[Answered] The melting of the Arctic offers new challenges as well as opportunities to developing countries like India. Discuss India’s interests and initiatives in the Arctic. What steps can be taken to further India’s interests in the region?

Arctic has witnessed enormous depletion in its ice cover.

The extent of ice cover on the Arctic has come down to 5.2 million sq km as of September 2014 from an average 7.2 million sq Km in 1979.

Opportunities

  • Arctic contains 90 billion barrels of oil, 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 44 billion barrels of natural gas, which is approximately 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil resources, 30% of its undiscovered natural gas resources, and 20% of its undiscovered natural gas.
  • India, being the fourth-largest energy consumer in the world, can explore the hydrocarbon potential of this region.
  • By involvement in the research in the region, countries like India will be able to understand the dynamics of glaciers melting, which it will be able to use in the regional problem of glaciers melting in Himalayas.
  • Melting of Arctic ice will reduce the sailing distance between Asian ports and northern Europe by 40 per cent.
  • Alternate sea route will also save the developing countries to take the piracy infested conventional route.
  • Developing countries like India, which has been accorded with the permanent observer status in the Arctic Council, could play a decisive role in shaping the policies for the future of the ecologically fragile Arctic region

Challenges for developing countries like India

  • Enhancement of economic activity in the Arctic Region will accelerate global warming and lead to large sea level rise.
  • Melting ice may also add to the problem of global warming with its reduced capacity to absorb carbon dioxide.
  • Any imminent change in the Arctic is going to affect the monsoon system, which may fall worst on the agrarian economy.
  • This may also results in thermal expansion, which increases the sea level, thereby allowing melted glacial water to flow into tributaries of Himalayan Rivers.
  • Adding more water in the sea may result in submergence of coastal areas.
  • The waters of the Arctic Sea will absorb more sunlight as the ice thins down. This may affect the ocean currents.
  • The opening of arctic shipping routes and the exploration of mineral, hydrocarbons and marine living resources would add to the prosperity of the already affluent countries and would thus deepen the North-South divide.
  • The melting of arctic ice and the commercial exploitation of the resources would have detrimental affect on the local inhabitants like Inuits, Chukchis, Lapps etc

Way ahead for India

  • India’s interests in the Arctic region are scientific, environmental, commercial as well as strategic.
  • India should remain engaged with the leading organisations like the Arctic Council where many important decisions on the future of the Arctic region will be taken. Decisions regarding Arctic can have direct or indirect impact on India.
  • In order to advance its stakes in the Arctic, India must establish increased bilateral dialogues with the Arctic littorals.
  • The Arctic has enough hydrocarbons to cater to India’s energy needs, but India does not have sufficient technical capability to undertake Arctic exploration.
  • India could raise the concerns of the local inhabitants at fora such as UN and thus play a leading role in advancing human rights of the indigenous people.
  • India should leverage its experience from the studies in the Arctic, Antarctica and the Himalayas (third pole) to guide global policy formulation on climate change and its consequent impacts
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