Context: India has recently released a draft Arctic Policy document in order to solicit public comments.
- Mineral exploration: It commits to expanding scientific research, “sustainable tourism” and mineral oil and gas exploration in the Arctic region.
- Checking new pathogens: Melting ice in the Arctic due to climate change could release new pathogens that had previously remained trapped, thus increasing the possibility of future pandemics.
- Sustainable development: India would also like to contribute in ensuring that as the Arctic becomes more accessible, the harnessing of its resources is done sustainably and in consonance with best practices formulated by bodies such as the Arctic Council.
- India believes that any human activity in this fragile region should be sustainable, responsible, and transparent with respect for international laws, including UNCLOS [United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea].
- The Goa-based National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research to lead scientific research.
- It will act as a nodal body to coordinate among various scientific bodies to
- promote domestic scientific research capacities by expanding “earth sciences, biological sciences, geosciences, climate change and space related programmes,
- dove-tailing with Arctic imperatives in Indian Universities.
- putting in place Arctic related programmes for mineral/oil and gas exploration in petroleum research institutes and
- encouraging tourism and hospitality sectors in building specialised capacities and awareness to engage with Arctic enterprises.
- Climate change: 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.
- India seeks to play a constructive role in the Arctic by leveraging its vast scientific pool and expertise in Himalayan and Polar research.
- Arctic research will help India’s scientific community to study melting rates of the third pole — the Himalayan glaciers, which are endowed with the largest freshwater reserves in the world outside the geographic poles.
- Arctic geopolitics:
- China and Russia “view the Arctic as a significant jumping-off point from which to project power farther in eastern or western Eurasia.
- China, which describes itself as a “Near-Arctic state,” had published an Arctic Policy white paper in 2018.
- China has also linked its involvement with the region to the Belt and Road Initiative.
- The country’s “Polar Silk Road” is a set of emerging shipping routes through the region, due to climate change – has a deeply strategic rationale.
But it is unclear what India can tangibly do to step up as a player in the Arctic when, for example, it has failed to meaningfully insert itself as an actor in the Western Pacific in a way that has decisively shaped the strategic dynamics in the region.
- The Arctic region comprises the Arctic Ocean and parts of countries such as Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Russia, USA (Alaska), Finland, Sweden and Iceland.
- These countries together form the core of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum.
- The region is home to almost four million inhabitants, of which, about one-tenth are indigenous people.
- India became an Observer in the Arctic Council for the first time in 2013; its membership in that body was renewed for a second five-year term in 2018.
India’s Arctic Missions
- India launched its first scientific expedition to the Arctic in 2007 and set up a research station ‘Himadri’ in the international Arctic research base at Ny-Ålesund in Spitsbergen, Svalbard, Norway.
- It has two other observatories in Kongsforden and Gruvebadet.
- Himadri is manned for about 180 days a year.
- India has sent 13 expeditions to the Arctic since 2007 and runs 23 active projects.