Ian Traynor in BrusselsMarch 11, 2008
EUROPEAN governments have been told to plan for an era of conflict over energy resources, with global warming likely to trigger a dangerous contest between Russia and the West for the vast mineral riches of the Arctic.
A report from the European Union's top two foreign policy officials to the 27 heads of government gathering in Brussels for a summit this week warns that "significant potential conflicts" are likely in the decades ahead as a result of "intensified competition over access to, and control over, energy resources".
The seven-page report, obtained by The Guardian, has been written by Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy supremo, and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the commissioner for external relations. It predicts that global warming will precipitate security issues for Europe, ranging from energy wars to mass migration, failed states and political radicalisation.
The report warns of greater rich-poor and north-south tension because global warming is disproportionately caused by the wealthy north and west, while its impact will be most catastrophic in the poor south.
The officials single out the thawing Arctic as a potential flashpoint of rival claims, pointing to the Kremlin's grab for the Arctic last year when the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, hailed as heroes a team of scientists who planted a Russian flag on the Arctic seabed.
Developments in the Arctic have "potential consequences for international stability and European security interests".
"The rapid melting of the polar ice caps, in particular the Arctic, is opening up new waterways and international trade routes," the report notes. "The increased accessibility of the enormous hydrocarbon resources in the Arctic region is changing the geostrategic dynamics of the region."
The report also stresses the volatility of regions that hold large mineral deposits and predicts greater destabilisation in central Asia and the Middle East.
The report comes as the issue of energy security begins to loom large on the agenda of Western policymakers. A summit of NATO leaders in Bucharest next month will discuss the problem for the first time, while a new manifesto for a radical overhaul of the Western alliance moots the possibility of NATO being used "as an instrument of energy security".
The manifesto warns that the Arctic thaw has already created "minor tensions" between Russia and Norway over fishing rights around the Spitsbergen archipelago, where large deposits of gas and oil are locked under a frozen continental shelf.
This "potential crisis" would draw in the US, Canada and Denmark "competing for large and viable energy resources and precious raw materials", it says.
But a group of former leaders from the US, Britain, Germany, France and the Netherlands complain that the EU is not tackling the issue of "protection of energy resources and their means of transportation".
The Solana report is the first high-level attempt to get the issue on the summit agenda. The authors call on the EU to draw up an Arctic policy "based on the evolving geostrategy of the … region, taking into account access to resources and the opening of new trade routes".
Next month's summit discussion of NATO's role in energy security is fuelling speculation that Western troops could be deployed as "pipeline police" in places such as the Caucasus.
A NATO diplomat said energy security and the security of transport routes were "a national responsibility, not an alliance responsibility. We should be looking to offer advice and help, rather than putting boots on the ground."