The ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council in Nuuk has just ended to great fanfare with the foreign ministers from eight countries focusing media on the signing of the new search and rescue agreement. Greenpeace welcomes an empowered Arctic Council that takes proactive measures to address safety issues in the Arctic. There is no question that with increasing shipping and encroaching industrial activity, combined with the dramatic and rapid changes that the Arctic is experiencing as a result of climate change that strong leadership is needed.

However, the new search and rescue agreement contains no new resources, infrastructure or other elements that can secure shipping, cruises or fishing fleets in the region. Equally as important, a potentially more immediate and more dangerous safety issue remains unaddressed. As oil companies move into the fragile Arctic to drill for oil, the region faces huge oil spill safety concerns and impacts to the marine environment that remain unaddressed.

The hidden agenda of the countries flocking to Nuuk this week was revealed by BBC when they published US embassy cables from Wikileaks documenting the focus (and bickering) between Arctic states that is simply, all about cutting the Arctic cake. As the ice melts in the Arctic and exposes new oil fields the buzzards are moving in. What the greedy hunt ignores is that an intact Arctic is crucial to the whole world’s climate.

What the Arctic needs in this time of extreme external pressure is a protection against additional threats from dangerous shipping, oil exploitation, bottom-trawling, over-fishing and other destructive industrial practices. Greenpeace is calling on the Arctic Council to place an immediate moratorium on industrial exploitation within the area that has historically been covered by sea ice.

Truls Gulowsen is the Arctic campaign leader for Greenpeace Nordic.

Photo: © Greenpeace/ Will Rose