American professor advises Canada on Arctic policy

Oran Young, a professor at the University of California in Santa Barbara, spoke to a crowd on Thursday evening at Dalhousie University about the nuances of international treaties and global environmental policy.

by Barrett Limoges

Professor Oran Young at Dalhousie University (Barrett Limoges photo)

Oran Young’s message is clear and urgent: nations are running out of time to respond to the rapidly changing conditions in the Arctic.

Young, a professor at the University of California in Santa Barbara, spoke to a crowd on Thursday evening at Dalhousie University about the nuances of international treaties and global environmental policy.

“The Arctic is experiencing transformative change now,” says Young. “We don’t really have the luxury of waiting five or ten years to begin to address and respond to these challenges.”

The speech, “If an Arctic Ocean Treaty is not the solution, what is the alternative?” focused at length on the environmental changes that are taking place in the North.

Young discussed the expanding search for oil and natural gas beneath the sea floor.

He also discussed the “mushrooming interest in Arctic shipping” with the recent opening of the Northwest Passage.

“The Arctic is in a period of transformative change, and this change is driven by the combined and interactive forces of climate change and globalization,” says Young. “I want to ask, ‘what are the implications of these developments for Arctic governments?'”

Many people support the idea of responding to this change with the negotiation of an Arctic Ocean Treaty.

The solution Young proposes would be a series of smaller agreements, governing specific issues that are emerging in the changing northern environment.

“The alternative is the Arctic governance complex, which can be created piece by piece over time and characterized by what we call in government business, ‘progressive development,'” he says. “It can evolve both in terms of content and in terms of political character.”

Young is an expert on the Arctic and international governance of environmental resources. He has more than 20 published books and has lectured across the United States and Canada.

Thursday night’s crowd was mostly composed of university students enrolled in environmental and maritime programs at Dalhousie. Will Russell, a student in his first year in Dal’s marine affairs graduate program, says he came to hear about Arctic maritime policy from one of the leading figures in the field.

“I think what he’s saying is very relevant,” says Russell. “Particularly from a Canadian perspective, I think the Arctic is really an area of control that we can expand on and play a role of relevancy with our geographic position.”

Click here to learn more about Professor Oran Young and his work at the University of California