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IBRU: Centre for Borders Research

Boundary news

Boundary news Headlines

Canada defines Atlantic continental shelf limits, reserves right to extend to North Pole

(16 December 2013)

In the wake of filing its claim with the United Nations’ Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), Canada has announced its intention to file an amendment that extends Canada’s claim at least to the North Pole. Pending surveying work on the Lomonosov Ridge, which extends northward from Canada’s Ellesmere Island, Canada is preparing to make an amended claim that could add 1.2 square kilometres to the area of seabed wherein it has sovereign rights .

John Baird, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, states “We have asked our officials and scientists to do additional and necessary work to ensure that a submission for the full extent of the continental shelf in the Arctic includes Canada’s claim to the North Pole”. 

Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States have territorial land mass north of the Arctic Circle, and, under existing international law, are each allotted sovereign rights in their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), which extend 200 nautical miles from their coastlines. Under certain geological conditions, however, seabed resource rights can extend beyond the limits of the EEZ, and this process is initiated by depositing research findings with the CLCS.

The United States Geological Survey contends the Arctic region retains 30% of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 15% of oil. The region also incorporates highly profitable shipping routes. Although some commentators, including the University of British Columbia’s Michael Byers, question whether the area around the North Pole will be of much value for either shipping or resource extraction, Canada’s government explains its latest move within the broader context of Arctic resource potential. Baird comments, “We are determined to ensure that all Canadians benefit from the tremendous resources that are to be found in Canada’s far north”. 

Byers, however, points out, “We’re talking about the centre of a large, inhospitable ocean that is in total darkness for three months each year, thousands of miles from any port. The water in the North Pole is 12,000 feet deep and will always be covered by sea ice in the winter. It’s not a place where anyone is going to be drilling for oil and gas. So it’s not about economic stakes, it’s about domestic politics”. 

In response to Canada’s claim, Russia has increased military presence in the Arctic region. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President, affirmed, “I would like to devote special attention to deploying infrastructure and military units in the Arctic”. The country requires “every lever for the protection of its security and national interests there”. Russia is presently drilling for oil in parts of the Arctic region, with a team planting the country’s flag on the North Pole sea floor in 2007. Denmark and Russia have both made CLCS filings that extend to the North Pole.




“Canada makes territorial claim for North Pole” The Toronto Star, 9th December 2013. 

“Russia to boost military presence in Arctic as Canada plots North Pole claim” The Guardian, 10th December 2013.

“Russia’s Putin rattles sabre over Canada’s claim to North Pole- and to Santa” Bruce Cheadle, The Canadian Press, CTV News, 11th December 2013.

“Canada to claim North Pole as its own” The Guardian, 10th December 2013.