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