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Global Warming & Arctic region: Concerns & Opportunities

Global Warming & Arctic region

IE | Prelims + Mains | GS3 > Environmental Pollution & Degradation | GS3 > Climate Change

Present situation of Arctic

  • The region is warming up twice as fast as the global average.
  • Since 1980, the volume of Arctic sea ice has declined by as much as 75 per cent.
  • The Northern Sea Route (NSR) which would connect the North Atlantic to the North Pacific through a short polar arc is slowly opening due to the melting of ice.
  • A trickle of commercial cargo vessels has been going through NSR every summer since the last decade.
  • Models predict that this route could be ice free in summer by 2050.


  • The loss of ice & the warming waters will affect sea levels, salinity levels, & current precipitation patterns.
  • The Tundra is returning to swamp ( loss of forest loss of carbon sink), the permafrost is thawing ( exposing the subsurface carbon sinks), & wildfires are devastating interior Canada & Russia.
  • The phenomenally rich biodiversity of the Arctic region is under serious threat.

New Opportunities

  • The opening of the Arctic presents huge commercial & economic opportunities, particularly in shipping, energy, fisheries, & mineral resources.
  • Commercial navigation through the NSR is the most tempting: The distance from Rotterdam to Yokohama will be cut by 40 per cent compared to the Suez route.
  • Access to unexploited resources
  • Unexplored oil & natural gas deposits are estimated to be 22% of the world’s unexplored resources, mostly in the Arctic ocean
  • mineral deposits including 25 per cent of the global reserves of rare earths are buried in Greenland.

Challenges associated with new opportunities

  • Navigation conditions are dangerous & restricted to the summer.
  • Lack of deep-water ports, a need for icebreakers, shortage of workers trained for polar conditions, & high insurance costs add to the difficulties.
  • Mining & deep-sea drilling carry massive costs & environmental risks.
  • The complication is that, unlike Antarctica, the Arctic is not a global common.
  • There is no treaty that governs it, only the UN Convention of Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) deals it.

  • Large parts of it are under the sovereignty of the five littoral states — Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark (Greenland) & the US & exploitation of the new resources is well within their rights.
  • They have put in overlapping claims for extended continental shelves, & the right to sea-bed resources.
  • In 2007, Russia embedded a flag on the seabed below the North Pole to bolster its claim.
  • The US, not a party to UNCLOS, is under pressure to strengthen its Arctic presence.
  • Russia claiming that the NSR falls within its territorial waters (the US believes it lies in international waters).
  • China has been projecting the Polar Silk Road as an extension of the BRI for economic advantage.

Impact on India

  • India’s extensive coastline makes us vulnerable to the impact of Arctic warming on ocean currents.
  • Research in Arctic melting will help us understand of climatic changes in the Third Pole — the Himalayas.
  • The strategic implications of an active China in the Arctic & its growing economic & strategic relationship with Russia are self-evident.
  • India has observer status in the Arctic Council, which is the predominant inter-governmental forum for cooperation on the environmental & development (though not the security) aspects of the Arctic.

Previous UPSC Mains Questions

  1. Why is India taking keen interest in resources of Arctic Region? (2018)
  2. How does cryosphere affect global climate? (2017)
  3. What is the economic significance of discovery of oil in the Arctic Sea & its possible environmental consequences? (2015)
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