A new co-ordinated international set of rules to govern commercial and research activities in both of Earth's polar regions is urgently needed to reflect new environmental realities and to temper pressure building on these highly fragile ecosystems, according to several of the experts convening in Iceland for a UN-affiliated conference marking the International Polar Year.
Due to climate change, the ancient ice lid on the Arctic Ocean is fast disappearing, creating new opportunities for fishers and resource companies, and opening a potential new, far shorter ocean route between Europe and Asia, a prospect already drawing billions of dollars in investment in ice-class ships.
Antarctica, meanwhile, is witnessing a growing parade of tourists (40,000, including tour staff, in 2007), as well as researchers (now about 4,000 in summer occupying 37 permanent stations and numerous field camps) and companies interested in exploiting the biological properties of that continent's "extremophiles."
However, "many experts believe this new rush to the polar regions is not manageable within existing international law," says A.H. Zakri, Director of the United Nations University's Yokohama-based Institute of Advanced Studies (UNU-IAS), co-organizers of the conference with Iceland's University of Akureyri, in partnership with Tilburg University (Netherlands), and the Northern Institute for Environmental and Minority Law, at the Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland (Finland).
"Pressure on Earth's unique and highly vulnerable polar areas is mounting quickly and an internationally-agreed set of rules built on new realities appears needed to many observers. In Iceland, leading scholars will detail fast-emerging issues in international law and policy in the polar regions caused by such developments as the opening up of the Northwest Passage. They will identify priorities for law-making and research and offer their best advice to decision mak
|Contact: Terry Collins|
United Nations University