Background: Arctic Region and Climate change

Background: Arctic Region and Climate change

  • Arctic region is an enormous area around the North Pole spreading over one-sixth of the earth’s landmass.
  • It is increasingly being affected by external global forces – environmental, commercial and strategic.
  • Therefore it is poised to play an increasingly greater role in shaping the course of world affairs.
  • Climate Change and the resultant rapid melting of the Arctic Ice cap is the most important phenomenon that is redefining the global perspective on the Arctic.
  • Research indicates that the Arctic may experience nearly ice free summers as early as 2030’s opening up enormous opportunities as well as challenges.
  • This has resulted in the attraction of Arctic oil and gas reserves and unexploited marine life.
  • This also opens up shorter shipping routes connecting the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans.
  • However the adversarial impact of melting Arctic Ice cap on the indigenous communities, the marine ecosystems and aggravation of global warming.



Arctic council and its significance

  • Antarctica, though uninhabited, is governed by the 1959 Antarctic Treaty ensuring that it is used for exclusively peaceful purposes.
  • There is no similar international regime for the Arctic.
  • In the Post Cold War era a move towards cooperative arrangements for managing the Arctic region led the establishment of Arctic Council.
  • The Arctic Council is a high level intergovernmental body set up in 1996 by the Ottawa declaration.
  • The primary aim of Arctic council is to promote cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States together with the indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants.
  • The Council has the eight circumpolar countries (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Denmark (Greenland and Faroe Islands), Canada, US and Russia) as member states.
  • It is mandated to protect the Arctic environment and promote the economies and social and cultural well-being of the indigenous peoples whose organizations are permanent participants in the council.
  • India was accorded permanent observer status at the eighth ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council at Sweden in 2013.
  • On the agenda of the Arctic Council are issues relating to:
  1. Shipping regulations
  2. Maritime boundaries
  3. Search and rescue responsibilities
  4. Devise strategies to mitigate the adversarial impact of the melting of Arctic ice cap


India and the Arctic

  • India’s signed the ‘Svalbard Treaty’ in 1920 in Paris.
  • It is a Treaty between Norway, US, Denmark, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Ireland and Sweden.
  • India’s interests in the Arctic region are scientific, environmental, commercial as well as strategic.
  • India initiated its Arctic Research Program in 2007 with thrust on climate change in the circumpolar north to study the connection between the Arctic climate and the Indian monsoon.
  • India launched its first scientific expedition to the Arctic Ocean in 2007 and opened a research base named “Himadri” at Ny-Alesund, Svalbard, Norway.
  • India was elected to the Council of the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) in 2012.
  • It is in recognition of this contribution to Arctic Studies that India was granted observer status to the Arctic Council in 2013.
  • A major milestone in India’s scientific endeavors in the Arctic region was successful deployment of IndARC, the country’s first multi-sensor moored observatory in the Kongsfjorden fjord of the Arctic.
  • IndARC is an observatory to study seawater temperature, salinity, current and other vital parameters of the fjord.
  • India is also planning to buy its first polar research vehicle (PRV) in 2018 to conduct research, exploration and surveys.
  • The polar research vehicle is important to undertake intensive studies in the Antarctica and Arctic regions as well as to carry out a range of ocean studies.



Importance of Arctic for India

  1. Navigability of Arctic
  • As mentioned above the Arctic has witnessed enormous depletion in its ice cover.
  • This will make the Arctic waters navigable.
  • Therefore, being a maritime nation, India should work with the International Maritime Organization and push for development of the Polar convention for navigation.
  1. Melting of Arctic ice and Monsoon
  • Melting ice may also add to the problem of global warming with its reduced capacity to absorb carbon dioxide.
  • The worry is that the imminent change in the Arctic is going to affect the monsoons in India.
  • This also results in thermal expansion, which increases the sea level, thereby allowing melted glacial water to flow into tributaries of Himalayan Rivers.
  • Thus looking forward to the AHA moment (linking the Arctic, the Himalayas and the Antarctica) in the International dialogue on climate could be a case in point for India.
  1. Arctic and energy security
    • Arctic is also crucial for India’s energy needs.
    • The Arctic region has huge deposits of hydrocarbons.
    • India wants to be more active in the exploration of the hidden treasure beneath the Ocean.
    • The melted navigable waters could also be used for generating thermal energy with the temperature differences on the surface of this water and beneath.
    • The $400 billion Russia-China Siberian gas pipeline deal was signed in 2017.
    • This will enable China to receive 38 billion cubic metres of gas annually from 2018.
    • Taking cue from this India has also signed MoU’s with Russia in the fields of gas, oil, and energy.
  2. China’s attempt in exploring the best ways and areas to participate and play a constructive role in Arctic affairs has further alarmed India.
Section : Environment & Ecology