Theme : Biodiversity & Environment.
Paper : GS - 1,GS - 3
TABLE OF CONTENT
- About Arctic Region & Arctic Council
- What is the Conflict over the Arctic?
- India’s Interest in Arctic
- Why is the Arctic Region Significant?
- Present Day Challenges
- Road Ahead
Context : The impact of rapid changes in the Arctic region goes beyond the littoral states. There is a need for global cooperation to respond to the current challenges regarding conservation, governance and the exploration of the Arctic.
About Arctic Region & Arctic Council :
- 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.
Arctic Council :
- 1996 – Ottawa declaration.
- It is an Intergovernmental forum which addresses issues faced by the Arctic governments and people living in the Arctic region
- It is Not a treaty-based international organization but rather an international forum that operates on the basis of consensus.
- The decisions, recommendations or guidelines of the Arctic Council are non-enforceable and strictly the prerogative of the individual state.
- Its mandate explicitly excludes military security.
- Chairmanship: rotated every two years once
- Secretariat: Rotated biennially with the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council
- It supports the Chair of the Arctic Council
- It manages logistics related to the biennial member states’ meetings and the more frequent SAO meetings.
- SAO ( Senior Arctic Official): a government representative, usually from a member states’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs. SAO guides and monitors Arctic Council activities in accordance with the decisions and instructions of the Arctic Council Foreign Ministers.
Arctic Council working groups:
- Arctic Contaminants Action Program (ACAP)— strengthening and supporting mechanism to encourage national actions to reduce emissions and other releases of pollutants.
- Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) — monitors the Arctic environment, ecosystems and human populations, and provides scientific advice to support governments as they tackle pollution and adverse effects of climate change.
- Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) — addresses the conservation of Arctic biodiversity, working to ensure the sustainability of the Arctic’s living resources.
- Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response (EPPR)— protect the Arctic environment from the threat or impact of an accidental release of pollutants or radionuclides.
- Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) –protection and sustainable use of the Arctic marine environment.
- Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG) — works to advance sustainable development in the Arctic and to improve the conditions of Arctic communities as a whole
What is the Conflict over the 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’s Interest in Arctic :
- Environmental Interest: India’s extensive coastline makes it vulnerable to the impact of Arctic warming on ocean currents, weather patterns, fisheries and most importantly, the monsoon.
- Scientific Interest: Scientific research in Arctic developments, in which India has a good record, will contribute to its understanding of climatic changes in the Third Pole, the Himalayas.
- Strategic Interest: The strategic implications of an active China in the Arctic and its growing economic and strategic relationship with Russia are self-evident and need close monitoring.
- Since 2013, India has had observer status in the Arctic Council, which is the predominant inter-governmental forum for cooperation on the environmental and development aspects of the Arctic.
Why is the Arctic Region Significant?
- Geopolitical Significance: Countering China From Arctic:The melting Arctic ice is also raising the geopolitical temperatures to levels not seen since the Cold War. China referred to trans-Arctic shipping routes as the Polar Silk Road, identifying it as a third transportation corridor for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and is the only country apart from Russia, to be constructing nuclear ice-breakers.
- Environmental Significance: Arctic-Himalaya Link: The Arctic and the Himalayas, though geographically distant, are interconnected and share similar concerns.The Arctic meltdown is helping the scientific community to better understand the glacial melt in the Himalayas, which has often been referred to as the ‘third pole’ and has the largest freshwater reserves after the North and South poles.
- Economic Significance: Mineral Resources and Hydrocarbons: Arctic region has rich deposits of coal, gypsum and diamonds and also substantial reserves of zinc, lead, placer gold and quartz. Greenland alone possesses about a quarter of the world's rare earth reserves.The Arctic also contains a wealth of unexplored hydrocarbon resources.amounting to 30% of the world’s undiscovered natural gas.
- Geographical Significance: The Arctic helps circulate the world's ocean currents, moving cold and warm water around the globe.Also, Arctic sea ice acts as a huge white reflector at the top of the planet, bouncing some of the sun's rays back into space, helping keep the Earth at an even temperature.
Present Day Challenges :
- Rising Sea Level Concern: Melting Arctic ice adds to rising sea levels, which in turn increases coastal erosion and elevates storm surge as warming air and ocean temperatures create more frequent and intense coastal storms
- Arctic Amplification: In recent decades, the warming in the Arctic has been much faster than in the rest of the world.
- The permafrost in the Arctic is thawing and in turn releasing carbon and methane which are among the major greenhouse gases responsible for global warming amplifying the melting of ice, thereby driving the arctic amplification.
- Race for Influence : The opening of the shipping routes and possibilities in the arctic is giving thrust to the race of resource extraction leading to the geopolitical poles: US, China and Russia, jockeying for position and influence in this region.
- Threat to Biodiversity: The absence of year-long ice and higher temperatures are making the survival of Arctic animal life, plants and birds difficult.
- Polar bears need sea ice to hunt seals as well as to move across the large home ranges. Due to shrinking ice, life of polar bears along with other Arctic species are under threat.
- Also, warming seas have triggered a poleward shift in fish species reshuffling the food web.
- Tundra Degradation: Tundra is returning to swampy state because sudden storms are ravaging coastlines especially interior Canada and Russia, and wildfires are damaging permafrost in tundra areas.
Road Ahead :
- Presently there is a need to devise a single nodal body to explicitly deal with Arctic Research and Development and coordinate all the activities of the Government of India relating to the Arctic
- Towards Global Ocean Treaty: It is important to place global ocean governance under scrutiny and make progress towards a collaborative global ocean treaty with special attention to polar regions and associated sea level rise challenges.
- Safe and Sustainable Exploration: There is a need to promote safe and sustainable resource exploration and development in the arctic region, with efficient multilateral actions taking into account cumulative environmental impacts.
1.Who is SAO?
Answer : SAO ( Senior Arctic Official): a government representative, usually from a member states’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs. SAO guides and monitors Arctic Council activities in accordance with the decisions and instructions of the Arctic Council Foreign Ministers.
2. What is the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP)?
Answer : It monitors the Arctic environment, ecosystems and human populations, and provides scientific advice to support governments as they tackle pollution and adverse effects of climate change.