Planet Earth’s circumpolar north region, or the Arctic Circle, is not as uninhabitable as many would think. It is home to a sizeable number of people, indigenous communities, trade, commerce, energy, military and every other condition of humankind one can think of thrives in the ‘High North’. A recent gathering in the northern Norwegian town of Tromso called Arctic Frontiers became an interesting forum for a global discussion on the region and the impact its sensitive ecology has for the entire planet. This becomes even more pertaining on account of the recently concluded UN climate conference in Paris (COP21) and the fact that the Arctic, with its fast melting ice, is seen as ‘ground zero’ of the climate debate specifically now when the year 2015 has been declared the hottest ever on record. With this melt, other challenges also occur, ice-free Arctic means it will become commercially navigable and access to mineral resources trapped under ice for centuries may become easier. <!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Not known to many, but India, now the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, also has a research station (Himadri) in the Norwegian Arctic Himadri) in the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, one of the northern most inhabited regions of the world. Along with India’s scientific establishment, it is also an observing member of the Arctic Council, a multilateral forum where discussions on the region take place ranging from science and climate change to politics. An interesting point to note here is that most Arctic states such as Russia, Norway, Canada, Denmark still have pending claims at the United Nations on how the region is to be distributed beyond the usual 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) that states can file a claim for under the ambit of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) from the baselines of their defined continental shelf. There are good reasons why the Arctic is considered as Ground Zero for the climate debate, and why even the United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki Moon visited the region before the COP21 assembled in France in November. It is an area where the changes in climate can physically be quantified. Beyond scientific jargon, it is that picture of a polar bear stuck on a melting iceberg that will raise more interest and concern in public discourse regarding climate than any conference or research paper. The Himalayas are also referred to as the ‘Third Pole’ by some due to the amount of glacial activity the ranges are home to. However, it is not a scientifically endorsed term, as the United States Geological Survey disputes this terminology by saying that the Himalayas and other regions of Asia are home to less than half of glacier ice present in Alaska and Canada. Nonetheless, the term has found home in many such discussions. Nepal-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) highlights the fact that the Hindu Kush – Himalayan region is home to more snow and ice than anywhere else except the North Pole and South Pole. Hence, the ‘Third Pole’ moniker sits well in the larger narrative of the region, its own indigenous people just like Arctic. Changes in climate in the Arctic are supported by facts such as the Arctic is losing its ice sheets at an alarming pace (40% reduction over past few decades). In fact, National Geographic in August announced that due to the Arctic melt, it had to make the biggest changes ever in its annual edition of the atlas since the Soviet Union broke apart. Image credit: National GeographicFor India, scientists are concerned that the trends viewed in the Arctic would have adversely impacted both the Himalayas, which according to ICIMOD have observed a higher warming trend in these mountains than the global average, and the critical season of monsoon on which a vast section of India’s agrarian sector, both in economic and societal terms, relies on. According to a report released by the American Meteorological Society (AMS), the devastating floods observed in the state of Uttarakhand in 2013 were most probably the direct result of human-induced climate change. The floods reportedly killed over 5,000 people and affected more than 4,500 villages. The devastation made it to a list curated by AMS of 16 extreme weather events observed that year that were probably caused by a direct result of climate change. However, while there is no doubt anymore about climate change being a proven event, the science on it still remains far from conclusive, and scientists from across geographical boundaries are looking towards regions like the Arctic to better understand what they are dealing with. For example, in 2009 a report by senior glaciologist Vijay Kumar Raina from the Geological Survey of India dismissed concerns of a ‘Himalayan meltdown’ being linked to global warming. However, India’s former Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh had commented that while there was no reason for alarm over Himalayan glaciers yet, India needed to monitor them closely as a matter of national security. Uttarakhand floods perhaps added a little more colour to Raina’s claims eight years ago. Climate change is an integral part of foreign policy now, while foreign policy of states has always been an extension of their domestic policies. The question of climate now transcends regions and borders, and countries and scientists are looking to go wherever required to understand the situation better. It is climate change, which has reduced the distance between the Arctic and India as far as mutual interests go, and the solutions for the same will also come from across various geographical spectrums.
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