The Wilson Center’s Canada Institute and Kennan Institute, with the Center for Canadian Studies at Duke University, joined UNC Chapel Hill’s Center for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies (CSEEES) to host Who “Owns” The Arctic?: An International and Interdisciplinary Conference on March 28, 2012 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The conference brought together policymakers, academics, students, and environmentalists to explore diverse issues related to Arctic resource and energy management from Russian, Canadian, American, and other perspectives.

“The Arctic lies at the nexus of critical global issues, including energy and the environment, global competitiveness, peace and security, and twenty-first-century strategic partnerships.” As countries around the globe continue to rely on a dwindling number of oil and gas reserves to serve their energy needs, the Arctic territory—parts of which remain unclaimed—will continue to be an area of intense geopolitical interest,” Dmitri Trenin and Pavel Baev write in their recent Carnegie Report. “Russia’s role in fostering either goodwill or rivalry will have implications for countries far from the Arctic’s icy waters.” According to Michael Byers, Professor and the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, the “real issue is over the continental shelves. Because they were once forests and dinosaurs, this is where the hydrocarbons are located. So the disputes that have arisen lately are about the fine detail of ownership – nobody can actually claim territory they’re not entitled to.”

As oil and natural gas supplies from traditional sources decline, exploration and development shift to previously remote places. The interests of governments, multinational corporations, and environmental groups often clash over the Arctic.