ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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India and the Challenge of the Melting Arctic

The recent acceptance of India's bid for an "observer" status in the Arctic Council has brought many issues to the fore, including India's position and role vis-à-vis the geopolitics of this ecologically fragile region. India needs to develop a long-term resource strategy coupled with the quest for scientifi c knowledge in the Arctic.

Antarctica and the Arctic are two regions on earth that pose both challenges and opportunities for scientific research, exploration and possible access to a hidden rich natural treasure for humans. Mercifully, however, they still remain largely untouched by human intervention. They are very sensitive to climate change and its impact upon life on this planet. As such, the scientific community and policymakers around the world have turned their attention to the Polar Regions (PR), regarded as the “global commons”. In a way, the footprint of Indian explorations in these “final frontiers” could be edged by geostrategic considerations as well as the vast untapped potential of these wonders of nature. India took a bold step to make forays in Antarctica in 1983, in the midst of doubts about the wisdom of such perceived “extravaganza” when the first Indian expedition was sent. The utility of such Indian initiatives has been proven over the years and, now, two functional all-weather research stations (Maitri and Bharathi) operate in the frozen southern continent. The northern PR of the Arctic – comprising about 6% of the earth’s surface area – has come up on our radar screen belatedly. India made its first foray in the region by setting up its first research station Himadri in 2008. With that, India has sought to join the close-knit club – the Arctic Council (AC) – that governs the region. The recent acceptance of India’s bid for an “observer” status in the AC underscores her credentials as a global player. It sends signals at multiple levels. How can India make use of this new platform for advancing scientific knowledge as well as her own national interests in potential exploration of hydrocarbons? Even as India gears up to sit on the AC’s high table, it will need to play the role of a responsible player to push for a regulatory framework that jettisons all territorial claims and provides for protection of the ecologically fragile region from the brazen rush for natural resource exploitation and the threat of environmental degradation.

The Changing Arctic Equation

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