovery and also with these new shipping lanes, climate change may have produced the next big thing economically.

Tong: Well no one is saying it's an unvarnished good. Melting polar ice caps, obviously they raise sea levels, they impact four million indigenous people who live in the areas; irreversible effect on marine ecosystems. The stakeholders say the challenge is to balance those concerns with the economic opportunity: jobs, tax revenues, oil and gas royalties. I spoke today to Charles Doran at Johns Hopkins, and he says it's sort of like the gold rush of the 1800s.

Charles Doran: We had a very violent development of the West, which of course is legendary. On the Canadian side, it was far more orderly because the government had established actual police work in advance of some of this development.

So the lesson, Jeremy, is to get the rules right before the actual game.

Hobson: And what's the potential for conflict between countries here?

Tong: Well a big one is country boundaries. Right now, it's generally accepted that each country has a 200-mile economic zone where their waters belong to them. Beyond that could be the question. Already, the Russians have gone to the Arctic and planted a Russian flag -- well actually, they sank a titanium Russian flag in the sea, but you know, great publicity stunt. The experts say the notion of conflict for now could be overstated. The key is to manage it, and the first thing is to do surveillance and to know who's sniffing around up there.

Hobson: Marketplace's Scott Tong with us from Washington. Thanks Scott.

Tong: You're welcome.

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