1. Mention how climate change and countries’ ambitions open up new opportunities in the Arctic
2. What are the various institutions and mechanisms to access its resources and where does India stand?
3. Also, mention the challenges India faces in this aspect
4. Conclude with a critical opinion on the resource extraction in the Arctic region
One of the most dramatic effects of global warming is seen in the Arctic region. In recent years the ice in the Arctic Sea has been melting rapidly. The melting of the ice in the Arctic Sea has had two major geopolitical impacts:
One, new shipping routes between the Atlantic Ocean in the west and the Pacific Ocean in the East, linking Europe with Asia in the north, have opened up.
Second, the opening of the Arctic Sea has given way for resource mapping in the Arctic region.
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.
The Arctic region also holds mineral resources, as mentioned earlier, including gold, nickel, copper, graphite and uranium. These minerals are utilised in the manufacture of high-technology products such as mobile phones and nuclear energy, which can help push India’s ‘Make in India’ programme.
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 the 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.
India may extract out of its position at the Arctic Council and existing activities in the region the ability to strengthen its international presence.
Efforts by India in Arctic region are as follows-
India has forged favourable relations and form alliances with the coastal states within the present framework of Arctic governance. Tangible efforts have been made in this direction in terms of scientific research and other projects and investments.
India, for one, opened Himadri, its only research station in the region in 2008. In July 2018, India displayed an increasing commitment to Arctic research when its National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research was renamed the National Centre for Polar and Oceanic Research.
Furthermore, India and Norway’s bilateral research cooperation is realised in the Norwegian Programme for Research Cooperation with India (INDNOR).
In the economic domain, and particularly in energy, India and Russia’s top oil and gas companies have signed agreements and are cooperating on shared production projects and offshore exploration.
India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) Videsh Ltd. holds a 26-per cent stake in Russia’s Vankorneft and a 20-per cent stake in the Sakhalin-I project.
In the absence of an official Arctic policy, India’s Arctic research objectives are centred on placing more weight on environmental and scientific aspects rather than the economic potential of the region.
While China, Japan and South Korea may benefit considerably from such connectivity with the region, and more specifically Russia—India, for its part, is not as strategically located to extract similar commercial advantages.
The Arctic has enough hydrocarbons to cater to India’s energy needs, but India does not have sufficient technical capability to undertake Arctic exploration.
Way ahead for India
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.
India may utilise other concrete measures to highlight its commitment to the region, build trust in the region and secure for its stronger relations with Arctic countries.
Given the increasing discovery of resources and the opening of shipping routes, the need for infrastructural development is consequently increasing.
India can help fulfil this need, using it as a basis for building trust. For instance, collaboration and involving skilled Indian labour in infrastructure development such as building ports and other economic activities would act as a relation-building activity.
Equally, collaboration with Arctic countries outside the Arctic region may also align with broader Arctic aims as in the case of the Indian Navy.
India can learn from South Korea’s active Observer participation in working groups and the encouragement it offers its researchers to participate in such frameworks.
It would also be in India’s interest to strengthen its relations with South Korea in light of its economic successes in the Arctic as well as the consequential point it is set to occupy in the NSR.
Today, when the Arctic is growing both in environmental and geopolitical relevance, it would be unwise for India to ignore the importance of the region. As an Observer in the Arctic Council and as a nation that hopes to occupy a compelling position in global governance, India should utilise the meaningful platform provided by developments in
the Arctic region to display its competence in areas outside of its immediate neighbourhood.