Arctic Policy Brief Issued by CIGI

press release
Tuesday, November 20, 2012

‘Great Melt’ in the Arctic calls for increased co-operation between Canada and United States, policy brief argues.

The “great melt,” an unprecedented geophysical change, in the Arctic is cause for heightened leadership, attention and cooperation between Canada and the United States. Without a national strategic vision, current policies are inadequate to protect economic and environmental interests, argues a new policy brief issued by The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI).

In Canada-US Arctic Marine Corridors and Resource Development, global governance experts John Higginbotham, Andrea Charron and James Manicom argue that “clear imperative” exists for the two North American countries to develop their marine resource and community potential for the Arctic. At present, both countries have failed to recognize the “economic development potential” in the Arctic — opportunities that could “contribute directly to local, regional and national economic growth.

“Intense activities in commercial, investment, diplomatic, legal, scientific and academic sectors abound in the new Arctic, but the region’s long-term significance is only gradually penetrating North American public consciousness,”  the policy brief states.

Higginbotham, Charron and Manicom lay out the maritime transportation and resource development challenges currently at play in the Arctic — from icebreaker capacity and lack of deep water ports to safety and environmental concerns. Overcoming such infrastructure and coordination challenges to develop and embrace Arctic opportunities, they argue, “will require an intense and focused effort in multi-level domestic and binational governance.” For starters, Canada could consider re-opening its consulate in Anchorage, Alaska, and as upcoming chair of the Arctic Council, it should “focus unambiguously upon responsible marine, resource and community development.”

In addition to providing ways forward for policy makers, the private sector and academics, the authors recommend the following for a North American Arctic strategy:

Support destination shipping in the short term and North American polar transit over the longer term, should this become economically feasible. Legal differences between the two North American nations could be finessed in practical, binational ways without sacrificing any party’s position of principle.

Create North American Arctic marine “highways.” Safe, secure and efficient maritime corridors or shipping lanes could be agreed to binationally, through mutually beneficial regulation and management. Improved Arctic corridor management and regulation would help to ensure that key routes would be the first to receive up-to-date and accurate charts, real-time movement monitoring and aids to navigation, tested search and rescue capabilities, and available robust icebreaker service. Tighter regulation of itinerant marine traffic is needed to improve safety and security, based on the present shortcomings of existing international maritime law.
Revisit plans for an Alaska-Yukon rail corridor, as well as other surface infrastructure elements, including all-weather airports, serving northern deep-water and community ports.

Establish a strict and safe temporary North American Arctic maritime regulatory regime in anticipation of the International Maritime Organization’s mandatory Polar Code, as Sweden and Finland have in the Baltic Sea.

Canada-US Arctic Marine Corridors and Resource Development is drawn in large part from discussions at the Arctic Marine Corridors and Resource Development Roundtable, organized by CIGI and Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, as part of Carleton University’s transport policy initiative. To access and download a free copy of this CIGI policy brief, click here.


John Higginbotham is a senior distinguished fellow at Carleton University. In his previous roles with the federal government, he coordinated Canada’s Asia-Pacific Gateway Initiative at Transport Canada, was an assistant deputy minister in three departments and served abroad in senior positions in Washington, Hong Kong and Beijing.

Andrea Charron is assistant professor in political studies at the University of Manitoba. She is also a research associate at Carleton University’s Centre for Security and Defence Studies at NPSIA, where she was a post-doctoral fellow.


James Manicom is a CIGI research fellow, contributing to the development of the global security program. Previously, he held fellowships at the Ocean Policy Research Foundation in Tokyo and the Balsillie School of International Affairs. His current research explores Arctic governance, East Asian security and China’s role in ocean governance.

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