World

European Union to seek ban on oil and gas exploration in the Arctic

The European Union will seek a ban on tapping new oil, coal and gas deposits in the Arctic, according to a just-published proposal.

Arctic has warmed 3 times as fast as the planet during the last 50 years

A picture taken in 2016 shows an icebreaker, right, at the port of Sabetta in the Kara Sea shore line on the Yamal Peninsula in the Arctic circle. On Wednesday, the European Union said it plans to seek ban on oil and gas exploration in the Arctic (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)

The European Union (EU) will seek a ban on tapping new oil, coal and gas deposits in the Arctic to protect a region severely affected by climate change, according to a proposal for the bloc's new Arctic strategy published on Wednesday.

The European Commission proposal reflects the EU's efforts to boost its role on the global stage, although it has limited influence in the Arctic. It is not a member of the Arctic Council, which is the regional co-ordinating body, though three of its states — Denmark, Finland and Sweden — are.

"The EU is committed to ensuring that oil, coal and gas stay in the ground, including in Arctic regions," the EU executive's proposal said, while acknowledging that the bloc itself still imports oil and gas extracted in the region.

"To this end, the commission shall work with partners towards a multilateral legal obligation not to allow any further hydrocarbon reserve development in the Arctic or contiguous regions, nor to purchase such hydrocarbons if they were to be produced."

Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country is one of the world's largest oil and gas exporters and excavates fossil 
fuels in the Arctic, said Moscow would eventually benefit from such a ban because of rising prices.
 
"If such decisions lead to a certain price volatility, [Russia's economy] wouldn't suffer that much. That's because we will reduce production, but will get the prices we wanted," Putin told an energy conference in Moscow.

Vulnerable to climate change

The Arctic is one of the regions most affected by climate change. It has warmed three times as fast as the planet during the last 50 years. This has caused the ice covering land and sea to melt, sea levels to rise and permafrost to thaw.

The EU also aims under its new strategy to strengthen research into the effects of thawing permafrost that may put oil fields at risk and threaten to release greenhouse gases as well as dangerous germs locked in the frozen ground.

"Over 70 per cent of Arctic infrastructure and 45 per cent of oil extraction fields are built on permafrost," said the document, which must still be approved by the EU's 27 member states.

Potential mitigation measures could include the development of methods for local cooling and stabilizing, and the introduction of tougher building standards, the commission said.

It also suggested the creation of a monitoring and early warning system to detect germs such as anthrax being released from the thawing ground.

The Arctic Council comprises Canada, Iceland, Norway, Russia and the United States as well as the three EU states, along with six Indigenous organizations. It acts as a forum for co-operation. The EU has applied for observer status.

To boost its regional presence, the EU plans to open an office in Greenland's capital Nuuk as the United States did last year.

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