Resource-hungry India seeks a seat at the Arctic table

With an eye on the resource-rich Arctic, India is knocking the door of the influential Arctic Council looking for admission as permanent observers even though it does not have any Arctic territory.

The Arctic Council is a high-level forum of eight members who have territories above the Arctic circle.

Full members of the council are Canada, Russia, the United States of America, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Iceland and Denmark through its jurisdiction over Greenland.

Since the establishment of India’s Arctic research station at Svalbard in Norway in 2007, India is pushing for an observer status in the council. The official reason cited is to study the Arctic climate and ocean currents, which have a bearing on Indian weather.

“We are seeking an observer status in the Arctic council as we want to undertake scientific studies from Antarctica to the Arctic. We receive inputs on North Atlantic temperature from our station (Himadri) to study the ocean currents,” Shailesh Nayak, secretary in the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences told Deccan Herald.

India is not only the one seeking a place on the high table. China, Brazil, Japan, South Korea, European Union and some European nations individually are also interested in observers status.
Many non-Arctic countries are interested in the Arctic as the “canary in the coal mine” that can teach them about how climate change will impact their own states.

They are also interested in the potential access to the vast hydrocarbons and resources in the region and the cost-savings of using shorter Arctic shipping routes.

The issues on granting observer status to India and China are likely to feature prominently on the agenda of a two-day meeting on the future of the Arctic Council to be held in Toronto on January 17-18. The inputs from the Toronto meeting will be sent to the ministerial meeting of the council, which takes place once in every two years.

The last ministerial round meeting of the council happened in Nuuk in Greenland where for the first time the US sent its representative who was none other than Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Canada and Russia are among the opponents of expansion as they fear that an enlarged contingent of observers would overshadow the current members, particularly the indigenous groups. Others, however, warn that if the non-Arctic states are not allowed at the table, they will take Arctic concerns to other international bodies such as the United Nations General Assembly and the council’s influence would diminish.

Membership fees charged for additional observers could also help support the participation of indigenous groups.
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“For us exploitation of resources is a far-fetched idea. We are more interested in science,” said Nayak.

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