This article explores China’s claim that it used a research voyage through the Northwest Passage to assess the viability of commercial traffic through the region with the aim of future use of the Passage for shipping to Europe and other destinations.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Environmental studies, politics, world issues

Key Questions to Explore:

  • Who has sovereignty over this area?
  • What risks does this development pose?
  • What is Canada’s position on this issue?

New Terminology:

Arctic Council, Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act

Materials Needed:

Copies of the article, Internet access for the students

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

Climate change has brought with it many issues. One is the declining polar ice caps and the resultant growing interest in the Arctic region as a source of additional resources and improved shipping lanes. This has brought about increased competition and claims of  sovereignty over the region. There are emerging concerns about the impacts any of these developments may have on the North. This article points out one of the concerns: if China pursues its interest in the Northwest Passage as a viable trade route (which appears to be the case), there will be increased risks of damage to the ecology of this area.

This lesson will have the students examine Canada’s claim to the region, what organizations and regulations are in place to protect it, and what disputes exist over the sovereignty of the region.

Action (lesson plan and task):

  • Begin the lesson by asking the students what they have heard concerning the diminishing Arctic polar ice cap.
  • Record their findings and, if they have not identified increased interest in using the Northwest Passage as a shipping route, indicate to them that there is this developing interest.
  • At this point, provide copies of the article to the students and allow them time to read it.
  • Hold a brief plenary session to get a quick read on their reactions to it.
  • Divide the class into five groups and assign one of the following research assignments to each group.
    • What impact is climate change having on the Arctic region?
    • What is the Arctic Council and what is its role? What powers does it have?
    • What are the basic safeguards outlined in the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act and what power does it have?
    • What is Canada’s claim to the Arctic, including the Northwest Passage? Who else is making claims to the region?
    • Why is there such a growing interest in Arctic sovereignty and what impacts could this have on the region?
  • Allow the groups time to complete their research and prepare a report for the class.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • The groups will report their findings to the class and respond to any questions or comments that may arise.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

The students will be able to:

  • outline how climate change is impacting the North;
  • explain why there is growing interest in the region;
  • outline potential risks to the region based on these developments;
  • identify who is claiming sovereignty over the region.

Confirming Activity:

  • As a concluding activity, ask the students to complete a writing assignment in which they describe how they think things will be different in the Arctic region in 50 years’ time.