European Parliament’s Briefing on Geopolitical assessment of existing data on natural resources, August 2010

The paper assesses the importance of Arctic resources from geopolitical, economic and legal perspectives. It examines estimates of oil and gas deposits; the outlook for exploitation; jurisdictional and maritime claims; questions of governance, and the potential for geopolitical friction. While the Arctic is estimated to contain about 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30% of its gas, the extraction viability – in the foreseeable future – is questionable. This applies especially to gas because of the shale gas “revolution” and high development and production costs. Overlapping territorial claims do not require urgent solutions; they are more likely to postpone resource development than to create inter-state conflicts. There is, however, ambivalence about governance due to the absence of a UN enforcement mechanism to resolve disputes; the Arctic Council’s lack of political influence; and uncertainty over whether the meetings of the Arctic Ocean states will be turned into an institutionalized decision-making venue. This ambiguity – when coupled with increased pressure by actors, such as the European Union and China, for increased internationalization of the Arctic – could produce friction among the Arctic states and between them and non-Arctic states and organizations. Thus, while the Arctic is currently a low tension area, the long-term geopolitical conflict risks are much greater.

Author : Valur Ingimundarson, University of Iceland

Please download the briefing Geopolitical assessment of existing data on natural resources.