The setbacks of Ségolène Royal, ambassador of the poles, sacked (or about to be) by the government, will have had an advantage: to draw attention to these little-known areas. "We would still have preferred to be interested in other circumstances because the stakes are colossal", regrets Mikaa Mered, professor of geopolitics of the Arctic and Antarctic poles at the Free Institute for the Study of International Relations (ILERI), interviewed by France 24. These areas of the planet almost entirely made up of ice are indeed the scene of climatic, but also economic, military and diplomatic issues.
The Arctic, located around the North Pole, is an obvious environmental issue. Its territory, like Antarctica in the south, covers an area that largely regulates our climate. Global warming is twice as fast there as elsewhere. In thirty years, the ice has lost 30% of its surface. It is as if France lost twice its area every year. Many species are also threatened, including the emblematic polar bear. But there are also nearly 400,000 people who can no longer maintain their traditional way of life.
The Arctic Rush
Other more prosaic interests encourage the great powers to take a closer look. This territory is particularly rich in fossil fuels. It is estimated that the Arctic has 13% of the world's undiscovered oil reserves, equivalent to three years of world consumption and 90 billion barrels. The region is also home to 33% of the world's natural gas reserves and 22% of the world's hydrocarbons. Certain rare and precious metals could well abound there.
Unlike the South Pole, an area without sovereignty where mineral exploitation for commercial purposes is prohibited, the Arctic has been governed by eight countries since 1996. For example, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, the United States and Sweden share 95% of the hydrocarbon resources.
Land use in the Arctic is not new. Oil has been extracted there for over a hundred years, the first mines have existed for 150 years. The craze for this region of the globe has continued to grow in recent decades. The fault of global warming. The rise in temperatures made the conditions more lenient to settle there and the melting of the ice allowed the opening of sea lanes hitherto inaccessible. "And the more the Arctic warms, the more economic activities increase, says the French researcher. The more economic activities increase, the more global warming accelerates. This is the paradox of the poles."
Nearly 200 French companies established in the Arctic
France is not to be outdone in this race for the Arctic. It owns no less than 200 companies - small companies and large groups combined - in sectors as varied as energy (gas, renewable energy, mining), construction, tourism, telecoms, space industry, defense or again digital. The latter area is booming in the region. "In a few years, the North Pole has become the data center eldorado," says Mikaa Mered. An attractiveness which is explained first by its geographical location: the links are shorter, therefore faster. Another advantage: all the resources to cool these data-intensive data centers are found.
Tourism is the other economic sector which is experiencing exponential development. The North Pole welcomes more than 75,000 tourists each year, a figure that has doubled in less than ten years. Now the less adventurous adventurers can discover the Far North on luxury cruises. "Many more popular tour operators like Costa Cruises also offer the discovery of the Arctic in their catalogs, notes Mikaa Mered. This new tourist market brings as much currency as environmental problems."
Haro on fish
Climate change has not spared the fish. The warmer sea currents have forced marine fauna to go north, making the Arctic a particularly attractive fishing area. Its stake is such that a body has been specifically created to regulate practices. The coveted Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) brings together all of the fisheries-oriented economies. France is a member - through Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon - alongside eleven other happy elected officials.
The region is also the subject of keen military interests. American nuclear submarines, Canadian planes, Russian nuclear power station, Chinese ships ... Everyone wants their military share on the ice. In this area, it seems that Russia is particularly active. Moscow regularly conducts large-scale military exercises and has built bases capable of operating on its own. In twenty years, Moscow estimates that it will have a hundred icebreakers. Enough to open new trade routes in the Far North.
A body governs all the same the most offensive military inclinations. The round table of security forces (ASFR), initiated in 2011 by the United States, is the seat of important strategic negotiations of the great powers, of which France is a part. An instance to which Ségolène Royal did not see fit to go, preferring to lighten its carbon footprint. "It's a shame, deplores Mikaa Mered, because these bodies are as useful from an environmental point of view as strategic. You only have to see the long list of candidates ready to become a member to be convinced of it. . "
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