Basics and Backgrounds

  • The Arctic Councilis a high-level intergovernmental forum that addresses issues faced by the Arctic governments and the indigenous people of the Arctic.
  • The first step towards the formation of the Council occurred in 1991 when the eight Arctic countries signed the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS).
  • The 1996 Ottawa Declarationestablished the Arctic Council as a forum for promoting cooperation, coordination, and interaction among the Arctic states, with the involvement of the Arctic Indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on issues such as sustainable development and environmental protection.
  • The Arctic Council has conducted studies on climate change, oil and gas, and Arctic shipping.

Members, Observer and Permanent Participant

  • Members: The eight countries with sovereignty over the lands within the Arctic Circle constitute the members of the council: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States.
  • Observer Status: Observer statusin the Arctic Council is open to non-Arctic states, along with inter-governmental, inter-parliamentary, global, regional and non-governmental organizations that the Council determines can contribute to its work. Arctic Council Observers primarily contribute through their engagement in the Council at the level of Working Groups.
  • Permanent Participants: In 1998, the number of Permanent Participants doubled to make up the present six, as,the Aleut International Association (AIA),and then, in 2000, the Arctic Athabaskan Council (AAC) and the Gwich’in Council International (GGI) were appointed Permanent Participants.

Organization structure

  • Arctic Council assessments and recommendations are the result of analysis and efforts undertaken by the Working Groups. Decisions of the Arctic Council are taken by consensus among the eight Arctic Council States,with full consultation and involvement of the Permanent Participants.
  • The Chairmanship of the Arctic Councilrotates every two years among the Arctic States. The first country to chair the Arctic Council was Canada (1996-1998).
  • The next country to assume the Chairmanship will be Iceland (2019-2021).

Arctic Council working groups

  • Arctic Contaminants Action Program (ACAP) : strengthening and supporting mechanism to encourage national actions to reduce emissions and other releases of pollutants.
  • Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) :monitors the Arctic environment, ecosystems and human populations, and provides scientific advice to support governments as they tackle pollution and adverse effects of climate change.
  • Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) : addresses the conservation of Arctic biodiversity, working to ensure the sustainability of the Arctic’s living resources.
  • Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response (EPPR) : protect the Arctic environment from the threat or impact of an accidental release of pollutants or radionuclides.
  • Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) : protection and sustainable use of the Arctic marine environment.
  • Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG) :works to advance sustainable development in the Arctic and to improve the conditions of Arctic communities as a whole

Three Legally Binding Agreement

  • The first, the Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic,was signed in Nuuk, Greenland, at the 2011 Ministerial Meeting.
  • The second, the Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic, was signed in Kiruna, Sweden,at the 2013 Ministerial meeting.
  • Third, the Agreement on Enhancing International Arctic Scientific Cooperation,was signed in Fairbanks, Alaska at the 2017 Ministerial meeting.

Arctic Characteristics and Issues

Resource rich Arctic

  • Varied estimates suggest that the Arctic holds a significant portion of 30% of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 13% of its undiscovered oil reserves.
  • However, exploitation of the resources has been difficult because of the natural barriers created by harsh weather conditions and difficult terrain.
  • Also, the resources are unevenly distributed, for instance, the Russian region is richer in gas reserves, while the Norwegian region has more oil resources.

Scramble for Arctic

  • As the various countries scramble for a share of its resources, it could give rise to conflict and tensions. Recently, China has released its first official Arctic policy white paper, outlining its ambition for a Polar Silk Road. There are existing disputes related to territorial claims between the region’s coastal states, such as those between Canada and Greenland, Russia and the US etc.

Environmental hazards

  • There is also the danger of extraction activities triggering negative consequences on the fragile Arctic ecosystem, such as oil spills, as was seen in the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaskan waters.
  • It will create the so-called ‘Arctic-paradox’.
  • As routes open up because of climate change, the non-renewable resources previously inaccessible will then be extracted, and these activities in turn will contribute to further global

Arctic not a Global Common

  • There is a lack of overarching guidelines for how stakeholders can engage the Arctic’s resources, akin to the Antarctic Treaty of 1959 that limited the use of the Antarctic only for scientific and peaceful purposes and freed it from any territorial claims making the Antarctic a global

Ease of navigability

  • It triggered by ice-melt giving rise to new shipping routes: The other area of potential disputes relates to the opening of new shipping routes (via Canada, US, Russia) owing to the melting Arctic ice. Advantages will be huge economic returns via:
    1. Shortening of journey time (40-percent shorter distances between Europe and East Asia.)
    2. Reduction of costs.
    3. Free of piracy and terrorism thus more secure than the conventional see lanes.
    4. Estimates suggest that by 2025, over 60 million tonnes of energy resources will be transported via the Northern Sea Route, including coal and LNG.

India and the Arctic

  • India launched its first scientific expedition to the Arctic Ocean in 2007 and opened a research base named “Himadri”at the International Arctic Research Base at Ny-Alesund, Svalbard, Norway in July 2008 for carrying out studies in disciplines like Glaciology, Atmospheric sciences & Biological sciences.
  • India has been closely following the developments in the Arctic region in the light of the new opportunities and challenges emerging for the international community due to global warming induced melting of Arctic’s ice cap.
  • India’s interests in the Arctic region are scientific, environmental, commercial as well as strategic.
  • In July 2018, Ministry of Earth Sciencesrenamed the Goa based “National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research” to the “National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research.”
  • It is a nodal organisation coordinating the research activities at the stations at the poles.
  • India has also entered into MOU with Norwegian Polar Research Institute of Norway, for cooperation in science, and also with Kings Bay (A Norwegian Government owned company) at Ny-Alesund for the logistic and infrastructure facilities for undertaking Arctic research and maintaining Indian Research base ‘Himadri’ at Arctic region.
  • In 2019, India has been re-elected as an Observer to the Council.
  • India does not have an official Arctic policy and its Arctic research objectives have been centred on ecological and environmental aspects, with a focus on climate change, till now.
  • The major objectives of the Indian Research in Arctic Regionare as follows:
    1. To study the hypothesized tele-connectionsbetween the Arctic climate and the Indian monsoon by analyzing the sediment and ice core records from the Arctic glaciers and the Arctic Ocean.
    2. To characterize sea ice in the Arctic using satellite datato estimate the effect of global warming in the northern polar region.
    3. To conduct research on the dynamics and mass budget of Arctic glaciersfocusing on the effect of glaciers on sea-level change.
    4. To carry out a comprehensive assessment of the flora and faunaof the Arctic and their response to anthropogenic activities. In addition, it is proposed to undertake a comparative study of the life forms from both the Polar Regions

Commercial and Strategic Interests

  • The Arctic region is very rich in minerals, and oil and gas. With some parts of the Arctic melting due to global warming, the region also opens up the possibility of new shipping routes that can reduce existing distances.
  • Countries already have ongoing activities in the Arctic hope to have a stake in the commercial exploitation of natural resources present in the region.
  • The Arctic Council does not prohibit the commercial exploitation of resources in the Arctic. It only seeks to ensure that it is done in a sustainable manner without harming the interests of local populations and in conformity with the local environment.
  • Therefore, to stay relevant in the Arctic region, India should take advantage of the observer status it has earned in the Arctic Council and consider investing more in the Arctic.

Why is it significant to India?

  • The Arctic Council does not prohibit the commercial exploitation of resources in the Arctic.
  • It only seeks to ensure that it is done in a sustainable manner.
  • So countries with ongoing activities in the Arctic hope to have a stake in the commercial exploitation of natural resources
  • India could derive some commercial and strategic benefits, given the fact that the Arctic region is rich in some minerals, and oil and gas,
  • With some parts of the Arctic melting due to global warming, the region also opens up the possibility of new shipping routes.