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Artic Regulations Need Makeover

September 8, 2008

Current United Nation’s laws regarding Artic industries may need some changes to address current issues such as oil exploration and shipping, legal experts said on Sunday.

Existing regulations, while addressing needs from bio prospecting to fish stocks, are being labeled insufficient. The Polar regions, such as the Artic, face new challenges due to the reality of the climate changes.

Summer sea ice in the Artic is dangerously close to a record low in 2007.

“The question is: do we deal with it in terms of the existing laws or move to a new, more global framework for the polar regions?” asked conference chairman David Leary of the Institute of Advanced Studies.

Leary is organizing a conference with Iceland’s University of Akureyri in regards to the new issues presented. Many legal experts are meeting in Iceland from September 7-9 to discuss the legal requirements facing the Polar Regions.

Leary said the countries affected — the United States, Russia, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark and Finland — have favored to limit debate to existing international laws.

Shipping passages located along the north coasts of Russia and Canada, usually congested by ice, have thawed during the summer, making the possibility of short-cut routes between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans a reality.

Legal experts deem because of this there is a muddiness in existing laws about issues affecting these areas such as shipping, mining, sharing of fish stocks drawn northwards due to the concerns of ice melting.

Several experts say the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea is vague when it outlines states rights to compel restrictions off their coasts in “particularly severe climatic conditions” or when sea is covered by ice “most of the year.”

Tatiana Saksina of the World Wildlife Fund stated, “We think there should be new rules, stricter rules. We are proposing a new convention for the protection of the Arctic Ocean.”

The WWF environmental group is one of several organizations encouraging a new U.N. convention to protect the Arctic. Many fear that increasing industrial activity will add to the risk of oil spills such as the disastrous Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska.

Other threats affecting Artic areas include a large growth in tourism. There were 40,000 visitors to Antarctica in 2007 versus a mere 1,000 in 1987.

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