The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum that provides a venue for discussion and cooperation among the Arctic states. The Council deals with issues related to the environment, sustainable development, and the Arctic’s indigenous peoples. The Council was formed in 1996, and The Arctic Council’s secretariat is located in Tromsø, Norway. The Council has eight member states: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States. India has been an Arctic Council observer since 2013. Its observer membership was renewed for another five years in 2019.
The Arctic Council and India: Cooperation for a Warming World
As the world warms and ice melts in the Arctic, new shipping routes are opening up, and countries are scrambling to stake their claims in the region. The Arctic Council is the main forum for discussion and cooperation on Arctic affairs, and India has been an active observer since 2013.
India’s interest in the Arctic is two-fold. First, as a country with a long coastline, India is interested in the new shipping routes that are opening up as the ice melts. Second, as a major producer of greenhouse gases, India is keen to be seen as a responsible power that is taking action on climate change.
What is Arctic Council
- The Arctic Council is the premier intergovernmental platform for encouraging cooperation on Arctic issues. The Ottawa Declaration of 1996 established the eight Arctic nations, or countries whose territory lies inside the Arctic area.
- The Council’s members are Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States.
Who Chairs the ARCTIC COUNCIL?
The Council was established in 1996 to provide a forum for discussion and cooperation on issues related to the Arctic environment and its sustainable development. Its work is guided by the principles of environmental protection, sustainable development, and the rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Council’s main focus is on climate change and its impact on the Arctic region.
The Arctic Council Chairmanship alternates every two years among the Arctic States. Canada was the first nation to chair the Arctic Council (1996-1998), followed by the United States, Finland, Iceland, the Russian Federation, Norway, the Kingdom of Denmark, and Sweden. The second Chairmanship cycle started in 2013.
The Russian Federation chairs the Artic Council from 2021 until 2023.
Members of the Arctic Council
- EIGHT ARCTIC STATES: Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States.
- According to the Ottawa Declaration, these countries are Arctic Council Members. The eight countries have territory in the Arctic and consequently serve as caretakers of the area. Their national jurisdictions and international law control the lands and waterways around the Arctic Ocean. More than four million people live in the Arctic States’ northern areas, and their health and well-being are high on the Arctic Council’s priority.
The observer at Arctic Council
Non-Arctic governments, as well as inter-governmental, inter-parliamentary, global, regional, and non-governmental organisations that the Council considers, may contribute to its work, are eligible for observer status in the Arctic Council. Arctic Council Observers typically contribute via their participation in Working Groups.
Countries are competing to become permanent stakeholders in the High North. This race is especially heated among the Arctic Council’s 13 observers. For example, whereas the United Kingdom desires to be known as the “nearest neighbour” through the Shetland Islands, China aspires to be recognised as a near-Arctic nation. India, too, is in the race.
What is India’s Arctic Policy
India’s Arctic policy is one that has been largely shaped by its economic and strategic interests in the region. India has been a vocal advocate for increased cooperation in the Arctic, particularly in the areas of scientific research and climate change.
As an Observer member of the Arctic Council, India has been actively involved in the promotion of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic region. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also emphasised the need for international cooperation to protect this fragile ecosystem.
While Indian scientists have been carrying out research in the Arctic region for many years, it was only recently that the government released its first formal Arctic policy document. This document outlines India’s strategic objectives in the region, including the need to safeguard its economic and security interests.
- The Indian government published an Arctic policy in March 2022.
- It envisions India’s participation in Arctic research, environmental monitoring, marine cooperation, and energy security.
- The National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research under the Ministry of Earth Sciences is the coordinating organisation for the Arctic Policy’s implementation.
Where does India stand with respect to the Arctic?
- The connection of India with the Arctic stretches back to 1920 when the Svalbard Treaty was signed in Paris.
- India is one of the few nations to have established a permanent research station in the Arctic.
- In the first week of August 2007, it launched its first research expedition to the Arctic.
- Thereafter, India sent scientific teams to the Arctic every summer and winter to conduct research. Glaciology, hydrochemistry, microbiology, and atmospheric sciences dominate Indian studies.
- In July 2008, the Himadri research station was established in Ny Alesund, Svalbard, Norway.
- In 2014, the multimodal observatory IndArc was installed in Kongsfjorden by India.
- Gruvebadet became the northernmost atmospheric laboratory in India in 2016. It was created to investigate clouds, precipitation, long-range pollutants, and other atmospheric background characteristics.
- India has been an Arctic Council observer since 2013. Its observer membership was renewed for another five years in 2019.
Russia’s nuclear icebreaker and militarisation of the Arctic
President Vladimir Putin recently emphasised Russia’s Arctic dominance during a flag-raising ceremony and dock launch for two nuclear-powered icebreakers that would enable year-round passage in the Western Arctic.
About the new nuclear-powered icebreakers
- Yakutia: It is three metres long and can carry up to 33,540 tonnes. It has the ability to pierce up to three metres of ice. It will be operational in 2024.
- Rossiya: It is a nuclear-powered icebreaker measuring 209 metres in length. It has a displacement of up to 71,380 tonnes and is expected to be finished by 2027. It will be capable of breaking through four metres of ice.
- The Arktika and the Sibir, two more icebreakers of the same type, are already in service.
- These are part of Russia’s large-scale, methodical efforts to re-equip and renew its domestic icebreaker fleet in order to reinforce Russia’s position as a major Arctic power.
Growing Importance of Arctic Region and Artic council
The Arctic region is becoming increasingly important in the global community for a number of reasons. The Arctic Council, consisting of representatives from eight Arctic countries, plays an important role in policy and decision-making regarding the region.
One reason for the growing importance of the Arctic region is climate change. The Arctic is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change, and its effects are already being felt by residents. The melting of sea ice is opening up new shipping routes and increasing access to natural resources, which has led to increased economic activity in the region.
Another reason for the prominence of the Arctic region is its strategic importance. The Arctic has vast reserves of oil and gas, which are becoming increasingly accessible as technology improves. As a result, there is a race to secure these resources among major powers such as the United States, Russia, and China.
In conclusion, the Arctic region and the Arctic Council are growing in importance due to climate change and the race for resources. The melting of the ice caps is opening up new shipping routes and access to oil and gas reserves, making the Arctic a key player in the global economy. The Arctic Council is working to ensure that the Arctic environment is protected and that the region’s indigenous peoples are involved in decision-making.
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