On June 11, the Russian government charged the mayor of Norilsk, a remote Arctic city, with criminal negligence over a bungled response to a major oil spill (Reuters). On May 29, a fuel tank at a power station in Norilsk lost pressure and collapsed, leaking more than 20,000 tons of diesel into rivers and subsoil.
The U.N. General Assembly voted last week to take a first step toward establishing a Global Pact for the Environment, a decision the United States opposed. The 193-member world body approved the resolution on a vote of 143-5 with seven abstentions. The United States was joined in voting against the resolution by Russia, Turkey, Syria and the Philippines.
New Zealand announced that it plans to create the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, set to be one of the world’s largest, through a full ban on fishing and mining. The sanctuary will be 239,000 square miles, an area roughly the size of France. The area is currently home to endangered species such as dolphins, turtles, and whales. The announcement came as a surprise to New Zealand’s seafood industry and mining firms because it will preclude companies from gaining rights in the protected area.
Russia formally submitted to the United Nations a claim to a vast area of the Arctic Ocean, which includes the North Pole. The 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea convention states that a nation may claim an exclusive economic zone over the continental shelf abutting its shores. Russian president Vladimir Putin claims scientific evidence shows that the shelf extends 150 miles further out from Russian shores than previous estimates have shown. This claim would expand Russia's total territory on land and sea by about 463,000 square miles.
The five nation-members of the Arctic Council (Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the United States) agreed to prohibit their commercial fishing fleets from accessing the central Arctic Ocean. The accord, signed in Oslo on July 16, is a preemptive move designed to prevent degradation to fish stocks expected to migrate into the area as rising temperatures keep more of the region ice-free. The Arctic Council has also asked other nations with large fishing fleets, such as China, Vietnam, and much of the European Union, to agree to keep the area off-limits.
Russian President Vladimir Putin approved legislation that will ban drift net fishing off of Russia's eastern coast. Environmentalists have long opposed the practice for its unsustainability and massive amounts of bycatch. The law, which will go into effect January 1, 2016, will align Russia with most of the international community. The U.N. adopted a resolution calling for all countries to ban drift net fishing back in 1991. However, Russia's law has strained relations with Japan, which operates 35 drift net fishing vessels in Russian waters, compared to the 16 that are Russian flagged.
On May 1, Dutch police boarded a Greenpeace ship and arrested 30 activists who were trying to prevent a Russian tanker from unloading its oil shipment in Rotterdam. The shipment was Russia’s first attempt to extract oil from the Barents Sea, a move Greenpeace sees as potentially catastrophic for the fragile Arctic ecosystem. Greenpeace activists used paragliders, climbers, a fleet of boats, and inflatables in an effort to stop the tanker, but, according to Dutch police, the ship was still able to moor in Rotterdam harbor.
The UK Department for Energy and Climate Change confirmed that oil companies have been fined for spills in the North Sea just seven times since 2000, despite over 4,000 recorded spills in the same period. Total fines from 2000 to 2007 came to around $119,000 dollars, and no company had to pay more than $32,000. The lowest fine came when Venture North Sea Oil and Knutsen OAS Shipping were fined $3,200 each for spilling 20 tons of crude oil into the sea.
There will not be a full climate deal this year, but officials are hopeful that nations can solidify voluntary agreements. A deadlock ensued as developing countries wanted the Kyoto Protocol to be extended until 2012, as Japan, Russia, and China argued for a wider deal. In addition, the United States has argued for a "legal symmetry," placing more in a new deal under which climate targets for China would have equal force to any commitments by the rich.
In the aftermath of Japan's nuclear crisis, Angela Merkel has begun a shift to move Germany away from nuclear power in efforts that will make the country much more reliant on Russian gas. Germany currently imports about 85 percent of its natural gas and is more reliant on Russia for its energy needs than the European Union as a whole. "So far the public debate in Germany has focused on the desire to exit nuclear energy with little thought being spared as to what is actually going to replace it," said Merkel.