Arctic Sea melting and its impact on geopolitics

The melting of Arctic Ice has significant ecological and geopolitical implications for the world. In the Arctic, the sea ice has shrunk by about two-thirds over three decades.

Predictions by various models say the summertime Arctic sea ice could disappear completely by 2050. This will open new shipping rules are being, The ‘Polar Code’, as it is called is expected to boost traffic in the region, but will have stringent rules on pollution.

Why does this matter?

The Northern Sea Route along Russia’s edge, that is likely to be free of ice first, can reduce the sailing distance between Asian ports and northern Europe by 40 per cent. The other major Arctic shipping route is the Northwest Passage, which connects Europe and Asia.

It is nearly 5,000 nautical miles shorter than the 12,600 nautical mile distance between Europe and Asia through the Panama Canal. The Arctic is believed to hold about 13 per cent of the world’s undiscovered oil, 30 per cent of its undiscovered natural gas, and 20 per cent of its undiscovered natural gas liquids.

The Current Situation

Right Now, there are no international conventions regulating Arctic shipping operations. Rules are coming into force in 2016.

As of 2010, most Arctic shipping routes were ice-free for only about 30 days. The commercial shipping route is currently open for only about four months a year.

The Concern

‘The Polar Code’ does not deal with the problem of ballast water discharge, which often introduces non-native species to a region, and continues to allow vessels to use heavy fuel oil, a potential pollutant.

Stance of Different Countries

Russia Submitted its initial claim to the North Pole, and 7,40,000 5q km of surrounding territory, to the UN in 2001.

In 2006 Norway became the second and only Arctic nation besides Russia to submit an extended continental shelf claim.

In 2013, end Canada said it would claim the North Pole, around 800 km north of Alert, Nunavut, the country’s – and the world’s – northermost settlement, provoking threats of military deployment by Moscow.

Geographically, Denmark is not within the Arctic region. However, because of its territory, Greenland, and its province, the Faroe Islands, its potential claims to the Arctic extend from Greenland up to the North Pole, via the potentially oil-rich Lomonosov Ridge.

Since International Law only allows countries to extend their territory 200 km offshore, the claims are based on some creative interpretations of where the landmasses end. All argue that mountain ranges that criss-cross the floor of the Arctic Ocean are extensions of their own continental shelves. It is up to the UN to adjudicate.


No country owns the geographic North Pole or the region of the Arctic Ocean surrounding it. However, the 5 countries located along the shore of the Arctic Ocean – Russia, the US, Denmark, Canada and Norway – have competing territorial claims.

While some maintain that like Antarctica, the Arctic should not be exploited for any activity save scientific expeditions, others contend that its resources belong to the entire world.

By K Siddhartha

Earth Scientist, Author, Mentor, Educationist & Consultant | 20+ years mentoring experience | 40+ books across humanities disciplines | Advisor to Maldivian & Sri Lankan Govt. on Education and Environmental Issues.

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