TORONTO – Canada plans to make a claim to the North Pole to assert its sovereignty in the resource-rich Arctic, the country’s foreign affairs minister said Monday.
John Baird said the government has asked scientists to work on a future submission to the United Nations claiming that the outer limits of the country’s continental shelf include the pole, which so far has been claimed by no one.
Canada last week applied to extend its seabed claims in the Atlantic Ocean, including some preliminary Arctic claims, but it wants more time to prepare a claim that would include the pole.
Asserting Canada’s rights in the Arctic has been a popular domestic issue for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, though at least one expert on the issue described the planned claim as a long shot.
“We are determined to ensure that all Canadians benefit from the tremendous resources that are to be found in Canada’s far north,” Baird said.
Countries including the U.S. and Russia are increasingly looking to the Arctic as a source of natural resources and shipping lanes. The U.S. Geological Survey says the region contains 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 15 percent of oil. If Canada’s claim is accepted by the U.N. commission, it would dramatically grow its share.
Countries must submit proposals to the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to request an extension of their nautical borders. Currently, under international law, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the U.S. — the five countries with territories near the Arctic Circle — are allotted 200 nautical miles (370 km) from their northern coasts.
Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, exclusive claims can be vastly expanded for Arctic nations that prove that their part of the continental shelf extends beyond that zone.
Baird said Canada’s submission last week set out the potential outer limits of the country’s continental shelf in the Atlantic — a claim of about 1.2 million sq. km. He said that’s roughly the size of Alberta and Saskatchewan combined.
Canada’s follow-up submission will include a claim to the Lomonosov Ridge, an undersea mountain range between Ellesmere Island, Canada’s most northern land mass, and Russia’s east Siberian coast. That claim would extend Canada’s claim 200 nautical miles beyond the North Pole.
The submission that Canada filed with the U.N. is essentially a series of undersea coordinates that map what the government claims is the country’s extended continental shelf.
The U.N. submissions do not lead to a binding decision, but lay the groundwork for future country-to-country negotiations over competing territorial claims in the Arctic that could take years to resolve. Just checking the science on a claim likely will take five years, said Rob Huebert, an Arctic expert at the University of Calgary.