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May 19, 2009
Tune in: Online radio show on polar politics

Once considered a frigid wasteland, the Arctic is melting faster than any other region on earth and revealing its hidden treasures in the process, from oil to new shipping routes.

A race for control has broken out as the Arctic emerges as a region of vital economic and military importance. It is estimated that the Arctic holds nearly a quarter of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas reserves.

Nations are furiously mapping seabeds, vying for sections of continental shelf in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, set up to determine offshore boundaries. The U.S. has not ratified the Law of the Sea and therefore cannot file claims.

But in addition to nations’ self-interests, the complex environmental, business and governance questions surrounding the Arctic may also necessitate more international cooperation.’s weekly radio show explored polar politics. Worldfocus anchor Martin Savidge hosted a panel of guests:

McKenzie Funk is a writer for National Geographic and Harper’s Magazine who has reported extensively from the Arctic region. His recent article, “Arctic Landgrab,” reported on an icebreaking mission that mapped a portion of the Arctic Ocean floor. His book about climate change, “Best Laid Plans,” will be published by The Penguin Press.

Jessica Shadian is a senior research fellow at the the High North Center for Business and Governance in Bodo, Norway. Her research includes indigenous autonomy and Arctic governance as manifest in the work of the Inuit Circumpolar Council. She co-edited a forthcoming book entitled “Legacies and Change in Polar Science: Historical, Legal and Political Reflections on the International Polar Year.”

Oran Young is a professor at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara and co-directs the Program on Governance for Sustainable Development. He specializes in governance and environmental Institutions. He also chairs the scientific steering committee of the international project on the Institutional Dimensions of Global Environmental Change. He has written more than 20 books, including “Arctic Politics: Conflict and Cooperation in the Circumpolar North.”

Host: Martin Savidge
Producers: Katie Combs and Nicole E. Foster

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[…] and finance. Recently, however, Danish media have lamented the possibility of being dragged into an Arctic arms race, as Canada, the U.S. and Russia also vie for resources. Aside from global warming, the biggest […]


[…] and finance. Recently, however, Danish media have lamented the possibility of being dragged into an Arctic arms race, as Canada, the U.S. and Russia also vie for […]


I live in Alaska and have worked as a scientist in the lower arctic Alaskan coast and upper arctic Canadian regions. I see a direct analogy between the debate that took place surrounding the construction of the Alaska pipeline during the 1970’s and the future development of the arctic. With pipeline construction, private oil companies wanted to build a pipeline that crossed 1200 miles of mixed land use including traditional native subsistence lands and wilderness areas. The key to a resolution among native residents, private businesses, environmental advocates and state governments was a combination of a comprehensive native lands and subsistence settlement act, designation of large tracts of newly protected wilderness, and allowance for pipeline construction under new environmental regulations.
So perhaps in the arctic a clear definition and protection of native subsistence rights by each arctic state can be combined with a separate international treaty on global warming to facilitate a final form of international cooperation with respect to development of the arctic’s resources.


It should be noted that though indigenous peoples do not necessarily have territorial integrity this does not mean that they do not have a formal role to play in international discussions regarding territory and resources in the Arctic. As many indigenous peoples have rights to control and develop the Arctic’s land, seas and resources they cannot be left on the sidelines or given a peripheral role in the discussions. While the international legal notion of territorial integrity remains the reality of global politics in one in which many new non-state actors play a significant force in the changes and direction of international politics. The Arctic’s indigenous peoples are one example of this and is best summarized by Patricia Cochran, President of the Inuit Circumpolar Council who made clear at the Arctic Council Ministerial meeting in April 2009 that the Inuit are not ‘stakeholders’ but ‘rights holders’.
In May 2008, the five Arctic coastal states came together for a meeting to address the global attention to the Arctic. The meeting concluded with the Ilulissat Declaration which affirmed the group’s commitment to international law and particularly UNCLOS to solve territorial disputes in the Arctic. Though the meeting took place in Greenland, the Inuit Circumpolar Council did not have a formal seat at the meeting and they have since written their own Declaration of Inuit sovereignty. The declaration, recognising the changing landscape of international politics, asserts that the ‘inextricable linkages between issues of sovereignty and sovereign rights in the Arctic and Inuit self-determination and other rights require states to accept the presence and role of Inuit as partners in the conduct of international relations in the Arctic’.


Good day: I was interested in reading the description of Jessica Shadian’s work on indigenous autonomy and Arctic governance. Until my recent retirement from the Public Service of Canada, I was the Chief Federal (Canada) Negotiator for the establishment of an autonomous regional government in Nunavik, Northern Quebec, Canada. The agreement was signed in December 2007 by the Premier of the Province of Quebec, Chuck Strahl, Federal Minister responsible for Indian and Northern Affairs and by Pita Aatami, President of Makivik Corporation. Makivik is the organization that represents the 10,000 Inuit living in Nunavik region, located north of the 55th parallel in the Province of Quebec, Canada. I would like to get the E-mail of Ms Shadian, in order to inform her about this innovative self-government project (

Thank you.

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