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Who Owns the North Pole?

According to The Copenhagen Post, the government of Denmark has officially stated its intention to claim the North Pole for the Kingdom of Denmark. If they have, that’s because the North Pole doesn’t belong to any nation. Why is that? Can any country lay such a claim? The North Pole and surrounding waters are international...

According to The Copenhagen Post, the government of Denmark has officially stated its intention to claim the North Pole for the Kingdom of Denmark. If they have, that’s because the North Pole doesn’t belong to any nation. Why is that? Can any country lay such a claim?

The North Pole and surrounding waters are international waters that do not belong to any country. Coastal countries have the rights to the marine resources up to 200 nautical miles offshore, according to the 1982 UN Convention of the Law of the Sea – that’s their exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Beyond the EEZs, the sea belongs to no nation. However, the Law of the Sea allows some nations to extend their claims if their continental shelf extends into international waters beyond their EEZ. Under this clause, Russia has claimed the resources on the seabed and the sea around the Lomonosov ridge, an underwater mountain ridge crossing the Arctic (see map).

Out of the blue came Denmark’s news. Its government will likely claim the North Pole as an extension of Greenland, an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark.

The complex national boundaries in the Arctic and the high seas in the "doughnut hole" in between the exclusive economic zones of Arctic nations. Source: University of Durham

 

Why are countries interested in the North Pole and surrounding waters? Simply because the ice is melting and that opens up new business opportunities: oil and gas, minerals, fisheries, and new transportation routes.

The United States cannot make such claims because it has not ratified the Convention of the Law of the Sea. A group of Republican Senators has blocked ratification because they say it’s detrimental to US national interests. Ironically, this leaves the US disadvantaged with respect to the other Arctic nations, which did ratify the Convention.

I believe – as many conservation and scientific organizations believe – that the “doughnut hole” in the middle of the Arctic’s EEZs should be declared a no-take sanctuary. That ecosystem is too fragile and unique, a heritage for all humanity.

 

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Meet the Author

Enric Sala
Marine ecologist Dr. Enric Sala is a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence who combines science, exploration and media to help restore marine life. Sala’s scientific publications are used for conservation efforts such as the creation of marine protected areas. 2005 Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow, 2006 Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation, 2008 Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum.