- Mention the reasons across different dimensions.
India’s Arctic Policy, unveiled in March 2022, titled “India’s Arctic Policy : Building a Partnership for Sustainable Development”, fulfills a long standing need for clear articulation on a rapidly transforming Arctic, whose rate of warming is 3 times faster than the rest of the world. This will lead to major transformation of global shipping routes and increased availability of mineral-hydrocarbon resources, immensely impacting the geo-political landscape of the world, including India.
Why India needs an Arctic Policy ? :
- Scientific research, Climate Change and Environment : the changes in the Arctic have been impacting the global weather, including the monsoons in India. From 1971-2019, the Arctic snow cover have shrunk by 21% and extent of Arctic ice have receded by 43%. These ice losses are major contributors to global sea-level rise and can significantly impact India, especially over its 1300 island territories and maritime features. The Arctic and the Himalayas, though geographically distant, are interconnected – the Arctic melting has aided better understanding the glacial meltdown in the Himalayas, which is often referred as the ‘third pole’ containing the largest freshwater reserves after North & South Poles. The study of Arctic is therefore critical to Indian scientists.
- Economic and Human Resources : it has rich deposits of coal, gypsum and diamonds and substantial reserves of zinc, lead, placer gold and quartz. It also contains a wealth of hydrocarbon resources amounting to 30% of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil. With increasing ice melt, such resources are becoming increasingly accessible. India is the 3rd largest energy consuming country and the 3rd largest oil importer (83%) and 4th largest gas importer – Arctic can potentially address India’s energy security needs and deficiency of strategic rare-earth minerals.
- Geopolitical : China’s white paper on Arctic Policy has called itself a ‘Near-Arctic State’, and referred to trans-Arctic shipping routes as the Polar Silk Road identifying it as the 3rd transportation corridor for Belt & Road Initiative. China’s stand has been highly contested by the US. China has made significant investments (US $ 90 billion) in the Arctic’s infrastructure & energy sectors, and is the only country besides Russia to construct nuclear ice-breakers. Russia accounts for nearly half the Arctic and so, has the most stake in absolute terms. Russia is asking funds for developing infrastructure in the Arctic & Northern Sea Route, which it considers to be internal waters, regulating transit of merchant ships and restricting passage for foreign warships, which was opposed by US.
- The opening of the shipping routes and possibilities of increased resource extraction have led US, China, Russia and NATO jockeying for position and influence in the region.
India’s Arctic Policy is timely and likely to provide direction on the contours of India’s engagement with the region. It is likely to have a multiplier effect towards a more synergized, focused scientific research including enhanced understanding of the linkages between monsoons and climate change in the Arctic. India’s expertise in e-commerce & space can bridge the great physical distances in the Arctic. The policy is likely to raise awareness about the Arctic within India and vice-versa. It will create research capacities on Arctic governance & geopolitics, articulating India’s interest in the Arctic. The reveal of this policy, therefore, augurs well for India’s Arctic endeavors and the world at large.