Wednesday 28th of February 2024

great news...


Two German ships have become the first Western commercial vessels to navigate the Northeast Passage - a shipping route which goes from Asia to Europe around the Russian Arctic.

One of the captains told the BBC that their journey opened new, exciting possibilities for the whole international shipping community.

Valeriy Durov, shipmaster of The Beluga Foresight, is your archetypal captain: a short man with a big moustache and a sense of great authority in his voice.

"I was slightly surprised by what we saw," he told us as we stood on the bridge of his cargo lifter.

"There was virtually no ice on most of the route. Twenty years ago, when I worked in the eastern part of the Arctic, I couldn't even imagine something like this.

"I think it will soon be possible to navigate the Northeast Passage all year round. We were escorted by an ice-breaker but, frankly, we could have done without it. This is great news for our industry."

Mr Durov's ship had just arrived in Arkhangel, a major sea port in north-western Russia. It was met by a cold, unpleasant drizzle and grey autumnal skies.


All year round? Fanbloodytastic? no way... One should be alarmed at this possibility. Global warming is on the way...

meanwhile, at the carbon face...

No Leader on Climate Change as Nations Prepare to Meet


UNITED NATIONS — Economists point to powerhouse countries like India to illustrate the hurdles facing some 100 world leaders due to gather in New York this Tuesday for the highest level summit meeting on climate change ever convened.

The Indian government has announced a major commitment to solar power as a renewable means of bringing electricity to more than 400 million people now living without it. Yet the government was pilloried at home last summer for accepting the international goal of preventing a global temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by limiting emissions. Opposition parties accused it of selling out the country’s future development.

While virtually all of the largest developed and developing nations have made domestic commitments toward creating more efficient, renewable sources of energy to cut emissions, none want to take the lead in fighting for significant international emissions reduction targets, lest they be accused at home of selling out future jobs and economic growth.

The negotiations for a new climate change agreement to be signed in Copenhagen in December are badly stalled. With the agreement running more than 200 pages — including what negotiators estimate are a couple of thousand brackets denoting points of differences — diplomats and negotiators fear that the document is too unwieldy to garner a consensus in the coming months.



unprecedented risks to the planet

Cut our emissions by 10 per cent in 2010

"To maximise our chances of preventing runaway climate change, we must quickly and massively cut global emissions. By signing up to the 10:10 campaign, you will commit yourself, your school, your hospital, your church, your business, your whatever, to cut 10 per cent of your emissions next year. As well as being achievable for the vast majority of the population, 10 per cent in one year is the kind of cut the science tells us we need."

Professor John Beddington, Government's Chief Scientific Adviser

the recession we had to have...

from the BBC

The global recession and a range of government policies are likely to bring the biggest annual fall in the world's carbon dioxide emissions in 40 years.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that global CO2 emissions will fall by more than 2% during 2009.

Measures such as emissions trading have complemented the drop in emissions as economic activity has declined.

The news comes as leaders gather at the UN for a day of climate talks convened by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The anticipated fall in emissions is larger than that seen during the recession of the early 1980s.

lucrative short-cut shipping route...

FOR 500 years, commodity traders have been trying to conquer the treacherous waters of the Russian Arctic passage - aware of its potential as a lucrative short-cut shipping route.

The path is blocked all winter and only smaller cargo vessels manage to navigate through the icebergs for two to three months each northern summer.

But this week, the first commercial supertanker has succeeded in traversing the strait. Carrying 70,000 tonnes of gas from Murmansk in Russia destined for Ningbo in China, it has moved the difficult Northern Sea Route a step closer to rivalling the Suez Canal in the south.

At the most dangerous stretch of the journey - the Vilkitsky Strait - sailors aboard the Baltica threw flowers into the water in memory of all the men who had died in pursuit of a quicker trade route.

Russian traders have been navigating their northern coast since 1934, transporting fuel, supplies and other goods to remote Arctic settlements. But only recently, as the polar ice increasingly diminishes each summer, has it again been considered a possible commercially viable route for shipping goods from Europe round the northern coast of Russia to China, Japan and Korea.

Last year, two German vessels became the first European cargo ships to use the passage as a route to the Far East with a modest 3500 tonnes of construction parts.

But the latest little-noticed news is far more significant: that a giant Russian tanker carrying a huge cargo of gas has managed to cross the passage in just 11 days - half the time it would take to go through the Suez Canal.


see toon at top... Remember that some of Russia's forests and 30 per cent of crops have burned last month... Record heat wave...

the battle for black gold in the white yonder...

It is considered the final frontier for oil and gas exploitation, and secret US embassy cables published by WikiLeaks confirm that nations are battling to "carve up" the Arctic's vast resources.

"The twenty-first century will see a fight for resources," Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin was quoted as saying in a 2010 cable. "Russia should not be defeated in this fight."

Along with exposing an estimated 22 per cent of the world's oil, ice melting due to global warming will open new shipping lanes, the arteries of global commerce, which nations are competing to control. And Russia certainly is not the only country eyeing the frozen prize.

Per Stig Moller, then Danish foreign minister, mused in a 2009 cable that "new shipping routes and natural resource discoveries would eventually place the region at the centre of world politics".

Canada, the US, Russia, Norway, Denmark, and perhaps even China, have competing claims to the Arctic, a region about the size of Africa, comprising some six per cent of the Earth's surface.

'Resource wars'

"The WikiLeaks cables show us realpolitik in its rarest form," says Paul Wapner, director of the global environmental politics programme at American University in Washington. "Diplomats continue to think of this as a zero sum world. When they see exploitable resources, all things being equal, they are going to approach them through a competitive nation state system."

killing the unconvenient news...

A move against a US federal biologist comes amid a push for Arctic oil, writes Suzanne Goldenberg.

It is seen as one of the most distressing effects of climate change ever recorded: a polar bear dying of exhaustion after being stranded between melting patches of Arctic sea ice.

But now the government scientist who first warned of the threat to polar bears in a warming Arctic has been suspended and his work put under official investigation for possible scientific misconduct.

Charles Monnett, a wildlife biologist, oversaw much of the scientific work for the government agency that has been examining drilling in the Arctic. He managed about $50 million in research projects and was suspended on July 18.

Read more:
see toon at top...

insanity, insanity, insanity...

John Sauven: 'I want to claim the arctic region for all of mankind'

The Monday Interview: As his campaign group turns 40, Greenpeace director John Sauven tells Michael McCarthy how he plans to save the Pole from big oil

Monday, 12 September 2011

It is such a novel and imaginative idea, and John Sauven mentions it so casually, that it takes a few moments for it to sink in: his organisation wants to build a wall around the North Pole.

Not a literal wall of course, on the floating sea ice of the Arctic Ocean, but a legal wall, an international prohibition which will prevent the countries surrounding the Arctic from claiming the top of the world for themselves, in order to exploit the mineral riches which lie under its seabed.

It's a novel notion because throughout human history – until now – the Pole's very inaccessibility has been its protection. But the melting of the Arctic ice, as the global climate warms, is opening up the great frozen wilderness, the world's most untouched ecosystem; indeed, this week a new record minimum for the ice is likely to be reached, surpassing even the record low of September 2007, which was such a plunge downwards it astonished polar scientists.

The average September minimum extent of the ice, from 1979 to 2000, was just over seven million square kilometres; this week it is likely to reach a new low of about 4.2 million km2, a 40 per cent drop in a decade. Vast areas of the Arctic are ice-free this week; the long-fabled Northwest Passage is open, and this week you can sail from the Atlantic to the Pacific without going through the Panama Canal or round Cape Horn.

It means that climate change is having its most unmistakable effect so far on the fabric of the Earth. Yet it also means that gluttonous eyes are being cast on the Arctic for what it holds, not least its 160bn barrels of oil, both by the "supermajor" oil companies such as Shell and Exxon Mobil, and the countries by which the Arctic Ocean is surrounded – Canada, Russia, the US, Norway and Denmark (via Greenland).

They are looking to extend their territorial waters and consequent sovereignty of the seabed out to 90 degrees North: four years ago the Russians planted a flag on the North Pole seabed, and last month Denmark signalled it would make a formal territorial claim to it by 2014 at the latest.

"And what we want do," says John Sauven, who is executive director of Greenpeace UK, "is say that this area, which is currently not national territory, this area of sea ice around the North Pole, should be a 'global commons', collectively owned by humanity under the auspices of the United Nations.

"It has huge symbolic importance as a pristine ecosystem. Yet the oil companies and the surrounding nations are saying, this might be at the ends of the earth, but we're just going to go in and carve it up.

"The Arctic sums up the complete and utter madness, the bankruptcy of their strategy. They will go to these extreme lengths to dig up the last bit of fossil fuels because they cannot be bothered to deal with energy efficiency and find alternatives, and they're prepared to suffer all the consequences, the impacts on wildlife and the fact that you can't do anything about them. It's insanity."

euphoric tones...


The earth has rarely been as warm as it is today [Gus: in recent geological times] -- and it has never been this small [in human travel time]. In the distant past, traveling from Hamburg to Shanghai by ship meant sailing around Africa, a journey of at least 28,000 kilometers (17,400 miles). A short cut became available in 1869, with the opening of the Suez Canal, an event so epochal that Giuseppe Verdi was asked to compose a hymn for the celebration. After that, the Hamburg-Shanghai route measured only about 20,000 kilometers.


Now another hymn could be needed, albeit a Russian one. Global warming has led to the rapid melting of Arctic sea ice. Where the thick ice pack stretched off the Siberian coast in August only a few years ago, there is nothing but the gray and cold Arctic Ocean today.

The ice cap off Siberia now almost completely disappears in the summer months. Although there are still isolated floes, the Arctic Ocean is navigable. Coastal ice vanished for the first time in the summer of 2005, and it has been disappearing every summer since 2007. There was never as little Arctic ice as in mid-September 2012, and the ice has never melted as quickly as it did in the first half of July 2013, with an area twice the size of Bavaria disappearing every day.

The Barents Sea is now open, as is the Kara Sea, and even the Laptev Sea and the Chukchi Sea are currently navigable without an icebreaker escort (see map). The ice cap only remains intact farther to the north.

The record thaw in the polar region is giving hope to many ship owners, Russian politicians and energy companies like Gazprom and Novatek. As a result of climate change, a maritime route of only 14,000 kilometers now separates Hamburg and Shanghai. And an irresistible treasure lies buried about halfway along this route, in the virtually uninhabited but thawing permafrost of northwestern Siberia: one of the largest natural gas deposits on the planet.

Euphoric Tones

Adventurers and explorers have tried to conquer the legendary Northeast Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans for more than 500 years. Many failed, drowned or froze to death. It wasn't until 1879 that a Swedish expedition managed to cross the Northeast Passage for the first time.

The Soviets, with the help of powerful icebreakers, managed to use the route a number of times after 1932, primarily to transport lumber and pelts. But the route never played a role in international maritime traffic. It remained sensitive -- politically, geographically and, most of all, climatically -- until today.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently taken on euphoric tones when referring to the "Northern Sea Route," as the Russians call their section of the Northeast Passage. With the help of billions in infrastructure investments, Putin hopes to turn the route into the Suez of the north. In his words, the seaway along the tundra has a golden future as an "international trade route."

But the only thing international about it will likely be the customers. The Russians insist that they control the entire Northern Sea Route, even though parts of it pass through international waters.

Gus: One should sound the alarm, not so much that the Russian want to control the Northwest passage but that the ice is melting so much... If my calculations are correct, we'll be in the grip of a quite large "global warming" event around 2015... See toon at top...