Russia, China, and the U.S. are battling it out to see who can sink their teeth into the Arctic, staking claim to the region’s natural resources and strategic position. In what has been a years-long race, the stakes just keep getting higher, considering that the Arctic holds some of the world’s last unclaimed territories. These long-frozen areas are melting, thanks to climate change, bringing previously inaccessible natural resources into reach.
Up to a fifth of the world’s untapped fossil fuel resources, plus minerals like gold, silver, diamond, copper and more, are seen as up for the taking, for the first country that can lay claim (as determined by the Arctic Council). In fact the Arctic has been estimated to have 1,699 trillion cubic feet of fossil fuels, equaling the entirety of Russia’s reserves and three times as much as those of the United States. The Arctic also presents the possibilities of strategic trade routes, such as China’s proposed development of the “Arctic Silk Road.”
Melting ice has also given nations the ability to settle on Arctic land and open military outposts. After all, this resource competition also comes with the need for defense of occupied land. Both the U.S. and Russia have been increasing military investment in the area, and now China might be exploring military possibilities.
And as more polar ice melts, we’ll probably only see increased competition for control over land and resources. There will be more drilling, and a greater ability to form economically advantageous trade routes. Military investment will likely increase, with the possibility of escalating tensions among Russia, China, and the U.S.
And all of this is happening under the backdrop of increasing climate catastrophe. In fact, the Arctic will probably be ice-free by 2050 at the rate it is melting, a cause for alarm, not economic opportunity. This melting ice should mean we ramp up our fight to combat climate change, not battle to make it worse.