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As a tri-polar nation, India has a critical role in the Arctic

  • IASbaba
  • April 17, 2021
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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ENVIRONMENT/ GOVERNANCE/ INTERNATIONAL

Topic:

  • GS-3: Environmental Conservation 
  • GS-2: Governance and Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests

As a tri-polar nation, India has a critical role in the Arctic

India’s Arctic attention has a brief-but-significant timeline

  • 2007: Started with expeditions to the Arctic Ocean
  • 2008: Opening of a research station, Himadri, at the international research base at Ny-Alesund in Svalbard, the northernmost island in the world belonging to Norway; 
  • 2013: India was granted Observer Status to the Arctic Council in 2013 along with other Asian countries such as China, Japan, Singapore and South Korea.

Significance of Three Poles

  • The Hindu-Kush Himalaya mountains, referred to as the Third Pole, with maximum snow and ice accumulation outside the two polar regions, is a critical water store for socio-economic development in India and its neighbourhood.
  • The three poles — the Arctic, Antarctic and the Himalayas — with their breathtaking landscape and permafrost ecosystem are connected through risks and vulnerabilities of changing climate systems 
  • All three are an intricate part of the global commons.
  • The physical changes in the Arctic are highly likely to impact the Indian monsoon or “tele-connection” as it is described. 
  • Likewise, the emissions from the Gangetic plains partly explain the black carbon events witnessed recently in the Arctic.

Rising importance of Arctic region

  • Unlike the Antarctic, where the legacy of peace and science prevails, the Arctic has politico-strategic challenges and competitive economic and commercial interests.
  • Rich Resource: Arctic region contains 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil resources and 30% of undiscovered natural gas resources. Vast deposits of strategic metals have also been discovered.
  • Potential to alter global trade routes: As the ice extent declines due to global warming, navigation in the Arctic Ocean will become significantly wider with the potential to become the world’s largest logistics intersections.

Way Ahead for India

  • Integrate Science & Diplomacy: India would do well to leverage the tri-polar geographical expression and its scientific engagement (with the Antarctic Treaty System and the Arctic Council) into its diplomacy. This is necessary given India’s own climate vulnerability and its efforts to foster climate-resilient economic development.
  • Careful engagement w.r.t resource rush in Arctic: The opening up of the Arctic in terms of economic opportunity is in India’s interest, but has to be carefully weighed. Rather than engaging in a resource rush, it would be better to draw home new investments in clean energy from the Arctic states. 
  • Prioritise Science over Resource: The Arctic emphasis, thus, should continue to be one of scientific enterprise with efforts to build India’s knowledge profile. Expanding its scientific footprint will require a state-of-the-art polar research vessel and Indian government should work in this direction.
  • Bilateral Polar Science Cooperation:  Joint projects on polar research should become part of the bilateral arrangement with the Arctic states such as Russia and Canada. There is already abiding polar science cooperation with the Norwegian Polar Institute.

Conclusion

For India, the Arctic has a deep civilisational connect. It enshrines a consciousness of human social evolution as a response to the physical environment as Bal Gangadhar Tilak expressed in his work, The Arctic Home in the Vedas (1903).

Connecting the dots:

  • Arctic Council and its importance in managing Arctic 
  • National Action Plan on Climate change 

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