The five coastal countries of the Arctic Ocean — Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the United States — agreed on May 28, 2008, in Danish Greenland to find a solution on the use of the Arctic Ocean and the sea bed underneath based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea adopted in 1982. This move is highly appreciated because it will avoid the further heating-up of development competition over the use of the Arctic Ocean for navigation and the continental shelf or sea bed for natural resources among the five countries; especially after Russia placed the National Flag on the sea bed at the North Pole by operating a deep-sea submarine in August, 2007, claiming that the North Pole sea bed was a natural extension of the Continental Shelf belonging to Russia.
Ironically, due to the global warming, the ice mass in the Arctic Ocean is melting rapidly, opening up the sea passage once covered with thick ice, which stretched to the coastal line until recently, and enabling navigation along the northwest coast of the Arctic Ocean and largely along the northeast side. Development of oil and gas as well as other minerals on the sea bed thus becomes a reality at a time of energy shortage.
It is observed that the glaciers and ice fields in Greenland, nearby islands, and the ice in the sea are melting more rapidly than any prediction of the experts. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), a Swiss-based global conservation organization with many national chapters across the world, released a summary of their scientific research on October 21st, 2008, warning that “the summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean could disappear between 2013 and 2040.” That is about 30 years earlier than the previous findings made by the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007. Scientifically, it may be arguable whether it will come so soon or not. But it is astonishing to realize that the disappearance of the sea ice will certainly come sooner or later within the 30 year gap. Anyway, we will witness it in the rather near future. It could be too late then to save the sea ice there. The disappearance of the sea ice in the Arctic Ocean will drastically affect the cooling effects of the sea currents as well as the air currents above the sea ice, thus resulting in even faster global warming and somewhat violent change in climate on the land and in the sea. And the sea level will be lifted so that the low-land areas and flat islands will be submerged at least partially, in such places as Bangladesh, Tubaru Islands, and the Maldives, to name a few. And if the summer sea ice disappears, most of the rare life on the ice will become extinct.
Actually it is happening rather rapidly. Now polar bears and other animals find their long-lived ice-fields narrower and narrower so that their existence seems endangered. Polar bears can not find enough food like seals, which can not find suitable places to settle down for labor, or feed their cubs which are raised by mother’s milk for two years. It is not only mankind losing the ice fields, but also endangered animals and other species living there. Also being lost are the cooling effects of the air and the sea currents, thus aggravating even further the global warming process. It affects the fate of this Globe as well as the five coastal countries of the Arctic.
Therefore, it is necessary with a sense of urgency to stop this warming chain reaction as quick as possible. To this end, I should like to propose the following:
(1) The entire Arctic Ocean area, including the islands and the ice-covered coastal Area, north of 66.5° N latitude yet to be defined, should be designated as a part of the World Heritage of UNESCO. Business activities should be restricted in the designated area, including commercial passage of the sea and any development of the sea bed. It is recommended that a Protocol be worked out to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to that effect.
(2) The five countries that have territories around the Arctic Ocean should undertake to reach an agreement on the restriction or suspending of the commercial and industrial use of the ice-covered land areas and the frozen part of the Exclusive Economic Zone as well as the territorial sea, which was known to be frozen in 1990, other than for limited tourism and scientific research purposes in order to reduce emission of heat and carbon dioxide around the North Pole. Any such use will be suspended until they conduct thorough research on the aggravated state of the Arctic Circle and its effect on the climate of the Earth.
(3) Interested countries should set up a framework to initiate scientific research in the area and study how to preserve the shrinking ice masses, glaciers, and ice-fields. In this effort, they should also study, for example, if an ‘ice-fence’ in the Arctic Ocean to stop ice bergs drifting out of the area, or a cover sheet on the melting glaciers, is feasible.
(4) The ice fields are similarly receding towards the South Pole. In the same token, therefore, the Antarctic area should be designated as a part of the World Heritage. Antarctica has been regulated by the Antarctic Treaty of 1961 for its peaceful and scientific use, preventing any territorial claims.