India aspires to have a permanent presence with more research and satellite ground stations in the Arctic region, suggests a perusal of its Arctic Policy document.
India and the Arctic
- Arctic region, the enormous area around the North Pole spreading over one-sixth of the earth’s landmass
- While the attraction of Arctic oil and gas reserves, unexploited marine living resources and shorter shipping routes connecting the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans is undeniable, the adversarial impact of melting Arctic Ice cap on the indigenous communities, the marine ecosystems and aggravation of global warming is equally undeniable.
- Antarctica, though uninhabited, is governed by the 1959 Antarctic Treaty ensuring that it is used for exclusively peaceful purposes. There is no similar international regime for the Arctic.
- The Arctic region is very rich in some minerals, and oil and gas. With some parts of the Arctic melting due to global warming, the region also opens up the possibility of new shipping routes that can reduce existing distances. Countries which already have ongoing activities in the Arctic hope to have a stake in the commercial exploitation of natural resources present in the region.
India’s involvement in the Arctic
- India’s engagement with the Arctic dates back when it signed the ‘Svalbard Treaty’ in February 1920 in Paris.
- India launched its first scientific expedition to the Arctic Ocean in 2007 and opened a research base named “Himadri” at the International Arctic Research Base at, Svalbard, Norway
Why should India involve in the Arctic
- India is one of the very few countries to set up a permanent station in the Arctic for the purposes of scientific research. The polar regions offer some unique opportunities to carry out research related to atmospheric and climate sciences that cannot be done anywhere else.
- The Himadri research station, located in Ny Alesund, Svalbard in Norway, about 1200 km south of the North Pole, was started in 2008. The Goa-based National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCOAR) is the nodal organisation coordinating the research activities at this station.
- The station has been used to carry out a variety of biological, glaciological and atmospheric and climate sciences research projects in the last one decade, with over 200 scientists from a number of institutions, universities and laboratories having accessed the facilities at the station.
- Himadri came on the back of India’s three-decade experience of carrying out scientific research in the polar regions of Antarctica which began in 1981. India’s first permanent station in Antarctica (Dakshin Gangotri) was set up way back in 1983. In 2010, Indian scientists undertook a scientific expedition to the South Pole as well. India is now among the very few countries which have multiple research stations in the Antarctic.
- Though none of India’s territory directly falls in the Arctic region, it is a crucial area as the Arctic influences atmospheric, oceanographic and biogeochemical cycles of the earth’s ecosystem. Due to climate change, the region faces the loss of sea ice, ice caps, and warming of the ocean which in turn impacts the global climate.
- The frigid Arctic, which keeps losing ice due to global warming, is one of the batteries feeding the variations in Indian monsoons
- India could be particularly impacted as changes in the Arctic have an effect on water security and sustainability, weather conditions and monsoon patterns, coastal erosion and glacial melting, economic security and critical aspects of national development
- The importance of the Arctic area is owing to the shipping routes that pass through it.
- The unfavourable consequences of the Arctic, according to a research released by the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, are affecting not just the availability of mineral and hydrocarbon resources, but also global shipping routes.
- India, according to the Ministry of External Affairs, can contribute to maintaining a stable Arctic.
India’s arctic policy
- The Arctic Council is the leading intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, Arctic Indigenous peoples and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues, in particular on issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic. It was formally established in 1996.
- The Council was established by the eight Arctic States — the countries whose territories fall in the Arctic region — through the Ottawa Declaration of 1996. The eight Arctic States — Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States — are the only members of the Arctic Council.
- Besides them, six organisations representing the indigenous people of the Arctic region have been granted the status of permanent participants. All decision-making happens through consensus between the eight members, and in consultation with the permanent participants.
- The Arctic Council does not prohibit the commercial exploitation of resources in the Arctic. It only seeks to ensure that it is done in a sustainable manner without harming the interests of local populations and in conformity with the local environment.
- Observer status in the Arctic Council is open to Non-governmental organizations, Non-littoral states as well as to Intergovernmental and Inter-Parliamentary organizations.
- The Council is not a treaty-based international legal entity like the UN bodies or trade, military or regional groupings like WTO, NATO or ASEAN. It is only an intergovernmental ‘forum’ to promote cooperation in regulating the activities in the Arctic region. It is much more informal grouping.
- Through six working groups, each dealing with a specific subject, the Arctic Council seeks to evolve a consensus on the activities that can be carried out in the Arctic region in keeping with the overall objective of conserving the pristine environment, biodiversity, and the interests and well-being of the local populations.
- India is an observer of the Arctic Council.
- India’s Arctic Policy Roadmap For Sustainable Engagement draft rides on six pillars: science and research activities, environmental protection, economic and human development cooperation, transportation and connectivity, governance and international cooperation, and national capacity building.
- India’s Arctic policy aims to promote the following agenda—
- Strengthening national capabilities and competencies in science and exploration, climate and environmental protection, maritime and economic cooperation with the Arctic region. Institutional and human resource capacities will be strengthened within Government and academic, research and business institutions.
- Inter-ministerial coordination in pursuit of India’s interests in the Arctic.
- Enhancing understanding of the impact of climate change in the Arctic on India’s climate, economic, and energy security.
- Contributing better analysis, prediction, and coordinated policymaking on the implications of ice melting in the Arctic on India’s economic, military and strategic interests related to global shipping routes, energy security, and exploitation of mineral wealth.
- Studying linkages between polar regions and the Himalayas.
- Deepen cooperation between India and countries of the Arctic region under various Arctic forums, drawing expertise from scientific and traditional knowledge.
Increase India’s participation in the Arctic Council and improve understanding of the complex governance structures in the Arctic, relevant international laws, and geopolitics of the region.