The European Union said Wednesday it would seek an international agreement to ban the exploitation of gas, coal and oil in the Arctic, weeks before a major UN climate conference.
The Arctic is thought to be hugely rich in resources, with major players including Russia, Canada and the United States vying for control.
But climate warming driven by humanity’s exploitation of fossil fuels is already severely affecting the region, with higher temperatures melting vast areas of ice in recent decades.
Dozens of world leaders are due to meet next month for the COP26 climate summit in the UK, where they face huge pressure to agree meaningful action.
“Coal, gas and oil must remain underground in this region,” the EU’s environment commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius told journalists.
The Commission wants to explore a legal obligation to halt exploitation of reserves in the region and a ban on the sale of such products, he said.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said global warming, increased competition and geopolitical rivalries were all contributing to rapid changes in the Arctic.
“These developments show that Europe must define its geopolitical interests broadly to promote stability, safety and peaceful cooperation in the Arctic,” he said.
Sinkevicius said the bloc would seek to build on a partial ban already in place in parts of the US, Canada and Greenland.
However, the EU currently imports substantial amounts of Arctic oil and gas, including 87 percent of the liquefied natural gas produced in the Russian Arctic, according to EU figures.
And the bloc may face a tough task to persuade Russia to join any moratorium as Moscow has made exploration of the Arctic a central plank in its energy strategy.
“The Arctic region has enormous potential,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said last month.
“In terms of resources, we’re talking about 15 billion tonnes of oil and 100 trillion cubic metres of gas. Enough for tens if not hundreds of years.”
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