'This is not a race': Baird defends delay in making claim for North Pole
Published Monday, December 9, 2013 2:16PM EST
Last Updated Monday, December 9, 2013 7:30PM EST
Canada has filed a claim that dramatically expands the country's boundaries in the Atlantic Ocean, but it will be a few more years before Canadian scientists determine whether that claim can extend all the way to the North Pole.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird -- along with Minister for the Arctic Council Leona Aglukkaq -- announced Canada's submission with the UN's Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, which covers 1.2 million square kilometres of the Atlantic Ocean floor.
During a news conference in Ottawa on Monday, Baird said Canada also filed preliminary information on what it believes to be the outer limits of its claim to the Arctic seafloor.
While the area is not yet fully mapped, Baird says Canada will try to extend its territorial claims to the North Pole.
"We are determined to ensure that all Canadians benefit from the tremendous resources that are to be found in Canada's Far North," he said.
The Arctic is believed to contain as much as one-quarter of the world’s undiscovered energy resources.
Aglukkaq said expanding Canada's continental shelf is central to Canada's future economic prosperity.
"We are defining Canada's last frontier," she said.
Canada, Denmark and Russia all say they believe the mineral- and oil-rich Lomonosov Ridge, which runs beneath the ocean and close to the geographic North Pole, is a natural extension of their continental shelves. The ridge is where scientists must focus their work, Baird said.
The UN submissions will not lead to a binding decision, but instead set up negotiations between countries staking a claim to the region. Talks could drag on for years.
"This is not a race," Baird said. "This will be something that will benefit the people of Canada for centuries to come and we wanted to take the time to get it right."
Baird did not explain at his news conference why, after 10 years of research, the mapping work remains incomplete.
John Higginbotham, senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and the Arctic program at Carleton University, said Canada had reached its deadline to file with the UN.
He said the incomplete work could be the result of scientists running out of funding, the lack of nuclear submarines to explore deep underwater, or mistakes at the bureaucratic level. Whatever the reason, he said, Canada should “get on with it.”
In an interview with CTV’s Power Play, however, he noted that the process of determining what the Arctic seabed looks like is “very complicated.”
“You walk off a few yards, it belongs to you completely. You walk off a few more yards, you also have some rights there. You walk off quite a bit and then it drops off, that’s the edge of the continental shelf,” he said.
“But then, there are certain lumps and mountains and undulations in the bottom of the deep ocean, which some countries will claim are part of their continental shelf. And at each stage your control and your rights and your pure sovereignty over that water diminishes.”
Higginbotham, who was recently at a high-level Arctic meeting in Moscow, said if Russia also stakes a claim to the same region, it will likely want a peaceful settlement with Canada.
“They have a very fixed, positive view of Arctic development because they need it,” he said. “They have to develop.”