UN will review Russia’s Arctic continental shelf claim this summer

The United Nations’ Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf will consider Russia’s claim at its upcoming session in July-August, says Russia’s Minister of Resources and Ecology Sergey Donskoy.

“The chairman of the commission has officially informed the Russian delegation about the decision to present the claim on its 41st session, which takes place from July 11 to August 26,” Donskoy said at a meeting in the ministry, RIA Novosti reports.

Under international law coastal states are entitled to an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles from their coasts. Within this zone, a country has sovereign rights over the exploration, exploitation, management and conservation of resources in the water, on the seabed and under the seafloor. A country also has jurisdiction over certain activities like marine scientific research and protecting the marine environment.

But under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, countries can submit scientific data if they believe their continental shelf extends beyond 200 nautical miles.

Russia made a first official submission of its Arctic claims to the commission in 2001. However, the commission in 2002 responded that additional research is needed before a decision can be taken.

In August 2015, after years of comprehensive research, Russia submitted its claims to additional continental shelf in the Arctic. The claim includes both the Mendeleev and Lomonosov Ridges, two major structures beneath the Arctic Ocean.

“Our claim is not merely Russia’s reasoned pretensions to have its jurisdiction in the Arctic extended, it is the result of comprehensive scientific research of global significance,” Donskoy said.

“… The claim determining the outer borders of the continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean is based on the scientific understanding that the central Arctic underwater ridges, among them the Lomonosov, Medeleev, Alfa and Chukotskoye Heights, as well as the in between basins of Podvodnikov and Chukotskaya, have a continental character,” an official statement given in connection with the submission reads.

In 2009, Norway became the first country to get its Arctic claims approved, while Denmark/Greenland submitted a claim in December 2014. That latter claim includes ownership of the North Pole and is consequently in conflict with the Russian claim.

In 2013, Canada’s then foreign affairs minister John Baird raised eyebrows when, during a news conference, he said the country’s scientists had been asked to do further work mapping the continental shelf so it included the North Pole.

Allegations that the request came from then Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, after scientists concluded Canada’s continental shelf ended south of the pole, were not disputed at the time.

The United States has not yet ratified UNCLOS and cannot make a claim unless they do so.

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