Thoughts on an Arctic Legal Treaty Recognizing its indigenous population

3.2 Thoughts on an Arctic Legal Treaty Recognizing its indigenous population

The ‘Law of the Sea Report, Vol. 3 (2012) No. 1 Don’t leave the Sámi out in the cold: The Arctic region needs a binding treaty that recognizes its indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination and free, prior and informed consent’ discusses how the indigenous people living in the Arctic have adapted their way of life in the cold for thousands of years in order to develop the necessary resilience, and how their culture and spiritual traditions have formed their own way of relating to the ecosystem called ‘Traditional Ecological Knowledge’ (TEK). This TEK makes it possible for the indigenous to interpret weather signs and accordingly predict the weather, but due to the extreme changes caused by climate change, predicting the weather has become harder, and as they can no longer with certainty rely on what was previously considered reliable sources of information, their security has decreased. The indigenous people of the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula of Russia are called the Sámi. Their nation is called Sámpi, even though this is a nation without a state or borders, but the inhabitants of the area share the same history, culture, language and way of life. The entire Sámi population is estimated to lie between 70,000 and 100,000, where the majority is found within Norway. After the Inuits, they are the second largest indigenous group living in the Arctic and within the Sámi population there is a divide between coastal and river Sámi, mountain Sámi, forest Sámi and eastern Sámi, however, they view themselves as one people. Under the section ‘Environmental Protection’ the report explains how the Arctic has a highly complex ecosystem and how this makes it even more vulnerable to interferences. To disconnect Sámi from their land can cause cultural genocide. The source further suggests that the result of environmental changes that may cause difficulties for the Sámi must be addressed in an Arctic treaty that will protect Sámi and indigenous people living in the Arctic’s rights for protection of land and resources. This is not only in the interest of the Sámi, but also the Arctic states, as the trans-boundary pollution and over-exploitation will contaminate the Sámi’s land alongside the Arctic states resources. Article 192 of the 1982 UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) says that nations have an ‘obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment.’(UN LOS) The report further suggests that this should also include management of the Arctic’s resources, including gas, oil and marine life, in addition to, the recognition of the indigenous peoples’ right to enjoyment of their land, which includes the right to enjoy the land’s resources. The state’s interest of utilizing these areas should not infringe on this right. Article 134 on ice-covered areas note how areas with ‘particularly severe climatic conditions’ in ice covered areas for most of the year needs regulations to prevent ‘irreversible disturbance of the ecological balance.’ These regulations shall be based on the best scientific evidence that is available. 

3.3 Arctic Energy Challenges

In the chapter ‘Miljø, ressurser og transport i Arktis - Petroleumsforekomster’ (‘Environment, Resources and Transport in the Arctic - Petroleum findings’) in the book ‘Arktiske utfordringer’ (‘Arctic Challenges’) (2012) by Geir Hønneland the author states how according to United States Geological Survey it is estimated that more than 20 percent of the world’s undiscovered petroleum resources can be located in the Arctic, and how 30 percent of these are estimated to be gas resources, and 13 percent undiscovered oil. The main component of these resources is assumed to be located offshore on the continental shelf, that is in waters with a depth that is less than 500 meters. The majority of these resources are again estimated to be on the Russian side of the borders, however as the source is aware of, these are only estimates. The estimates do not state what is technically or economically possible to produce. The scope of the undiscovered oil in the Arctic is estimated to not be large enough to alter the world’s existing supply pattern in any significant way, whereas the gas resources would be able to affect the supply pattern in the future. 1/4 of the oil equivalents, both petroleum resources combined, is set to be in Alaska and the Eastern Barents Sea, in the area where Norway has opened up for oil exploration. More than 70 percent of the estimated oil resources are calculated to be located in five main areas: Alaska, the Amerasia-pool, East-Greenland, the Eastern Barents Sea and West-Greenland/North-East-Canada (USGS 2008). 

3.4 An Oil Spill Scenario in the South-East Barents Sea

The NUPI (Norwegian Institute of International Affairs) report ‘Miljøpersepsjoner i Nordvest-Russland - Problemoppfatninger knyttet til petroleumsutbygging i Barentshavet’ (‘Environmental Perceptions in North-West Russia - Problem perceptions regarding the petroleum development in the Barents Sea’) views the differences between Norway and Russia when it comes to handling the environmental concern in the Barents Sea. The danger of oil spills is a consistent theme, and the different institutes in Russia working on how to solve this has not landed on a unison yet, partly because that there is no one today that knows the long term effect of the chemicals that are being used. Several of the methods used by Russian scientific oil institutes to avoid having physical oil spills located on the surface involves letting the oil sink to the bottom, even though this has devastating effects on the sea bottom. One of two environmental organizations consulted in Nenets, Russia, who also worked on the indigenous interests, criticized the Russian attitude which they interpreted to be as the ones who are most affected, the indigenous, are the same ones that will be least consulted.