11 July 2023

Melting of ice in the Arctic: A view from South Asia

The Arctic is considered a global climatic emergency hotspot. The melting of ice in the High North is not just a local issue, as its impact is global in nature. Much of the literature discussing the impact of Arctic-melting revolves around the impact on circumpolar countries and generally the Global North. This paper presents a South Asian perspective on both the challenges and opportunities posed by a warming Arctic. This Planetary Security Initiative Alert starts by introducing the role that the Arctic plays in South Asia both environmentally and anthropogenically, for instance in relation to the Monsoon and sea level rise. It then moves on to discussing how South Asia will not only be impacted by events in the Arctic but has in turn been working towards shaping them to its benefit. It concludes on what further steps South Asia can take in realizing its interests through Arctic diplomacy, an example being India’s efforts in constructing an Asian-Arctic perspective through its observer status at the Arctic Council and building scientific and political cooperation for a warming world.

Specifically, the Alert recommends the following steps that India can take in helping to preserve the Arctic and foster cooperation among Arctic states:

1. The ice loss in the Arctic is due to reasons which are global and human centric; hence the solution should also be of the same nature. Firstly, converting the Arctic into a Global Common like the Antarctic Treaty is almost impossible, but leaders across the globe can build a framework within the purview of the United Nations, to coordinate and bolster conservation efforts in cooperation with the Arctic Council. To accept every country on earth as a stakeholder in this process is key to developing a unified Arctic narrative.

2. Since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war, Arctic governance is paralyzed, especially inside the Arctic Council. Internally, the region is fighting its past. The future, however, depends on not just how they resolve the tensions between nation-states, but also on introducing environmental protections and safeguards. This requires global co-operation and for non-Arctic countries to step in. Countries like India should take leadership in bringing consensus and cooperation in matters related to the Arctic. The announcement of India’s Arctic policy is in line with this ambition. The policy states that “India’s interest in the Arctic is scientific, environmental, economic as well as strategic and aims to build a partnership for sustainable development”.

3. Monitor the third pole of ice at the Himalayas and building an institutional platform for research including all the three poles can help build a sustainable future for the planet. A scientific cooperation of Arctic-Hindu Kush Himalayan-Antarctica region alliance can provide a platform for cooperation for a warming world. Focusing on scientific research and curbing carbon emissions under the UNFCCC, will become crucial in conserving the last mile of ice on both the poles.

4. Instead of looking to drill more into the Arctic ice for oil and gas, we should work on enhancing the thickness and life of each glacier in the North Pole. 2023 marks the 10th anniversary of India’s observer-ship in the Arctic Council. Along with other Asian peers in the Arctic Council with observer status, such as China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore, India should spearhead an Asian-Arctic Dialogue Mechanism and call for reduction of industrial methane and carbon black emissions and attenuate their cataclysmic impact on the Arctic environment.

The current commitments under the Paris agreement are not enough to limit the average temperature rise to below 1.5-degree C. In such a situation protecting existing carbon sinks is important. In all probability, countries from South Asia will be one of the first causalities of climate change and will have to bear more burdens than the other countries. Here, problems are based on existing human insecurities and deteriorating ecological security. The response, therefore, must reflect equity and sustainable development. Preserving the Arctic is meaningful not just for Arctic countries but also for the entire humanity. For countries from South Asia, the time is now.

Read the full Alert using the link here

This Alert was authored by Varun Mohan. He is a Junior Research Fellow in National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru, India. He is also affiliated to the Trans-Disciplinary University. He primarily works on Climate Security, South Asia and International Relations Theory

Photo Credit: Paul Downey/|Flickr