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India looks north, applies for observer status in minerals-rich Arctic

Currently, all observer countries in the Arctic Council are European. The current members include UK, Spain, France and Germany.

Kabir Taneja  NEW DELHI | 16th Feb 2013

ndia is looking to expand its foreign policy initiatives towards the latest frontier in international diplomacy, the minerals-rich Arctic, which is becoming ice free and navigable because of increasing global temperatures. New Delhi has applied to become an "observer" member of the Arctic Council, a high-level intergovernmental forum of the Arctic states. The US, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Russia, Denmark, Finland and Iceland are the permanent members.

Currently, all observer countries in the Arctic Council are European. The current members include the likes of United Kingdom, Spain, France and Germany. Both India and China have applied for the positions this year.

"Yes we have applied for 'observer' status with the Arctic Council," confirmed a spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi.

"The memo is focused on our scientific contributions to Arctic studies. We have indicated that we are ready to meet all requirements of being an observer. We have also engaged on a diplomatic level with members of the Arctic Council and will continue to pursue this matter."

According to preliminary investigations, the polar region is thought to hold up to 20% of the global oil reserves. India showed its keenness to join the Arctic Council in November last year, soon after European Parliament's rejection of environmentalist groups' demand of introducing a moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling in the region. Global energy giants such as Shell have already started drilling in the region as its Vice President, Peter E. Slaiby, last year reportedly said that he will be "cheering for an endless summer in Alaska".

Energy hungry countries such as China and India are going to all lengths to secure energy resources around the world. The Arctic is the latest frontier in this race and countries such as Russia have already shown muscle in the region, after a submarine planted a Russian flag at the bottom of the North Pole to further Moscow's claim to the Arctic and its resources in 2007. Other Arctic Council members such as Canada publicly condemned the actions taken by Russia.

"Yes, India has submitted an application on time for its candidature to be considered for the 'observer' status," said Mr Andreas von Uexkull, Swedish ambassador to the Arctic Council, in an exclusive chat with The Sunday Guardian from Stockholm, Sweden.

"The decision on the observers will be taken in May this year. Such a position will be good for both scientific and diplomatic relations between the Arctic Council members and India. It is very important that economies like India and China participate."

India operates a research station in the Arctic, named "Himadri", located in Spitsbergen, Svalbard in Norway at the International Arctic Research Base (IARB), Ny-Alesund. The station, which was inaugurated in 2008 by Minister for Science and Technology, Kapil Sibal, is operated by the National Centre for Arctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR). India has already spent $3 million on Himadri and has reportedly committed another $15 million over the next five years for projects in the Arctic. This figure could be increased in the future as well.

"India should definitely look to increase its role in such international projects," says an independent source close to the developments, but did not wish to be named.

"The thawing of the Arctic will also allow new trade routes, navigable by sea, to come into play. For example, transporting natural gas to Japan from Canada will be possible via the Arctic route, cutting both transportation time and costs."

During the peak of summers shipping companies are already using the Arctic for routes such as Rotterdam (Holland) to San Francisco (US), which cuts the journey short by a mammoth 4,000 km.

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