VIENNA – The rapid shrinkage of Arctic ice cover is one of the most dramatic changes in nature currently occurring anywhere on the planet, with profound environmental and economic implications. On one hand, we stand to lose one of the Earth’s largest and most significant ecosystems. On the other hand, the once fabled northeast and northwest passages will reduce shipping times and costs by as much as half, bringing China and Japan much closer to Europe and North America’s east coast.
More immediately, the Arctic’s vast reserves of fossil fuels and minerals will become far more accessible than they are today. On land, oil fields in Alaska and gas fields in northern Russia have been producing hydrocarbons on a large scale for many years, but the estimated reserves under the Arctic Ocean are much larger. At today’s prices, these reserves could be worth more than $7 trillion, according to international energy companies; factoring in the accompanying natural gas, $10 trillion would probably be a conservative figure.