UN to consider Russia’s Arctic continental shelf claim this summer

Russian Minister of Resources and Ecology Sergey Donskoy. Photo: Trude Pettersen
Russian Minister of Resources and Ecology Sergey Donskoy. Photo: Trude Pettersen
If the claim is fully accepted, Russia will get the right to more than 1 million square kilometres of the Arctic seabed, including the North Pole.

The United Nations’ Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) will consider Russia’s claim at its upcoming session in July-August, says Russia’s Minister of Resources and Ecology Sergey Donskoy.

“The chairman of the commission has officially informed the Russian delegation about the decision to present the claim on its 41 st session, which takes place from July 11 to August 26,” Donskoy said at a meeting in the ministry, RIA Novosti reports.

Under international law coastal states are entitled to an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles from their coasts. Within this zone, a country has sovereign rights over the exploration, exploitation, management and conservation of resources in the water, on the seabed and under the seafloor. A country also has jurisdiction over certain activities like marine scientific research and protecting the marine environment.

But under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), countries can submit scientific data if they believe their continental shelf extends beyond 200 nautical miles.

Comprehensive research

Russia made a first official submission of its Arctic claims to the UN Commission in 2001. However, the Commission in 2002 responded that additional research is needed before a decision can be taken.

In August 2015, after years of comprehensive research, Russia submitted its claims for additional continental shelf territories in the Arctic. The claim includes both the Mendeleev and Lomonosov Ridges, two major structures beneath the Arctic Ocean.

“Our claim is not merely Russia’s reasoned pretensions to have its jurisdiction in the Arctic extended, it is the result of comprehensive scientific research of global significance,” Donskoy said.

“… the claim determining the outer borders of the continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean is based on the scientific understanding that the central Arctic underwater ridges, among them the Lomonosov, Medeleev, Alfa and Chukotskoye Heights, as well as the in between basins of Podvodnikov and Chukotskaya, have a continental character”, an official statement given in connection with the submission reads.

Maritime jurisdiction and boundaries in the Arctic region. Source: IBRU: Centre for Borders Research
Maritime jurisdiction and boundaries in the Arctic region. Source: IBRU: Centre for Borders Research
North Pole fever

In 2009, Norway became the first country to get its Arctic territorial claims approved, while Denmark/Greenland submitted a claim in December 2014. That latter claim includes ownership of the North Pole and is consequently in conflict with the Russian claim.

In 2013, Canada’s then foreign affairs minister John Baird raised eyebrows when, during a news conference, he said the country’s scientists and been asked to do further work mapping the continental shelf so it included the North Pole.

Allegations that the request came from then Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, after scientists concluded Canada’s continental shelf ended south of the pole, were not disputed at the time.

The United States has not yet ratified UNCLOS and cannot make a claim unless they do so.

If approved, the Russian claim will expand the country’s territory by 1.2 million square kilometres. Estimates indicate that the area include 594 oil fields and 159 gas fields as well as two major nickel fields and more than 350 gold deposits. Initial recoverable fuel resources are estimated to 258 billion tons of fuel equivalent, representing 60 percent of Russia’s total hydrocarbon resources.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Canada to collect more data for continental shelf claim, Eye on the Arctic

Canada: The Continental Shelf – Geological, legal or geopolitical?, Blog by Mia Bennett

Denmark: Denmark claims North Pole, Barents Observer

Iceland:  Revisualizing the Cryosphere, Blog by Mia Bennett

Russia:  Application for Russia’s Arctic shelf claim out on tender, Barents Observer

Sweden:  Swedish ships mapped at bottom of sea, Radio Sweden

United States:  U.S. to collect Arctic data for modern navigational charts, Alaska Dispatch News

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