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Implications from opening Arctic sea routes

Melia, N., Haines, K. and Hawkins, E., (2017) Implications from opening Arctic sea routes. Foresight: Future of the Sea. Report. Government Office for Science, pp39.

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Summary for Policy Makers The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth; satellite observations have revealed the region is losing sea ice at a dramatic rate and this decline is expected to continue. This loss of sea ice is creating opportunities for shorter global trade links between East Asia and the UK via the Arctic. The Northern Sea Route and North West Passages are seasonally open most years, although specialised vessels are currently required. The Arctic shipping season will continue to extend tripling in length by mid-century, coinciding with the opening of the trans-polar sea route across the central Arctic Ocean, although there will still be sea ice present in the Arctic winter. Typically by mid-century voyages from East Asia to the UK could save 10 – 12 days by using trans-Arctic routes instead of the Suez Canal route. These findings suggest that trans-Arctic routes may provide a useful supplement to the traditional canal routes, but they will likely not replace them. There are mixed views on whether trans-Arctic routes will become economically viable. The Russian government wishes to develop the Northern Sea Route as a commercial enterprise and offers substantial fee-based services such as ice breaking support and pilotage, which are certainly necessary for future investment and development of the route. However Arctic transport is also likely to grow due to increased destination shipping to serve natural resource extraction projects and cruise tourism. The UK is well positioned, geographically, geopolitically, and commercially, to benefit from a symbiotic relationship with increasing Arctic shipping. The UK has a prominent role in Arctic science and a world leading maritime services industry based in London, including the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), one of the world’s leading financial centres, and Europe’s largest insurance sector. Arctic economic growth is focused in four key sectors — mineral resources, fisheries, logistics, and tourism — all of which require shipping, and could generate investment reaching $100bn or more in the Arctic region over the next decade. The UK had a fundamental role in preparing the UN IMO Polar Code which came into operation in January 2017. The Polar Code is an historic milestone in addressing the specific risks faced by Arctic shipping and acts to supplement the existing SOLAS and MARPOL conventions for protecting the environment whilst ensuring safe shipping in international waters. Much of the investment into Arctic shipping projects is from China but northern European countries are also playing an increasing role. Potential opportunities for the UK include the development of UK based Arctic cruise tourism, and a UK based trans-shipment port — transferring goods from ice-classed vessels to conventional carriers. The UK has an active diplomatic role in many international organisations; this should be used to ensure that increased activity in the Arctic is accomplished in line with established UN maritime conventions, many of which were written with significant UK contributions. The UK’s leading role in Arctic science has wide reaching positive implications for international collaboration; this role requires continued investment into climate modelling centres, and science programs, that are essential to enhance predictions of the future Arctic.

Item Type:Report (Report)
Divisions:Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO)
Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:75321
Publisher:Government Office for Science


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