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Melting Arctic ice could transform international shipping routes, study finds

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With climate change rapidly warming the world’s oceans, the future of the Arctic Ocean looks bleak. Climate models show that parts of the Arctic that were once covered in year-round ice are warming so quickly that they will be reliably ice-free for months in just two decades. The Arctic’s changing climate will endanger countless species that thrive in freezing temperatures, scientists say.

Another critical consequence of Arctic ice melt? The potential for shorter, more environmentally friendly maritime trade routes bypassing the Russian-controlled Northern Sea Route.

In a new study, a pair of climate scientists at Brown University teamed up with a lawyer at the University of Maine School of Law to predict how ice melt in the Arctic Ocean could affect regulation of shipping lanes in the coming decades. They predicted that by 2065, the navigability of the Arctic will increase so much that it could open up new trade routes in international waters — not only to reduce the environmental footprint of the shipping industry, but also to weaken Russia’s control over trade in the Arctic. .

The research was published on Monday 6 June in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“There is no scenario where melting ice in the Arctic is good news,” said Amanda Lynch, the lead author of the study and professor of Earth, environmental and planetary sciences at Brown. “But the unfortunate reality is that the ice is already receding, these routes are opening up and we need to start thinking critically about the legal, environmental and geopolitical implications.”

Lynch, who has studied climate change in the Arctic for nearly 30 years, said she worked as a first step with Xueke Li, a postdoctoral research associate at the Brown Institute for Environment and Society, to model four navigation scenarios based on four likely results of global warming. actions to halt climate change in the coming years. Their projections showed that unless world leaders successfully limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius in the next 43 years, climate change is likely to open several new routes through international waters by the middle of this century.

According to Charles Norchi, director of the Center for Oceans and Coastal Law in Maine Law, visiting scholar at Brown’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs and one of the study’s co-authors, those changes could have major implications for world trade and global politics. .

Norchi explained that since 1982, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea has given Arctic coastal states greater authority over primary shipping routes. Article 234 of the treaty states that in the name of “preventing, reducing and controlling marine pollution from ships”, countries whose coastlines are near Arctic shipping routes have the ability to regulate the maritime traffic of the route , as long as the area remains ice-free – covered most of the year.

Norchi said Russia has been using Article 234 for its own economic and geopolitical interests for decades. Under a Russian law, all ships passing through the Northern Sea Route must be piloted by Russians. The country also requires passing ships to pay tolls and give advance notice of their plans to use the route. The strict regulations are one of the many reasons why major shipping companies often bypass the route’s heavy regulations and high costs and instead use the Suez and Panama Canals – longer, but cheaper and easier trade routes.

But as the ice near Russia’s northern coast begins to melt, Norchi said, so will the country’s hold on shipping through the Arctic Ocean.

“I am sure that the Russians will continue to invoke Article 234, which they will try to support with their power,” Norchi said. “But they will be challenged by the international community because Article 234 will no longer apply if there is no ice-covered area for most of the year. Not only that, but with melting ice, shipping will leave Russian territorial waters.” and in international waters. If that happens, there’s not much Russia can do, because the outcome will be determined by climate change and the economy of shipping.”

According to Lynch, previous studies have shown that Arctic routes are 30% to 50% shorter than the Suez Canal and Panama Canal routes, with travel times estimated to be reduced by 14 to 20 days. That means that if international Arctic waters are warm enough to open new roads, shipping companies can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by about 24% while saving money and time.

“These potential new Arctic routes are useful to consider if you recall the moment when the Ever Given ship ran aground in the Suez Canal, blocking a major shipping route for several weeks,” Lynch said. “Diversifying trade routes — especially given new routes that can’t be blocked, because they aren’t canals — gives the global shipping infrastructure much more resilience.”

And it’s better to ask questions about the future of shipping now, Lynch said, rather than later, given how long it can take to enact international laws. (For context, she said, it took world governments 10 years to negotiate the Convention on the Law of the Sea.) Lynch hopes starting the conversation about the Arctic’s trade future with well-researched science can help world leaders make informed decisions. take on protecting the Earth’s climate from future damage.

“Marking these upcoming changes now can prevent them from posing as a crisis that needs to be resolved quickly, which almost never works out well,” Lynch said. “It’s definitely a better way to make international agreements with some forethought and deliberation.”


Unsustainable Arctic shipping threatens to accelerate damage to the Arctic environment


More information:
The interaction of ice and law in the Arctic marine accessibility, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2022). doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2202720119

Provided by Brown University


Quote: Melting Arctic ice could alter international shipping routes, study finds (2022, June 20) retrieved June 20, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-06-arctic-ice-international-shipping-routes.html

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