The melting Arctic is encouraging a race to gain access to emerging natural resources. The Arctic already supplies the world with roughly 10% of its oil and 25% of its natural gas. It is estimated to hold 22% of the Earth’s undiscovered oil and natural gas reserves. These reserves must remain untouched and banks cannot keep financing this. Historically, the Arctic has been treated as a wasteland for nuclear testing, leading to widespread radioactive contamination.
Worldwide consumption and production — driving forces of the global economy — rest on the use of the natural environment and resources. Arctic warming is destroying global climatic patterns necessary for maintaining some of these resources. To address climate change, businesses and governments must take the lead in cutting emissions and taking bold action. Today, not even one-tenth of the global economy is circular, meaning we are wasting most of our precious resources and living well beyond our planetary means (TRVST, 2021).
In the melting Arctic, countries, communities and businesses are racing to gain access to new natural resources. In Greenland, the towns of Qaqortoq, Nanortalik and Narsaq are facing increased mineral exploration as shipping opportunities and access to minerals improve (Hansen and Burkins, 2020). Surveys across Greenland reveal deposits of diamond, quartz, ruby, topaz, sapphire, amazonite, chromium, cobalt, niobium, and tungsten, making the island abundant with gemstones and minerals (Innovation News Network, 2022). To leverage their economic future and secure independence from Denmark, many residents and actors of Greenland claim to be in need of new and larger airports to, in part, facilitate commerce. Many climate activists have taken a stand against constructing new airports, highlighting conflicting interests between local economies and climate activists.
To keep global warming below +1.5C, banks must stop financing fossil fuel development, especially in the Arctic. Currently, every major US bank has already joined the list of nearly 30 major banks worldwide that have committed not to fund oil and gas development in the Arctic. In the US, this includes Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi, and Morgan Stanley. We must hold these banks to these pledges. Pressure on the oil industry is likely to increase thanks to growing regulation and shareholder pressure – like the Bank of America shareholder resolution asking for answers on financing Arctic exploration.
Historically, the Arctic was seen as wasteland and nations dumped nuclear radiation and general rubbish. Cold waters and lack of infrastructure hamper the clean-up of the now-contaminated lands and waters, in part due to pollution from mining. This heavy metal pollution is creating toxic food chains (Discovering the Arctic, n.d.). It is likewise challenging to adequately address oil spills and general dumping from the increase in shipping across the Arctic.
The following gauges show up-to-date data regarding key indicators in the Arctic. These indicators clearly point to the crisis at hand.