Denmark Launches Formal Arctic Strategy

by Malte Humpert Denmark's Foreign Minister Lene Espersen, along with counterparts from the autonomous Arctic territories of Greenland and Faroe Islands, unveiled the country's arctic strategy for the next decade.

"Previously, the discussion about the Arctic region has focused on the environment, on whether we oughtn't to turn the region into one large natural preserve. But Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands have agreed that we want to utilize the commercial and economic potential of the area," Ms. Espersen was quoted at the presentation of the 58-page report
. "With the new strategy we are opening up for international corporations from the whole world to come to the Arctic and to Greenland. The signal we are sending is that we will welcome them with open arms, we are not nervous, we are not afraid of letting industry into the area."

Greenland and the Faroe Islands have long maintained that they have the right to exploit their territories' natural resources for the economic benefit of their people.

According to the Wall Street Journal, environmentalists and nongovernmental organizations expressed disappointment in Denmark's decision to prioritize economic development over the environment. "Denmark and Greenland display a very aggressive approach to the development of natural resources in and around Greenland—it's quite discomforting," said Mads Flarup Christensen of Greenland Nordics.

Economic activity has been steadily increasing in Greenland over the past decade. According to the U.S. Geological Survey Greenland's west coast may contain up to 31 billion barrels of oil equivalent, with an additional 17 billion barrels to be found off the island's east coast.

In total Greenland has issued 17 exploration licenses for its west coast. Permit holders include Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, Statoil, and Petronas. Cairns Energy, a Scottish oil company is currently the only one engaged in exploratory drilling.

Denmark's Arctic strategy report also outlines plans to submit "documentation for claims to three areas around Greenland, including an area north of Greenland which among other areas covers the North Pole."

Countries bordering the Arctic are currently entitled to a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone from their coastal baselines. Claims for extending their territories will be decided under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

Initially, UNCLOS required countries to submit claims within 10 years of ratification of the convention (Denmark ratified in 2004). However, the Meeting of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (SPLOS) decided in June 2008 that the 10 year time period is satisfied “by submitting preliminary information indicative of the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles and a description of the status of preparation and intended date of making a submission”. In other words, no formal deadline for a full submission exists any more, and Denmark merely has to submit a preliminary claim by 2014.

Denmark's plan to submit claims reaching all the way to the North Pole could eventually result in territorial disputes with Russia, the U.S., Canada, and Norway. Russia and Norway, however, recently resolved a long-standing border dispute in the Barents Sea.