Thursday, July 21, 2011

Nordic nation 's leading green ambition is in stark contrast with the exploitation of oil, which delivers its world-leading wealth

The race for the Arctic's natural resources, set out in our special series, is best explained by a tale of two countries. The first country is as near to nirvana as we have on Earth. It is rich and comfortable, with the highest standard of living in the world and the lowest murder rate. Its workers are the most productive in the world; its goods are consumed in every part of the globe; and its $550bn nest egg is currently the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world.

This country is also very friendly to the environment. At home, its environment minister is from the Green party and 95% of its electricity is zero carbon. Its huge fisheries are the most sustainably managed in all the oceans. Abroad is it spending more on rainforest protection than any other nation.

The second country is very different. It is one of the largest oil and gas exporters in the world, driving exploration into risky new areas against the advice of his own environmental research institutions. It is mining coal and iron ore in one of the most sensitive habitats on Earth. This country 's wealth is invested in dirty sands projects, and it is a major arms exporter. It is miserably failed to achieve its own goals for the carbon emissions that are fueling climate change will be cut, while exceeding in the oceans, their fish farms far the wild populations and the spread of the disease.

The first nation is Norway. And so is the second. Norway's world-leading green ambition contrasts stunningly with its lust for the black gold that delivers its world-leading wealth. The contradiction is acknowledged even at the highest levels. "Yes, it is a dilemma," Jonas Gahr St?re, Norway's foreign minister, told me last month when I visited the Arctic. "But it is not for Norway alone, it is the world's dilemma."

But the world is not about the fate of the Arctic. The five Arctic nations will fall under the jurisdiction of more than 80% of the oil, gas and mineral rights, control of the region. And if Norway, the most favored nation on earth, can not resist the lure of buried treasure, what the environmental cost, then who? The other core members of the Arctic Council - the U.S., Canada, Denmark and Russia - have not hardly poor.

The Arctic is irresistible for three simple reasons. First, a global economy addicted to fossil fuels at almost any price will always find a dealer willing to find and sell them their fix at almost any cost. Second, the strong demand for iron, uranium, gold and other metals shows little sign of ending, and won't until new goods are refashioned from old.

Third, and most telling, the most valuable features of the Arctic are economically worthless. The ice cap reflects sunlight and cools the planet, free of charge, while tundra trap large amounts of potent greenhouse gas methane. The Arctic seas to protect some of the richest fisheries in the world, without the settlement of the fishing fleets that harvest it. And the fragile wilderness that is the last witness of a pre-human planet, is not worthy of more than philosophical.

Taking advantage of the ice to bring to light oil and gas, the melt still further fuel is a grotesque irony. But the race in the Arctic is in a world where the prices of mineral resources inevitable, but the natural world takes for granted. Thaw resistance to transformative action on climate change and environmental degradation that lead to the true value of the Arctic is melting through our hands like water.

Damian Carrington ? Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms and Conditions | More Feeds


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