April 6, 2009

Polar Summit To Address Territorial Claims, Tourism

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to host the first-ever joint session of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) and the Arctic Council in Baltimore, Maryland on Monday.

The meeting is aimed at "bringing together the two most important bodies involved with diplomacy at the Poles," according to a statement from the State Department's Bureau of Public Affairs.

Issues at the top of the agenda will include territorial claims and the preservation of Antarctica's environment.

Clinton said the US would seek more restrictions on tourism to the North and South Poles to protect natural resources and guard against global warming.

"The changes under way in the Arctic will have long-term impacts on our economic future, our energy future and indeed again the future of our planet, so it is crucial that we work together," Clinton said at an opening ceremony.

Delegates from the US at this year's ATCM meeting will propose "to formally limit the size of vessels that can land passengers in Antarctica and to establish higher standards for the use of lifeboats aboard tourist vessels that visit Antarctica."

"Strengthening environmental regulation is especially important as tourism to Antarctica increases," Clinton said.

Nearly 400 diplomats, Antarctic program managers and logistics experts, and polar scientists from 47 countries, including 28 Consultative Parties with a scientific presence in the Antarctic are expected to meet and discuss issues such as environmental protection, the advancement of science, and the management of tourism.

According to AFP, the US Geological Survey estimates that the Arctic holds about 90 billion barrels of oil and even bigger deposits of gas. These deposits account for about 13 percent of the world's untapped reserves of oil and 30 percent of natural gas reserves.

A handful of nations, including the United States, Russia, Canada, Norway and Denmark have disputed ownership of the natural recourses found in the area.

A Russian submarine symbolically planted a flag on the sea bed at the North Pole in 2007 and Moscow recently announced plans to militarize its part of the Arctic in order to protect its interests there.

Canada meanwhile is trying to extend its control over Arctic waters to 200 nautical miles.

The meeting coincides with the 50th anniversary year of the signing of the Antarctic Treaty, and the end of the 2007-2009 International Polar Year.

"As the world prepares for climate talks in Copenhagen this December, meetings like this are more important than ever," Clinton said.


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