Melting Arctic Ice Can Transform International Shipping Channels, Research Reflects

With climate change warming the oceans of the world rapidly, the future of the Arctic Ocean does appear grim. Climate models reflect that parts of the Arctic that had once been blanketed in ice round the year are warming so fast that they will be ice-free for several months in about two decades. The changing climate in the Arctic will endanger numerous species in sub-zero temperatures.

Yet another major consequence of melting ice in the Arctic? This could be a potential for shorter and more environment-friendly maritime trade networks that bypass the Russian-controlled route in the Northern Sea.

In a new research, a pair of climate scientists associated with Brown University worked with a legal scholar who works at the University Of Maine School Of Law to predict how ice melting in the Arctic Ocean can impact the regulation of shipping routes in the next few decades.

Their study reflects that by 2065, the navigability in the Arctic will go up so much that it can even yield new trade channels in the international waters —not only lowering the carbon footprint of the shipping industry but weakening Russia’s control on trade in the Arctic.

Melting Arctic Ice
Image for representation purpose only

Lynch, who studied climate change in the Arctic for about three decades, said that as a first move, she had worked with Xueke Li, a postdoctoral research associate associated with the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, where she was involved in modeling four navigation scenarios that were based on four possible results of global actions meant to stop climate change in the future years.

The projections reflected that unless leaders all over the world constrain warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius over about the next 43 years, climate change is going to open up new routes via international waters by the middle of the ongoing century.

Per Charles Norchi, a visiting scholar at the Brown’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, the director of the Center for Oceans and Coastal Law at Maine Law, and a co-author of the study, mentioned that the changes can bear major implications for global politics and world trade.

Norchi explained that since 1982, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea has allotted Arctic coastal states authority on the primary shipping channels.

Article 234 of the convention states that to prevent, reduce, and control marine pollution from shipping vessels, countries with coastlines closer to the Arctic shipping routes will possess the ability to regulate the maritime traffic of the route as long as the area stays ice-covered for almost the majority of the year.

Norchi added that for over decades, Russia has been using Article 234 for its geopolitical and economic interests. A Russian law also requires vessels passing via the Northern Sea Route to be piloted by the Russians. The country requires that any passing vessel provide advance notice of plans to sail via the route and pay tolls. The heavy regulation is one of the major reasons why major shipping firms choose to bypass the heavy regulations and high costs associated with the route and use the Panama or Suez canals—longer, but easier and cheaper trade routes.

As the ice near Russia’s northern coast begins melting, Norchi added, so will the country’s grip on shipping in the Arctic Ocean.

With melting ice, shipping is likely to move out of Russia’s territorial waters into international waters. Once that happens, Russia will not be able to do much, as the outcome is driven by shipping economics and climate change.

Per Lynch, earlier studies have reflected that Arctic routes are about 30% to 50% shorter than the Suez and Panama Canal channels, with transit time cut down by about 14 to 20 days.

This means that if international Arctic waters are so warm enough that they open up newer pathways, shipping firms can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by almost 24% while saving time and money.

And it is better to ask questions regarding the future of shipping now, Lynch said, given how long it might take to establish and implement international laws. Lynch hopes that conversing on the trade future of the Arctic with a well-researched scholarship could assist world leaders in making informed decisions when it comes to protecting the climate of the planet from future harm.

References: The Hill, PHYS ORG

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