A slice of the Arctichttps://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/web/a-slice-of-the-arctic/

A slice of the Arctic

On May 15,12 nations,including India,China,Italy,Japan,Singapore and South Korea,joined the Arctic Council as permanent observers

On May 15,12 nations,including India,China,Italy,Japan,Singapore and South Korea,joined the Arctic Council as permanent observers,joining 26 current ones. But why this interest in the Arctic,the land of unforgiving snow,that frigid outpost that is the northernmost tip of the globe?

THE ARCTIC COUNCIL

The Arctic Council is a high-level intergovernmental forum that addresses issues faced by the Arctic governments and the indigenous people of the Arctic. Only states with territory in the Arctic can be members of the Council. All eight countries are members,making the Arctic Council a circumpolar forum. The member-countries are: Canada,Denmark (Greenland),Finland,Iceland,Norway,Russia,Sweden,and the United States (Alaska). The Council also has permanent and ad-hoc observer countries and “permanent participants”. Now,China,France,Germany,India,Italy,Japan,South Korea,Netherlands,Poland,Singapore,Spain and United Kingdom have been made permanent observers. As observers,they cannot speak or vote but they can use their growing economic clout to influence decisions in the council

WHY THE INTEREST

* With the polar ice melting,the Council wants to exploit the region’s resources and potential—shipping,fishing,oil,gas and mineral extraction,tourism—and that requires countries with the right expertise and deep pockets to pitch in (read China).

* Melting ice has meant that shipping routes are staying open for longer periods in summer than before. Shipping companies can cut sailing time between Asia and Europe by almost one-third if they take the Arctic route,helping them reduce fuel costs

THE COLD NORTH

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The Arctic is the polar region north of the Arctic Circle (66° 33’N) and consists of a vast,ice-covered ocean,surrounded by treeless permafrost. Unlike the Antarctic,the Arctic is home to many diverse native communities. But the Arctic also has sizeable natural resources and it’s this that interests countries far away from the Arctic

4 million is the estimated population of the Arctic

6% of the Earth’s surface area is the area encompassed by the Arctic Circle,according to the US Energy Information Administration

15,558,000 square kilometres is the area that makes up the Arctic Ocean

14.5 million square kilometres is the area of the Arctic region,defined as the Arctic Ocean and the surrounding land

NOT THAT COLD ANYMORE

Research data shows the Arctic ice is melting at an unprecedented speed,with some projections saying the region is expected to be ice-free within the next decades

4°Celsius warmer: In the first half of 2010,air temperatures in the Arctic were warmer than the 1968 to 1996 reference period,according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

0.9 and 1.6 metres is the range by which Arctic sea levels are projected to rise by the end of the century,according to the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme. This is significantly more than the IPCC’s 2007 projections

INDIAN INTEREST

* For domestic energy needs

* Continuing the tradition of polar research from its permanent research station Himadri

* Arctic shipping routes between Asia,America and Europe will be 40 per cent faster than those in the Indian,Pacific and Atlantic oceans

* India wants a stake on the Arctic shelf,home to 10 to 30 per cent of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas reserves

CHINESE MUSCLE

* China has led several high-profile expeditions to the Arctic Circle and opened its research station there in 2004

* In 2012,China announced that icebreaker Snow Dragon had become the first Chinese vessel to cross the Arctic Ocean

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* China’s bid to become permanent observer was opposed by Norway and other countries,fearing a diminished role for the founder members

Compiled by Nayanika Chakraborty