Arctic opportunities and India

Arctic Region:
  • The Arctic is a polar region located at the northernmost part of Earth.
  • The Arctic consists of the Arctic Ocean, adjacent seas, and parts of Alaska (United States), Canada, Finland, Greenland (Denmark), Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden.
  • Land within the Arctic region has seasonally varying snow and ice cover.
Ecological Impact of Arctic Warming:
  • The loss of ice and the warming waters will affect sea levels, salinity levels, and current and precipitation patterns.
  • The Tundra is returning to swamp, the permafrost is thawing, sudden storms are ravaging coastlines and wildfires are devastating interior Canada and Russia.
  • The phenomenally rich biodiversity of the Arctic region is under serious threat.
3 opportunities:
  • Opening of new shipping routes
  • New resources : The Arctic Sea is estimated to have as much 10 to 20% of the world’s oil and nearly 30% of natural gas.
  • New hotspots for research are being exposed.
Importance of arctic region:
  • The territories in the Arctic Circle have large minerals, particularly, the iron ore. Mineral exploration and exploitation is expected to pick up as Arctic shipping develops further in the future.
  • Apart from the minerals, the Arctic regions will emerge as a new source of fishing. The releases of new lands as a result of melting of ice will lead to development of the agriculture in the region.
  • Polar tourism is picking up too.
  • The opening of the new sea routes and the scramble for resources makes for new geopolitics.
Conflict over Arctic:
  • Russia, Canada, Norway and Denmark have put in overlapping claims for extended continental shelves, and the right to sea-bed resources.
  • Russia is the dominant power, with the longest Arctic coastline, half the Arctic population, and a full-fledged strategic policy.
  • Claiming that the Northern Sea Route falls within its territorial waters, Russia anticipates huge dividends from commercial traffic including through the use of its ports, pilots and ice-breakers.
  • Russia has also activated its northern military bases, refurbished its nuclear armed submarine fleet and demonstrated its capabilities, including through an exercise with China in the eastern Arctic.
  • China, playing for economic advantage, has moved in fast, projecting the Polar Silk Road as an extension of the Belt and Road Initiatives, and has invested heavily in ports, energy, undersea infrastructure and mining projects.
India and the Arctic:
  • India’s engagement with the Arctic dates back to nearly nine decades when it signed the ‘Treaty between Norway, US, Denmark, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Ireland and the British overseas Dominions and Sweden concerning Spitsbergen’ also called the ‘Svalbard Treaty’ in February 1920 in Paris.
  • India has been closely following the developments in the Arctic region in the light of the new opportunities and challenges emerging for the international community due to global warming induced melting of Arctic’s ice cap.
  • Today India’s interests in the Arctic region are scientific, environmental, commercial as well as strategic.
India and the Arctic council:
  • In May 2013, India became an Observer at the Arctic Council, which coordinates policy on the Arctic.
  • The Arctic Council has eight states as members, the five coastal states, Canada, Russia, the U.S., Norway and Denmark (through Greenland), and Sweden, Iceland and Finland.)
  • Other countries that joined India as Observers were China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Italy. The United Kingdom, France, Germany, Poland, Spain and the Netherlands are already Observers.
In becoming an Observer, India had to agree to the following criteria set by the Council:
  • Recognise the sovereign rights of Arctic states.
  • Recognise that the Law of the Sea and the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, constitute the legal basis and the legal framework within which the Arctic will be managed.
  • Respect indigenous peoples, local cultures and traditions.
  • Be able to contribute to the work of the Arctic Council.
Research in Arctic:
  • Three decades after its first mission to Antarctica, the government is refocusing priorities to Arctic because of opportunities and challenges posed by climate change.
  • India has renamed the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR)  charged with conducting expeditions to India’s base stations to the continent  as the National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research.
  • It’s also in talks with Canada and Russia, key countries with presence in the Arctic circle, to establish new observation systems.
  • Now, India only has one Arctic observation station near Norway.
  • While annual missions to maintain India’s three bases in Antarctica will continue, the new priorities mean that there will be more expeditions and research focus on the other poles.