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Remarks by Secretary (West) at the SaGAA 7 Conference on 'The Future of Arctic Ice: An Indo-Pacific Connect'

April 27, 2023

Dr. M. Ravichandran, Secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences,
H.E. Mr. Hans Jacob Frydenlund, Ambassador of Norway,
H.E. Ms. Ritva Koukku-Ronde, Ambassador of Finland,
Ambassador Pankaj Saran, Convenor, NatStrat,
Dr. Rasik Ravindra, Chairman, SaGAA,
Prof. N C Pant, Co-Chairman, SaGAA,
Dr. Sulagna Chattopadhyay, President, SaGAA,

Distinguished guests,


We appreciate the efforts of Science and Geopolitics of Arctic and Antarctic – SaGAA, for their work on the Arctic and the Antarctic. It is noteworthy that this Conference covers several cross-cutting aspects of the Polar region, with a particular focus on the Arctic and the Indo-Pacific. It’s a pleasure to share my thoughts with you.

2. The IPCC’s - "Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in the Changing Climate” suggests that since the mid-20th century, the shrinking cryosphere in the Arctic and high mountain areas has led to predominantly negative impacts on food security, water resources, livelihoods, health, infrastructure, transportation, tourism as well as culture of human societies, particularly for Indigenous peoples. The region is warming 3-4 times faster than the global average, and this unprecedented atmospherics has resulted into a new ocean, the Arctic Ocean.

3. The Arctic region of 20 million sq. km clearly influences the earth’s ecosystem, atmospherics, oceanography and ecological cycles. If the freezer breaks down, you may sub-optimally still use your refrigerator. But, a melting Arctic could be apocalyptical. Notwithstanding spatial distances, melting arctic ice impacts the Indian monsoon, which bears repetition - accounts for 70% of our rains. Understanding this connection is critical for India, for a fifth of humanity.

4. India has had a presence in Arctic since 2007, including a research station. We are one of the thirteen nations with Observer status in the Arctic Council since 2013. Our Arctic Policy emphasises scientific research and cooperation, environmental protection, economic and human development, transportation and connectivity. The six pillars of our Arctic Policy needs a focused multi-stakeholder approach involving not just government entities, but also research institutions, think tanks, universities and the private sector.

5. Arctic research can help India's scientific community study global warming, climatic changes, uneven weather patterns and draw comparisons to glacial behaviour, especially in the Himalayas, which are roughly 1/4th the size of the Arctic Region. As a sea faring nation, the Arctic should be on our dash board, including for merchant shipping reasons. The northern sea route has the potential to cut costs and boost connectivity significantly. The Arctic has the potential to open up new economic opportunities like energy and resource exploration, food security, and tourism (yes, picture Indian tourists in the Arctic, a la Dil Dhadak ne Do!

6. The importance of capacity building in the area of polar research is a given. We are looking to expand the cooperation along with the National Centre for Polar Research, and other scientific institutions in India. Further, for instance, the Arctic University of Norway is working on new areas such as large ice masses and their role in global carbon accounting. Such areas would be of great interest to our scientific fraternity.

7. India has been working with some Arctic member states in scientific research, commerce and connectivity. During the second India – Nordic Summit in May 2022, PM Modi noted that India’s Arctic Policy provides a good framework for expansion of India-Nordic cooperation in the Arctic region. Our bilateral relations with all countries in the region are robust.

8. Ladies and Gentlemen, now a few words on the Indo-Pacific region. Ever since PM Modi announced the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative at the East Asia Summit in 2019, India has taken the lead in building cooperation in the region around - Maritime Security, Maritime Ecology, Marine Resources, Capacity Building and Resource Sharing, Disaster Risk Reduction and Management, Science, Technology and Academic Cooperation, and Trade Connectivity and Maritime Transport. The overlap with the focus areas of the Arctic Council is obvious.

9. Under the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative, India has been leading on the maritime security and disaster risk reduction pillars. Japan, another Asian observer to the Arctic Council, is a lead partner on the connectivity pillar of IPOI. Our experiences with IPOI can be relevant for the Artic region as well. For instance, we are now moving towards greater interoperability on HADR with common guidelines and SoPs on Search and Rescue. We are discussing common approaches to combating marine pollution and marine plastics. These are relevant for the Artic region as well. We will continue to look for synergies between such initiatives to maximise outcomes.

10. Friends, India has been upfront in drawing the attention and involvement of likeminded partners and friends to the Indo-Pacific region, before it becomes a black hole where free, open, inclusive, and peaceful rules-based international order disappears. The weather up north is different, but the geo-strategic attractions are a déjà vu.

11. After Covid19, the Arctic Council was paralysed by the geopolitics of the Ukraine conflict. Ladies and Gentlemen, Science Diplomacy is currency for the Arctic region. But, the social science of real politic is often the central banker.

12. I congratulate Norway, on its upcoming Chair-ship of the Arctic Council next week, and hope that Norway’s touch will enable the Council. We look forward to working together with Oslo in reactivating our partnerships in the region.

13. In closing, I congratulate SaGAA, and its partners for making this conference possible, and wish the proceedings a purposeful success. Thank You, for your attention.

New Delhi
April 27, 2023

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