Melting of cryosphere in the Arctic region has led to the emergence of new international maritime cargo routes. Recently the northern sea route (NSR) the shortest shipping route has give rise to the multiple dimensions of the trade.
NSR is shortest shipping trade route between Europe and countries of Asia Pacific the routes begin at boundary between Barent and Kara seas.
- Opening of new sea route: the melting Arctic Sea ice is opening new shipping routes such as northern sea route and northwest passage. These routes are shorter and could save shippers time and money. However they are also more challenging to navigate and require specialised ships. Moreover NSR is only navigable for a few months each year due to sea ice. In recent years due to melting of the ice NSR is more accessible.
- The transpolar sea route is a shipping route that runs across the Arctic Ocean. It is the shortest route between Europe and Asia.
- Increasing risk of accidents: the melting of the ice is also increasing the risk of accidents in the Arctic Ocean. Ships are more likely to collide with iceberg or other hazards.
For example in 2018 a container ship collided with an iceberg in the northern sea route causing oil spill.
- Harming marine ecosystems: fish and other marine life are losing their habitat and the increased shipping traffic is polluting the Arctic region.
For example, a study by Arctic council found that the numbers of whales in Arctic region have declined by 30% since 1970s.
The Arctic with a remote and harsh environment with long winters and unpredictable weather.
The sea ice is still melting, and routes are not yet fully navigable.
There are also political challenges, as the Arctic is contested region due to sovereignty claims. The US and Russia has claim over the natural resources and have military interest in the region.
Thus the transformation of international maritime sea routes due to global warming is a complex issue with a far-reaching implication. It is important to continue research the issue and develop policies to mitigate the risk and maximise the benefits.
India and the North Sea route
Why Arctic region is important for India?
The vulnerability of the Arctic region which is above the Arctic circle and includes the Arctic Ocean with the north pole at its centre, to unprecedent changes in the climate may have impact on India in term of economic security, water and sustainability.
The region consists of the largest unexplored prospective area for hydrocarbons remaining on the earth. It is estimated that the region may hold over 40% of current global resources of oil and gas. There may be significant resources of the coal, zinc, and silver.
How old is India’s engagement with the Arctic:
India’s engagement with Arctic can be traced to the signing of the Svalbard treaty in 1920 in Paris. India is also undertaking several scientific studies for example Himadri research centre at Svalbard. India became an observer state of Arctic council along with five others including China.
What are the deriving factors for India to participate in the NSR development?
Primarily the growth in the cargo traffic along the NSR is on the constant rise and during 2018-22, the growth rate was around 73%. Last year the volume of cargo traffic was 34 million tonnes.
With India increasingly importing crude oil and coal from Russia in recent years due to such reliable and safe transport.
Thirdly the Chennai- Vladivostok Maritime corridor project an outcome of signing the memorandum of intent between the two countries. The 10,500km long CVMC passing through the Sea of Japan, south China sea and the valance strait will bring down transportation time to 12 days.
China’s increasing influence over NSR.