By JENNY BARCHFIELD, Associated Press
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The environmental group Greenpeace launched a global campaign for greater protection of the arctic on Thursday, backed by celebrities such as Robert Redford, Penelope Cruz and Paul McCartney.
The global petition drive calls for creation of a global sanctuary around the North Pole, with a ban on offshore oil drilling and an end to unsustainable fishing. The project was lannounced on the margins of the United Nations' earth summit in Rio de Janeiro.
The environmental group said the North Pole should have the same sorts of protections given the Antarctic more than 20 years ago. No single nation has sovereignty over Antarctica, and the continent is reserved for scientific research, off-limits to commercial projects.
The Arctic, which is believed to hold up to a quarter of the Earth's undiscovered oil and gas, is currently considered the high seas, but several nations have recently made plays to establish their sovereignty over the Arctic seabed, a move that could open the area to deep-sea oil drilling.
Russia, the United States, Canada, Denmark and Norway have all been trying to assert jurisdiction over parts of the Arctic. In 2007, Russia staked a symbolic claim to the region by dropping a canister containing the Russian flag on the ocean floor from a small submarine at the North Pole.
Greenpeace's campaign plays off the Russian move. The group said that after 1 million people sign the petition, it plans to plant the document on the Arctic seabed, some 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) beneath the ice.
Greenpeace executive director Kumi Naidoo was quoted in a statement as saying, "The Arctic is coming under assault" and urging public support for the campaign.
"A ban on offshore oil drilling and unsustainable fishing would be a huge victory against the forces ranged against this precious region," he said. "And a sanctuary in the uninhabited area around the pole would in a stroke stop the polluters colonizing the top of the world."