The Arctic Today


The Arctic in History
The Arctic Today



In the past 10 years, the importance of the Arctic at the international level and for Canada has grown enormously. This is due to global warming, which is making access to the Arctic easier than ever before in human history.



Arctic sea ice minimum extent, September 1982 – September 2008

United Nations Environment Programme, Global Outlook for Ice and Snow Report, juin 2007, p. 69

Cartographe : Hugo Ahlenius, UNEP/GRID-Arendal




Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for September 17, 2014 was 5.02 million square kilometers (1.94 million square miles). The orange line shows the 1981 to 2010 average extent for that day. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole.


Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center




The potential opening up of the Arctic has raised two major economic stakes or the near future:



1)  Potential resources in terms of minerals, oil and natural gas




The Resource Potential of the Arctic: A Geopolitical Perspective. Klaus Dodds (RHUL). Slides 12 and 13


See also: Arctic Oil and Natural Gas Potential,


See also: « L’Arctique : un enjeu global », colloque du Centre d'études stratégiques de la Marine, 12 novembre 2014

Perspectives on oil and gas resources development in the Arctic, Patrice de VIVIES Senior Vice-President Northern Europe, TOTAL (p.47-57)



2) Potential gain in international navigation



Le Passage du Nord-Ouest comparé au Canal de Panama :

  • Rotterdam – Tokyo par le canal de Panama = 23300 km

  • Rotterdam – Tokyo par la route du nord-ouest = 15700 km

  • New York – Tokyo par le canal de Panama = 18200 km

  • New York –Tokyo par la route du nord-ouest = 14000 km


United Nations Environment Programme, Global Outlook for Ice and Snow Report, juin 2007, p. 90

Cartographe : Hugo Ahlenius, UNEP/GRID-Arendal






These two elements have received lots of media attention (through articles in the press, various documentaries etc). However we must keep two elements in mind to avoid being overdramatic.


The first one is that most mineral oil and gas resources are located within the EEZ of Arctic countries, so there will be no war over oil in the Arctic.


The second is that there is little chance of intense navigation in the Arctic in the foreseeable future. Even if the sea ice melts during several months, the routes will remain very dangerous due to the presence of hidden icebergs, passages that are not very deep, and mostly insurance costs.


On this map,  only route 1 is navigable by large ships.

Map established drawn from the data found in Donat Pharand, Canada’s Artic Waters in International Laws, Cambridge University Press, 1988, p. 189-201.




Nonetheless, Canada, as well as other Arctic countries, is directing a lot of attention and money to the Arctic. We can distinguish three main areas of action for Canada in the Arctic:


1) Continental sea shelf extension


2) Cooperation within the Arctic Council


3) Canada’s Northern Strategy