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16 May 2024 – The Indian Express


India’s Interest in the Arctic Region

Place and Topography:

  • Situated in the northernmost portion of the Earth, the Arctic region is centred around the North Pole.
  • It encompasses the Arctic Ocean as well as areas of the United States, Canada, Russia, Norway, and Greenland.
  • Extremely low temperatures are experienced there, and much of the land is covered in ice, particularly during the winter.

Environment and Climate: 

  • The Arctic is known for its frigid environment, with frequent lows below freezing.
  • The area is covered in ice, including sea ice and ice caps, which reflect sunlight and are essential in controlling the Earth’s temperature.
  • A unique environment that includes polar bears, seals, whales, and a variety of bird species can be found in the Arctic.

What Role Does the Arctic Region Play?

Economic Importance: 

  • The Arctic region contains significant amounts of zinc, lead, placer gold, quartz, and rich concentrations of coal, gypsum, and diamonds.
  • Approximately 25% of the world’s supplies of rare earth elements are found in Greenland alone.
  • Thirty percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas reserves are found in the Arctic, which is likewise rich in untapped hydrocarbon resources.
  • India is the world’s third-largest energy consumer and third-largest importer of oil. These resources become more accessible and viable for harvest when ice melts more quickly.
  • Therefore, the Arctic may be able to help India with its lack of strategic and rare earth material resources as well as its demands for energy security.

Geographical Importance:

  • The Arctic contributes to the global circulation of ocean currents, which carry warm and cold water across the planet.
  • Additionally, the Arctic sea ice serves as a massive white reflector at the top of the world, refracting part of the sun’s rays back into space and maintaining a stable climate on Earth.

Geographical Importance:

  • In addition, as the Arctic ice melts, geopolitical tensions are rising to levels not seen since the end of the Cold War. China is the only nation building nuclear icebreakers, aside from Russia, and has dubbed trans-Arctic maritime routes the Polar Silk Road, designating them as the third transportation corridor for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
  • In light of the fact that India is also showing a strong interest in the Arctic states through its Arctic policy, it is imperative to counter China’s soft power initiatives in the region.

Environmental Importance:

  • Despite their geographical separation, the Himalayas and the Arctic are related and have similar issues. As the largest freshwater reserve after the North and South poles, the Himalayas are sometimes referred to as the “third pole,” and the melting of the Arctic is assisting scientists in understanding this phenomenon.
  • For this reason, Arctic research is essential for Indian scientists. In keeping with this, India established the Himadri research facility in the Svalbard archipelago (Norway) in 2007 and has been doing active research there ever since. This was the country’s first scientific mission to the Arctic Ocean.

What Motivates India’s Increasing Interest in the Arctic Region? 

Climate Events Comparable to Those in the Arctic Sea Region:

  • The Indian National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research has no justification for a winter expedition to the Arctic for more than ten years. It was supposedly scientific evidence that the Arctic was rising more quickly than previously believed that caused the change in Indian policy. Decision-makers were forced to take action when evidence began to emerge linking the melting of Arctic sea ice to catastrophic climate events in India.

Investigating Possible Trade Routes:

  • India is eager to route Indian goods through the Arctic Sea, particularly the Northern Sea Route, which has opened up. This might potentially lower shipping businesses’ prices for India as well as the expenditures associated with time, fuel, and security when moving goods.

New Geopolitical Dangers:

  • India is becoming concerned about China’s increasing investments in the Arctic. This fear has increased as a result of Russia’s decision to provide China more access to the Northern Sea Route.
  • India’s growing attention to the Arctic coincides with a period of heightened tensions in the area, which are fueled by the war between Russia and Ukraine and made worse by the suspension of many regional cooperation forums.
  • Concerns have been raised regarding the possible consequences of these tensions, particularly in light of Russia’s increasing reliance on the Kola Peninsula as a nuclear deterrent. These developments have important geopolitical ramifications for India, which seeks to retain positive relations with both Russia and the West.

Implications for the Indian Monsoon and the Himalayas: 

  • India has a long history in the Arctic. It first became involved in the area in 1920 when the Svalbard Treaty was signed in Paris. India conducted its first study trip to the Arctic in 2007 to look at geology, atmospheric sciences, and microbiology.
  • After a year, India established an Arctic research base, making it the first developing nation to do so outside of China. India launched an atmospheric laboratory in 2016 and a multi-sensor moored observatory in Svalbard in 2014 after being given “observer” status by the Arctic Council in 2013.
  • Examining Arctic ice systems and glaciers, as well as the effects of Arctic melt on the Himalayas and the Indian monsoon, are the main areas of study at these sites.

 What Kinds of Difficulties Does the Arctic Region Face?

  • The nation’s policy and intellectual establishments are divided on the subject of Indian involvement in the Arctic. Regarding the possible effects of the Arctic’s changing climate on India’s economy, opinions differ. The main source of concern is the region’s fossil fuel mining industry, for which India still lacks a coherent economic strategy.
  • Sceptics of the possible environmental effects of economic exploitation in the Arctic caution against taking a naive attitude to the region, particularly when it comes to mining and oil and gas development.
  • The Arctic has warmed considerably more quickly in recent decades than the rest of the globe. The Arctic’s permafrost is thawing, which is causing the release of carbon and methane, two of the main greenhouse gases causing global warming. This amplifies the melting of ice and fuels the arctic amplification.
  • With 7,516.6 km of coastline and major port cities, melting Arctic ice contributes to rising sea levels, which in turn causes coastal erosion and storm surge. Warming air and ocean temperatures also make coastal storms more frequent and strong, which can have a major impact on India.
  • The sea level around the Indian coast is rising more quickly than the average rate of global warming, per the World Meteorological Organization’s assessment, “State of Global Climate in 2021.”
  • The US, China, and Russia are vying for position and influence in this region as a result of the opening of shipping routes and opportunities in the Arctic, which is fueling a race to extract resources.
  • The survival of Arctic plants, animals, and birds is becoming more challenging due to the lack of year-round ice and rising temperatures. Sea ice is necessary for polar bears to travel across their vast home ranges and to hunt seals.
  • The existence of polar bears and other Arctic animals is in jeopardy because of the retreating ice sheet. Additionally, fish species have shifted poleward due to warming waters, which has rearranged the food chain.
  • Due to wildfires eroding permafrost in tundra areas and unexpected storms wreaking havoc on coasts, particularly in inner Canada and Russia, the tundra is returning to its marshy form.

What Various Actions Are Needed in Regards to the Arctic Region?

  • India and Norway, the current Arctic Council chair, are close. The two nations have been working together since the late 1980s to explore how the Arctic and Antarctic are changing and how it is affecting South Asia.
  • These efforts must be accelerated over time to meet the issues facing the Himalayan and Arctic regions, as climate change ultimately affects both the Arctic and the South Asian monsoon more profoundly.

Accord With Arctic Nations: 

  • India’s current strategy aims to strengthen its reputation as a “responsible stakeholder” by working with Arctic nations in the fields of green energy and sustainable industries. For example, India and Denmark and Finland have collaborated in waste management, pollution control, renewable energy, and green technologies.

Using the Sustainable Resource Extraction Mode:

  • The Indian government should unquestionably support a sustainable method of extraction, even while it appears eager to profit from seabed mining and resource exploitation in the Arctic.
  • As it would allow for increased Indian participation in the Arctic Council’s working groups, which address topics like the blue economy, connectivity, maritime transportation, investment and infrastructure, and responsible resource development, it is thought that a partnership with Norway could be revolutionary for India.

Matching the Goals of the Arctic Council with India’s Arctic Policy:

  • It is probable that a collaboration with Nordic nations will centre around scientific inquiry and safeguarding the environment and climate. These are two of the six pillars that make up India’s Arctic Policy, the other four being national capacity building, governance and international collaboration, transit and connectivity, and economic and human development.
  • India might still investigate potential business opportunities in the Arctic. Therefore, the Arctic Council might assist India in creating a sustainable strategy that satisfies the demands of business and the scientific community.

Creating a Nodal Structure: 

  • The Arctic is one of the arctic and Southern Ocean domains that are currently within the purview of the National Centre for arctic and Ocean Research (NCPOR). The Arctic Council’s external contact is provided by the Ministry of External Affairs.
  • To specifically address Arctic Research and Development, a single nodal agency must be established, and all Arctic-related Government of India initiatives must be coordinated under it.

Going Beyond the Scientific Method: 

  • In the Arctic, India must go beyond a strictly scientific approach. Given its increasing prominence and resulting influence in international affairs, it ought to be in a good position to comprehend the dynamics of Arctic governance and population dynamics, as well as to represent Arctic tribes and bring up their concerns in international fora.

Establishing a World Ocean Treaty:

  • Examining global ocean governance and moving closer to a cooperative global ocean treaty are crucial, with polar regions and the problems they pose due to sea level rise receiving particular focus.
  • The Arctic area is home to a special and delicate ecosystem that is essential to controlling the planet’s temperature. But because of climate change, it is experiencing hitherto unseen environmental changes, such as swift ice melt and rising temperatures. The animals in the area, the native populations, and the patterns of the world climate are all significantly impacted by these changes.
  • For the Arctic’s fragile ecosystem to be preserved and for it to be viable over the long run, international collaboration and sustainable practices are crucial.

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