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Denmark leads race to claim North Pole

May 20th, 2011

The race to lay claim to the North Pole — in which Canada has a stake — has heated up with reports suggesting that Denmark will hoist a symbolic flag over the top of the world next month.

According to Danish media reports, Denmark will make an official claim for territorial rights to the North Pole before a UN deadline set for 2014.

They cite a leaked draft of the European nation’s official strategy for the Arctic, in which the Danish government states that annexation of the North Pole will be one of Denmark’s official policy objectives.

The official strategy — outlining Denmark’s 10-year plan — is expected to be released in June.

But don’t expect news of the claim to lead to a freeze in diplomatic relations, says one Canadian Arctic expert. UBC professor Michael Byers said Denmark’s plan to officially make a bid for the North Pole is “good news.”

“This is a positive development because Denmark . . . is working in a framework of international law,” he said. “It is exactly how these matters are supposed to be resolved.”

Byers said any claim on the North Pole specifically is largely a “symbolic” gesture.

“The North Pole is simply one geographic point in a large ocean,” he said. “It will enable some Danish politician to stand up and tear at a few heartstrings among nostalgic Danes, but it is purely of symbolic consequence.”

What will be important, said Byers, is the scientific mapping of the Arctic seabed, which ultimately will determine sovereignty through a UN-appointed committee.

Examining such things as the shape and the sea floor and sediment in the region will ensure “the Arctic does not become a Wild West zone,” said Byers.

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