Global Warming and Canadian Arctic Sovereignty


Global warming is a term used to define the issue of the rise of carbon dioxide contained in the earth’s atmosphere. When the concentration of carbon dioxide increases, it tends to act as a blanket trapping the heat from the sun. As a result, the atmosphere of the earth gets warmer. It has been reported that the major cause of global warming is the burning of fossil fuels and the extraction of natural gases (McRae 100).

In 2006, EIA reported that the US was a leading country in carbon emission (McRae 100). According to the report that of 84 quadrillions Btu of fuels produced, close to 7,143 million metric tons were burned in the US in 2005 (McRae 100). McRae additionally informed that an increase in carbon concentration in the atmosphere causes warming in the earth’s atmosphere (100). Based on this context, it is valid to contend that the US played a leading role in the accelerating of global warming.

Statement of the problem

Global warming is a major threat to the Arctic Ice. While this is the case, previous research on the issue does not provide much information regarding the effects and consequences of this phenomenon on the Canadian Arctic. Most studies have focused on the general effects of global warming on the region, however, only a few have sought to dig deeper, and explore the impact on sovereignty and security of the area (Griffiths 260).

Therefore, there is a huge informational gap, which has to be filled in order to contribute to the existing limited knowledge. This serves as an incentive for conducting the proposed study. The main objective of the current research paper is to explore the impact of global warming on the Canadian Arctic Sovereignty and Security. To accomplish this goal, both primary and secondary data will be collected. Primary data will be gathered through interviews and observations on the Canadian Arctic.

The study will focus on the geopolitical position and resource development factors in the region. Based on these factors, the study will address issues such as the effects of global warming on the permafrost, ice and glacier, and subsequently security concerns.

Background of the study

Due to its proximity to the USA, Canadian Arctic experiences the most global warming effects as a result of the US’ emissions. While this is not the case in other regions, Huebert reports that the Canadian Arctic experiences constructive feedback loops (20). As a result of the greenhouse effect, the snow and ice in the Arctic have continued to melt. Consequently, the local reflectivity levels have lowered. The resulting energy is radiated back from the earth in the form of heat.

Secondly, towards the poles, the atmosphere of the earth has been reported becoming shallower (Charron 840). Thirdly, due to the residing of the Arctic ice, heat absorbed during the summer is readily transferred to the earth’s atmosphere during the winter season (Huebert 28). Considering that the largest part of the Arctic’s environment registers temperatures of about 32oC, any rise in ambient atmospheric air temperature potentially results in significant environmental changes (Huebert 29).

It has been documented that due to increasing climate change in the Canadian Arctic, the rate at which the thinning of the ice cover occurs is alarming (Blunden 133). Based on this trend, it has been projected that the gradual thinning of ice in the Canadian Arctic will cause irreversible changes. Consequently, the Arctic may become ice-free (Blunden 133).

Hagel approached the topic by examining the changes in the sea level over the last 30 years (8). The researcher projected that the sea level will continue rising in the future, due to increased global warming, however at an accelerated rate (Brigham and Ellis 30). An increased rate of melt ice implies a huge likelihood of thermohaline circulation resulting in dysfunction.

Birchall mentioned that the loss of sea ice and the melting of the permafrost in the Canadian Arctic, as a result of global warming, will give rise to a set of security issues (4). As such, the oceanic effects, along with oceanic capabilities, will determine the extent to which nations can securely operate in the ocean.

it has been already reported that Canada has invested a huge financial outlay in energy infrastructure with the aim of accessing the Arctic natural gas and crude oil reservoirs, which are located about 800 miles down the Trans-Alaska Pipeline (Sharp 300).

According to Carnaghan and Goody, there is a possibility that Canada will increase its activities with reference to the exploitation of energy resources in the Arctic (33). In addition, as a result of ice clearance, the transportation of fossil fuels and natural gas will become easier (Carnaghan and Goody 33). In his study, Chaturvedi claimed that several countries surrounding Canada such as the US will seek to interpret the Sea Law in a way that their stake territorial claims to the ocean’s seabed parts will be strengthened (447).

The chief aim of this move will be to ensure that they are in a position to access more natural gas and oil reserves. The way in which one country will interpret the Sea Law will be different from another country’s inferences (English 29). From this, inter-state conflicts will arise and may even lead to wars.

In Canada, the economic infrastructure and worker housings have been built taking into consideration permafrost. According to Churchill and Lowe, an increase in temperature causes the holding or bearing capability of the permafrost to lower (18). Due to increased accessibility to natural gas and oil reservoirs, industries such as Statoil and Lukoil will establish more buildings and pipelines. Aside from this, they will employ more people to increase their production capacity. Increasing the number of employees means that more workers’ houses will be built. The overall result is that there will be an increased subsidizing of the permafrost thaw meaning that essential and expensive infrastructures will have to be re-engineered or shutdown (McRae 108).

Subsequently, energy security in different countries, including Canada, will be imperiled since the supply of fossil fuels and natural gases will be shortened (Pharand 24). This will force them to adopt alternative ways to get access to these resources. While some will seek to conserve oil, an option perceived by scholars as politically infeasible, other countries will purchase the shortfall from other oil-producing counters (Griffiths 7). If nations collectively conserve oil, no security issues will arise.

However, if they seek to import the resource, the chance of international conflicts, or even wars arising, is essentially high. For instance, Canada and the US will target the Middle East to satisfy their energy needs. Furthermore, as Hubert stated, it is likely that western countries will increase their military presence in oil-producing countries within the Middle East region in order to facilitate the oil trade (45). The increased military presence will be perceived by the host countries as a security threat, and this may give rise to a war (Stewart 380).

Research Questions or Hypotheses

It is hypothesized that global warming in the Canadian Arctic has a set of positive effects on the region’s sovereignty. However, the impacts on security are negative. The following are the questions that will serve to guide the study under consideration.

  • Do resource development and geopolitical changes affect the sovereignty of a nation?
  • What are the economic consequences of permafrost thaw, ice, and glacier, and sea levels alterations on the Arctic?
  • What are the subsequent economic implications of changes in the Arctic?
  • Do the economic effects cause any security issue?

Methods and procedures

The study will adopt an analytical research design. An analytical approach is the most suitable considering that the underlying purpose is to establish the relationship between an independent and several dependent variables. The study will take place in the Canadian Arctic, and the study sample will be comprised of geopolitical authorities. Both secondary and primary data will have to be collected in order to fulfill the purpose of the study. Secondary data will be collected through a literature review. On the other hand, primary data will be collected through observation and interview. Therefore, the researcher will seek to compare what previous researchers have found and the way the Arctic environment currently appears. The researcher will then report on the observed changes.

While this is the case, the security issues, as a result of global warming, are not visible. Therefore, to gather information on this study area, the researcher will interview the authorities on the study sample on what has ensued and what is likely to take place. These authorities will be drawn from Canada.

The data to be collected from the interview and observation will be analyzed through content analysis. As such, for each research question, the responses will be analyzed and inferences made.


The ability to fulfill the purpose of the study in an efficient manner will be hindered by the inaccessibility of the Arctic Ocean (Heininen 220). The researcher will have to go into the Canadian Arctic to collect data on the effects of global warming on such variables as permafrost thaw and ice melting. However, with no means to enter the region, there might be great difficulty in accessing the area. This might affect the validity of the results.

Works Cited

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Brigham, Lawson, and Ben Ellis. “Arctic marine transport workshop.” International Journal 2.14 (2004): 22-31. Print.

Carnaghan, Matthew, and Allison Goody. Canadian Arctic Sovereignty. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning, 2006. Print.

Charron, Andrea. “The Northwest Passage: Is Canada’s Sovereignty Floating Away?.” International Journal 21.5 (2005): 831-848. Print.

Chaturvedi, Sanjay. “Arctic geopolitics then and now.” The Arctic: Environment, People, Policy 16.4 (2000): 441-458. Print.

Churchill, Robin Rolf, and Alan Vaughan Lowe. The law of the sea, Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1999. Print.

English, John. “Arctic Ambitions.” Canada’s History 92.6, (2013): 28-31.

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Griffiths, Franklyn. “The shipping news: Canada’s Arctic sovereignty not on thinning ice.” International Journal 12.4 (2003): 257-282. Print.

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Heininen, Lassi. “Circumpolar international relations and geopolitics.” Arctic human development report 1.3 (2004): 207-225. Print.

Hubert, Don. Human Security and the New Diplomacy: Protecting People, Promoting Peace, Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2001. Print.

Huebert, Rob. “Climate change and Canadian sovereignty in the Northwest Passage.” The Calgary Papers in Military and Strategic Studies 4.3 (2011): 17-26. Print.

Huebert, Rob. “Renaissance in Canadian Arctic Security.” Canadian Military Journal 6.4 (2006): 17-29. Print.

McRae, Donald Malcolm. “60 Arctic Sovereignty: Loss by Dereliction?.” Canada’s Changing North 3.2 (2003): 427. Print.

McRae, Donald Malcolm. Arctic Sovereignty? What is at stake?. Calgary, Canada: Canadian Institute of International Affairs, 2007. Print.

Pharand, Donat. “The Arctic Waters and the Northwest Passage: a Final Revisit.” Ocean Development and International Law 38.2 (2007): 23-27. Print.

Sharp, Todd L. “The Implications of Ice Melt on Arctic Security.” Defence Studies 11.2 (2011): 297-322. Print.

Stewart, Emma. “Sea ice in Canada’s Arctic: Implications for cruise tourism.” Arctic 5.7 (2007): 370-380. Print.