The Treasures of the Arctic

BERLIN |

BERLIN (Own report) - Foreign policy experts in the German capital are demanding that Berlin obtain access to the deposits of Arctic natural resources through close cooperation with Greenland and Canada. According to these experts, "rich mineral deposits" for example, rare earth and other important resources, can be found in the High North. At the same time, global climatic changes have accelerated the melting of the polar cap, opening the larger Arctic region to greater access for the mining industry. The German government has initiated numerous projects to consolidate information on the presence of raw materials in the Arctic and to assist German companies in their activities in the region, according to the specialized periodical "Internationale Politik" in Berlin. Greenland is seen as a particularly promising supplier of raw materials, because it is anxious to have cooperation partners, to reduce its dependence on Denmark. In addition, according to the German Mineral Resources Agency, Greenland has at its command a "very extensive natural resources potential" even on the global level. As a future natural resources exporter, Greenland could be in a league with South Africa or Russia, according to the agency, which has studied the entire Arctic region for its natural resources' economic potential for German industry, to help orient expansion policy decisions.

One of the World's Richest Natural Resources Regions

"The accelerated climatic changes, which can be particularly observed in the Arctic, is opening access to natural resources that had previously been covered by 'perpetual' ice," according to an article in the current issue of the influential foreign policy periodical "Internationale Politik." The areas of exploration, however, lay in the High North, "far from the hungry, industrial countries," which means long importation routes. "Large sections" of the Arctic are also "devoid of high-capacity infrastructures." For example, in Greenland and in the Canadian Arctic, there are no deep-sea ports. Road and railway construction are, "only possible to a limited extent, due to the difficult geography." The fact that the climatic changes and the melting of the ice cannot "be forecast with precision," should not be overlooked as well. Ultimately, in the countries of the High North, there are usually complex environmental policy requirements to be fulfilled. This greatly complicates the mining of raw materials. Still, just for the record: "the Arctic is one of the richest natural resources regions in the world."[1] It behooves the German government and industry to remain intensively engaged in this region.

Prior to Commercial Expansion

According to the "Internationale Politik," Berlin has been engaged for some time in trying to assure access "to the treasures of the Arctic." The competence for assuring access to natural resources, according to the report, is "under the authority of the German Ministry of the Economy." An "inter-ministerial working group" ("IMA Rohstoffe"), including the individual ministries involved and the Federation of German Industry (BDI) is responsible "for the internal synchronization."[2] The German government assumes the "financing of geological prospecting prior to commercial exploration." It is not unusual for the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources in Hannover to be called in, an institute that the federal government primarily maintains to provide the industry with cost-effective government support. Special initiatives have been introduced for particular natural resources. Reinhard Bütikofer, the German Green Party reporting secretary for natural resources to the European Parliament, suggested in October 2011, for example, the establishment of a "research network (...) to help launch a natural resources offensive," for assuring access to rare earth, according to "Internationale Politik." The Green politician, Bütikofer, is considered the right man for the job. Rare earth is above all necessary for the ecological industry, for example, for the construction of wind power stations.

Greenland's Potential

According to the article in "Internationale Politik," rare earth could be procured particularly in Greenland. Denmark's autonomous territory is considered, "alongside China, to have the world's most significant deposits of rare earth." Although Greenland has "a very restrictive licensing policy," to prevent the worst damage to its ecology also during the mining process of rare earth, it is nevertheless "very interested in the returns from sales of natural resources" to "enhance its independence from Denmark." German companies entering the extraction process could facilitate "joint ventures between German and indigenous enterprises."[3] To make the German industry's decision easier, the German Mineral Resources Agency published already in December 2010 a study entitled "Greenland's Potential in Mineralogical Resources." The study draws the conclusion that this region, "benefiting from its billions of years of continuous geological development," has "a very large - even at the global scale - potential in natural resources."[4] On a long-term basis, Greenland could evolve into "a very important supplier of natural resources (...) comparable to Australia, Canada, South Africa, or Russia."

Top 5

According to "Internationale Politik," Canada is also playing an important role in the question of resources. "Rich deposits" can be found "in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago particularly (…) on the islands of the Nunavut territory, inhabited and administered by Inuit."[5] Years ago, government advisors had explored possibilities and options for cooperation with Canada's "indigenous Arctic peoples." (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[6]) Last year, the German Mineral Resources Agency (DERA) published, in cooperation with the Canadian German Chamber of Industry and Commerce, a detailed investigation of "German companies' prospects for engaging in the Canadian mineral sector." According to this study, "80 percent of Canada's resources" are exported, corresponding to a 20 percent share of global exports. This country - with its more than 950 active mines and its twelve minerals, including uranium, nickel, molybdenum and zinc - is one of the world's top five suppliers.[7] Obviously, a boom can be expected. According to the Canadian German Chamber of Industry, Canada's exploration expenditures are one-fifth of the global total.

Ecologists vs. Ecologists

The plea for a new German engagement in Greenland heralds an escalation of the global competition for raw materials - this time in the High North. On his recent visit to Denmark, Chinese President Hu Jintao also discussed Greenland's natural resources. In mid-June, EU Commissioners for Development and Industry signed an agreement with Greenland, to facilitate the EU's future access to the country's raw materials, including its rare earth, needed by the German eco-industry. Critics are warning that the mining of raw materials could produce uranium-contaminated waste; Ecologists are strongly protesting against the agreement. The growing competition between the major powers in the Arctic indicates that the global struggle for access to raw materials could escalate - even in the world's most remote regions.

Other reports and background on the German policy toward the Arctic can be found here: Energy for Germany (II), Ice Cold War, Cold War at the North Pole, Bridgehead to the Arctic, Arctic Roadmap und Militarizing the Arctic.

[1], [2], [3] Helga Haftendorn: Schatzkammer Arktis. Deutschlands Interessen an Rohstoffen aus dem Hohen Norden, Internationale Politik Juli/August 2012
[4] Deutsche Rohstoffagentur: Das mineralische Rohstoffpotenzial Grönlands. DERA Rohstoffinformationen, Hannover 2010
[5] Helga Haftendorn: Schatzkammer Arktis. Deutschlands Interessen an Rohstoffen aus dem Hohen Norden, Internationale Politik Juli/August 2012
[6] s. dazu Eiskalter Krieg (III)
[7] Deutsche Rohstoffagentur: Möglichkeiten deutscher Unternehmen für ein Engagement im kanadischen Rohstoffsektor, Hannover 2011