23 December 2014

Who is looking after the North Pole
when Santa is away on Christmas Eve?

Who owns the North Pole? A map in the current edition of ‘The Economist’

Patrick Comerford

All the news reports say Santa Claus is about to leave the North Pole and to start on his rounds, working from east to west through the time zones to deliver his presents around the world as Christmas Eve turns to Christmas Day.

But when Santa and his little helpers and the reindeer have left the North Pole, who looks after the North Pole? Who responds when the burglar or fire alarms go off during these 24 hours? Who looks after the melting polar ice caps while he is away? Indeed, who owns the North Pole?

It is such an unsettling and disturbing question that the current edition of The Economist has devoted over half a page in an effort to answer who owns the North Pole.

In its Christmas double edition, The Economist recalls how Artur Chilingarov, a Soviet polar explorer claimed in 2007, after planting a titanium Russian tricolour on the sea bed 4 km beneath the North Pole, declared: “The Arctic has always been Russian.”

However, a Cold War scramble for the North Pole never heated up, and the Arctic Council moved in to settle a border dispute between Norway and Russia.

Now, however, Denmark is staking a claim to the North Pole, too. Less than 10 days ago, according to The Economist, Denmark claimed on 15 December that, under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, 900,000 sq km of the Arctic Ocean north of Greenland belongs to it.

Denmark argues that the Lomonosov ridge, which bisects the Arctic, starts in Greenland. Greenland is still a self-governing part of Denmark, but Denmark’s claims are in conflict with those of Russia and Canada, and perhaps also Norway and the US. The prize for these countries is not Santa’s Grotto or some igloos, but the mineral wealth of the Arctic, which may become more accessible with global warming.

Santa better get back quickly to plant his flag and stake his claim to the North Pole.

Meanwhile, the current Christmas double issue of The Economist discusses some other seasonal topics. Who were the Three Wise Men? What threats are facing the smaller religious groups in the Middle East? And what do they call turkeys in Turkey?

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