The European Parliament today passed a resolution calling for a protected area around the North Pole which could ban oil companies and industrial fishing fleets from the region. The text echoes the demands of an international campaign which has attracted the support of over five million people including Sir Paul McCartney and U.S. oceanographer, Sylvia Earle.
The move represents a clear break from the current positions of ‘Arctic Council’ members such as Norway, Denmark, Canada and Russia who have resisted calls for permanent protection of the Arctic region. In contrast, Finland, another Arctic state, recently adopted the sanctuary proposal as official policy.
Clause 38 of the resolution states that the European Parliament “Supports the initiative by five Arctic coastal states to agree on interim precautionary measures to prevent any future fisheries in the Arctic high seas without the prior establishment of appropriate regulatory mechanisms, and supports the development of a network of Arctic conservation areas and, in particular, the protection of the international sea area around the North Pole outside the economic zones of the coastal states”
Reacting to the news, Greenpeace activist and Arctic 30 member Sini Saarela from Finland said, “What happens in the Arctic matters to us all. I’m delighted by this news because it will spark a new conversation that we need to have together. By calling for a sanctuary around the North Pole, MEPs have responded to the millions of people who want to protect the Arctic for future generations.
“This is a direct challenge to the small group of countries who are rushing to open up the fragile Arctic for oil drilling and industrial fishing. The status quo is starting to crack, and this now demands a real response from those who see the melting Arctic simply as a new source of profit.”
Saarela was one of 28 activists and two freelance journalists who staged a peaceful protest at an Arctic oil rig owned by Gazprom, Russia’s energy giant in September. The “Arctic 30”, as they became known, spent two months in prison on charges of piracy and hooliganism before receiving amnesty from the Russian Duma (Government).
The European Parliament also stressed the need for a binding agreement on pollution prevention at the Arctic Council – an international forum criticised by environmentalists for its closeness to the oil industry. According to Greenpeace, previous voluntary agreements on oil spill readiness have lacked teeth.
The resolution is expected to push the Arctic more firmly onto the agenda of EU foreign ministers and EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, who have so far been reluctant to speak out against the rapid industrialization of the region by international oil companies including Shell, BP and Russia’s stse owned energy giant Gazprom.