MEP • united Kingdom
“I would like to see an Arctic Treaty or Charter which would secure a sustainable and responsible development in the Arctic”
Diana Wallis is the Liberal Democrat MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber. She has been a vice-president of the European Parliament since 2006 with the added responsibility of the Arctic and the High North. She has visited the Arctic on many occasions over the past few years and has been campaigning to develop a cross-border Arctic policy. She led the European Parliament’s debate on an Arctic resolution which was agreed upon in October 2008.
It might seem a little unlikely that a British MEP has such a keen interest in the Arctic, but the link between the region I represent in the European Parliament and the High North goes back a long way. As early as the thirteenth century, significant trade was taking place between my home city of Hull and communities in the Arctic. Soon afterwards, whalers from Hull were making the journey into the Arctic and for a long time the port was home to the largest whaling fleet in Britain. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, however, the whaling industry was in decline. The last vessel left Hull in 1869 and never returned. This marked the end of the trade. Whaling was part of a systematic exploitation for profit in the Arctic. In the Svalbard Archipelago for example, in what some have called the ‘rape of Spitzbergen’, whales, walrus, polar bears, reindeer, foxes and ducks were all systematically wiped out in just a couple of hundred years. I am fearful that the Arctic faces a new period of untrammelled exploitation as significant oil and gas reserves look to be developed. What I think we must secure is sustainable development in the Arctic, and that is why I favour a multilateral approach. The Antarctic has been protected from commercial exploitation since the signing of an international treaty there in 1959, along with subsequent agreements which prevent development and provide for the protection of the Antarctic environment. In the longer term I would like to see an Arctic Treaty or Charter developed in the same way. The difference that challenges us is the existence of sovereign nations and indigenous peoples in the Arctic – but then all the more reason to act! It is clear to me that, although a plethora of organisations and agreements have come into place in the High North over the past twenty or so years, none of them are wholly adequate to take up the current challenge presented by the nexus of issues of, for example, securing energy supply, climate change, the opening of hitherto closed seaways, migrating fish stocks and threats to the cultures of indigenous people which have come into play in the Arctic. I think we have an opportunity as a world to look at some of the best examples of global governance and use our imaginations in developing an arrangement that will last, but we need to act quickly.