The central Arctic Ocean is considered a “global commons”. This means it is not under the national jurisdiction of a single state, but – like the high seas, the Moon, outer space, and the deep seabed – jurisdiction is shared between multiple states or by the international community.

There is a distinction, however, between the Arctic Ocean and the Arctic region as a whole, where the “Arctic Five” coastal states (Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the US), and the eight Arctic Council states (which includes the Arctic Five as well as Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and Arctic Indigenous communities) dominate the discussion. Nevertheless, some countries (such as China) have been pushing for the “internationalisation of the Arctic’s regional governance system”, especially given the potential future impact of climate change on the region.

Climate change is already affecting the Arctic region more severely than most of the rest of the world. As well as massive disruption to ecosystems and human populations, some states see new economic and geostrategic opportunities. Rising temperatures have lead to melting sea ice, potentially opening up new shipping and trade routes through Arctic waterways, and the Arctic is rich in natural resources which may now be easier to exploit thanks to new technologies and retreating sea ice.

Curious to know more about international relations and the Arctic region? We’ve put together some facts and figures in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).

What do our readers think? We had a comment come in from Catherine, who says the US, the EU and Russia are “already looking to the arctic region to grab what is there”. Is she right? Are we seeing a scramble for the Arctic and its resources?

To get a response, we put Catherine’s question to Elle Merete Omma, Head of EU Unit of the Saami Council, a voluntary, non-governmental organisation of the Saami people made up of nine Saami member organisations in Finland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden. What would she say?

For another perspective, we also put Catherine’s comment to Michael Mann, EU Special Envoy for Arctic matters. How would he respond?

Next up, we had a comment from Barry, who says: “We need to work together to reduce the risks of armed conflict in the Arctic region. It should be demilitarised immediately to reduce unnecessary confrontations!”

The Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1959, successfully demilitarised the southern polar region of Earth. In the 1980s, there were proposals floated by the Soviet Union to demilitarise the Arctic as well, transforming it into a “zone of peace”, but the idea was viewed with suspicion in the West. Should there now be a renewed push for demilitarisation in the Arctic?

How would Michael Mann, EU Special Envoy for Arctic matters, respond to Barry’s suggestion?

Finally, we had a comment sent in from Jayne, who says: “We can’t argue the fact that our polar ice caps are melting away and Arctic animals will lose their homes in the matter of a few years.” What impact will climate change have on the wildlife and people living in the Arctic region?

To get a response, we spoke to Elle Merete Omma from the Saami Council. What would she say?

How would Michael Mann, EU Special Envoy for Arctic matters, respond to the same question?

Our sister think tank, Friends of Europe, has been publishing a series of reports looking at today’s security challenges, authored by Paul Taylor, a Senior Fellow at Friends of Europe and Contributing Editor for Politico. In September 2020, they published a report on Arctic security issues titled “After the ice: the Arctic and European security”.

Who owns the Arctic? Are we seeing a scramble for the Arctic and its resources? How will climate change affect people and wildlife living in the Arctic? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: Photo by Roxanne Desgagnés on Unsplash


32 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

    • avatar
      Vivienne

      You’re so right!

  1. avatar
    Elena

    who cares who owns it? the most important thing is that we dont destroy it. stop climate change! And dont make money off destroying our planet!

    • avatar
      Leo

      in a way it does matter though, bc the countries there should then also do most to fight climate change and make sure the Arctic doesnt suffer even more. Sadly, USA is an Arctic state but has a president that doesnt give a **** about anything that isnt his own profit.

  2. avatar
    Victor

    ervybody. Its a global commons, everybody should have access to it and its resources.

  3. avatar
    Henrik

    countries in the arctic own it. Russia, USA, Canada, Norway, Greenland (Denmark). everybody else should ask them for permission before they go there to dig for oil

  4. avatar
    Miriam

    lets please not forget that indigenous peoples have lived in the high north for thousands of years! their lifestyles are adapted to the conditions there – and now threatened by global warming. its really sad

    • avatar
      Marleen

      You’re very right. to be honest, their livelihoods have been threatened for a while now, basically since it was colonised. i was watching a documentary on indigenous peoples in America the other day, and how they will be hit by climate change. its really unfair how they will have to suffer, when their way of life was so in tune with nature. and now the people who banned their culture and way of life, are even destroying the nature around them.

  5. avatar
    George

    Apparently Russia s putting nukes up there. Sound like Cold war to me

  6. avatar
    Yannick

    My my.. the logical answer is that it must be declared out-of-bounds for oil exploration, by any country, with or without ice. Don’t the oil capitalists see the irony in this? How far do they want to push the ecological boundaries up and beyond the unsafe limit of 450ppm? How do they plan to survive themselves actually? Climate change is not a joke and they must be told to stop. Or else.

  7. avatar
    Brigitte

    You only think about money

  8. avatar
    Nancy

    Leave the place alone no more icebreakers chopping up the ice

  9. avatar
    Pina

    Let’s stop suffocating… our blue land… let’s stop destroying it… the reverse of the medal will be… catastrophic…

  10. avatar
    Demiray

    To all human being living on this earth.

  11. avatar
    Panos

    The Arctic belongs to whoever has the power, technology and guts to exploit it.

    • avatar
      Jochen

      it’s that kind of attitude that is destroying this world ! LEAVE IT ALONE!

  12. avatar
    Anne

    why isn’t anyone talking about the hole in the ozone layer, which has never been so huge, just over the Arctic?????

  13. avatar
    Gaby

    The Arctic is like the cosmos, no one owns it. Should be kept in total peace !

  14. avatar
    Michele

    It would turn the Arctic into a killing field for all the animals there and kill the chain of food worldwide. Is that answering the question?

  15. avatar
    Ann

    It does not become available if the whole area is protected. That is the ONLY option there is. The Arctic and Antartica are the sole regions that are true wild places. We should keep of that way

  16. avatar
    Teresa

    The Arctic belongs to the Earth

  17. avatar
    Nic

    Owning is just a social construct so it doesnt exist.

  18. avatar
    Jochen

    Even the whole planet isn’t “owned” by anyone, governments are passing by troughout history, like countries that change troughout history … but the land they occupy at that moment in history isn’t owned by them, they are just granted the time and place to live on it.

  19. avatar
    DVM

    If we want to be logical, but, political, economics and financial are not necessarily, the “rules of the sea” must be applied… The 12NM, and then, the “Economics interest Zone, EEZ the 200NM, but, it seems like lot of countries are wishing 250… Imagine, Bering Straight, like the Bosphore, but, here, between Rusia and USA… 2 actually politically exited countries… Happy 22 century… And China wishing/willing to come in that sad game…

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