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Monday Morning Meeting on ”India’s G20 Presidency: Opportunity to Resume Engagement in the Arctic”

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  • February 06, 2023
    Monday Morning Meeting

    Capt. Anurag Bisen (Indian Navy), Member Non-Traditional Security Centre, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses spoke on “India’s G20 Presidency: Opportunity to Resume Engagement in the Arctic” at the Monday Morning Meeting held on 6 February 2023. The meeting was moderated by Col. (Dr.) D.P.K. Pillay. Deputy Director General, Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Bipin Bakshi, (Retd.) and scholars of the Institute participated in the discussion.

    Executive Summary

    The suspension of the Arctic Council post Russia-Ukraine conflict has resulted in the suspension of all forms of scientific cooperation with Russia. As a result of this suspension, global climate change mitigation efforts are severely impacted. India’s G-20 Presidency offers an opportunity for the G20 to strive for resumption of scientific cooperation in the Arctic.

    Detailed Report

    Col. (Dr.) D.P.K. Pillay introduced the topic to the audience and highlighted the implications for the Arctic. In his opening remarks, he mentioned that India’s engagements with the Arctic date back to 1920 when the country under British Dominion signed the Spitsbergen Treaty. He highlighted that the environmental transitional occurring in the Arctic has direct implications for Indian monsoons, which have the potential of impacting the country's food security. Col. Pillay then invited Capt. Anurag Bisen (IN) to make his presentation on the topic.

    Capt. Anurag Bisen (IN) started his presentation by highlighting that India as Chair of the G20 Presidency could push for re-starting dialogue amongst all the Arctic States. He further highlighted that there is a need for the revival of all form of scientific cooperation within the Arctic Council as well as through all other existing mechanisms of cooperation that currently remain suspended. Capt. Bisen highlighted that post-Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine, all the seven Arctic States have suspended their cooperation with Russia in the region. This includes the suspension of the Arctic Council, European Commission and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council. Capt. Bisen, in his presentation further mentioned that Finland and Sweden’s decision to join NATO has further enhanced complexities for regional cooperation in the Arctic. In his talk, he also highlighted major climate tipping points in the Arctic that play a crucial role in regulating global environmental conditions. He asserted that any disruptions in the thresholds of these Arctic tipping points would have grave regional and global implications. He further mentioned that the Arctic remains globally connected and that whatever happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic. Capt. Bisen also emphasized the fact that the Arctic is heating four times faster than other parts of the Earth. He mentioned that this in the near future could have challenges of sea level rise, implications for coastal habitats, soil erosion, impacts on wetlands and loss of fish, birds and other plant life.  He also pointed out that since 40 per cent of the world’s population lives within 100 km of the coastline, rising sea levels are expected to flood hundreds of cities worldwide.

    Capt. Bisen  also explained the concept of ‘Arctic amplification’ and the role of methane in further warming the Arctic ice. He then highlighted that since the suspension of the Arctic Council, scientific research of the five Asian Observer States in the Council namely India, China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore have been significantly impacted. Capt. Bisen mentioned that though the world is facing geopolitical tussles due to the Russia-Ukraine crisis, it is difficult to neglect Russia in Arctic decision-making. He also mentioned that since Russia accounts for 53 per cent of the Arctic Ocean coastline, ignoring Russia in Arctic scientific research would not serve global scientific interests.

    In the final part of his presentation, Capt. Bisen explained that scientific research in the Arctic is of great interest to India. He mentioned the scientific interlinkages between the Arctic, the Antarctic and the Himalayas and explained their importance in shaping Indian and global climatic phenomena. Citing the six pillars of India’s engagement in the Arctic as outlined in the country’s Arctic Policy document, Capt. Bisen mentioned that these clearly justify India’s approach and future intentions in the region. Moreover, he also highlighted that the theme of India’s G20 presidency i.e. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam- the world is but one family, also finds resonance in India’s Arctic Policy. He, therefore, asserted that India through its G20 Presidency should call for resuming the existing cooperation in the Arctic. He justified his stance by further mentioning that 6 out of the 8 Arctic Council Permanent Member States, and 12 out of the 13 Observer States are part of G20 member countries. In his concluding remarks, Capt. Bisen pointed out that Environment and Climate Sustainability Working Groups in G20 could become key instruments. Lastly, he also recommended that the ‘Sherpa Track’ could also be used to expeditiously revive scientific engagements in the Arctic.

    Questions and Comments

    Following the presentation, Col. (Dr.) D.P.K. Pillay invited the Deputy Director General and  the participants for their comments and questions.

    Deputy Director General, Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Bipin Bakshi (Retd.) complimented Capt. Bisen for his presentation and highlighted MP-IDSA’s meeting with the Danish delegation on various Arctic issues in the past. He also mentioned that MP-IDSA has always remained at the forefront of conducting Arctic-related events. He mentioned that the institution recently in collaboration with the Ministry of Earth Sciences and NSCS conducted a one-day seminar on the Arctic. Lastly, he highlighted that the Arctic tipping points remain important for India as these bear inter-linkages with Indian Himalayas, therefore India's scientific collaboration with all the Arctic states remains extremely crucial.

    Col. Vivek Chadha (Retd.) asked the speaker regarding his recent visit to Geneva and asked if this idea of restarting Arctic scientific cooperation through G20 found any traction with the representatives of the Member States there.

    Ms. Ruchita Beri asked the speaker if this suspension of scientific cooperation with Russia in the Arctic was only as the result of the Ukraine crisis, or was there already developing geopolitical competition between Western Arctic States and Russia, that in the shadow of the Ukraine crisis resulted in the termination of East-West cooperation in the region.

    Ms. Mayuri Banerjee made a query regarding the military exercises of States in the Arctic and how these hinder scientific cooperation in the region.

    Dr. Adil Rasheed commented on the geopolitics of climate change and questioned the speaker regarding the Western States' responses if India takes a lead on such issues through its G20 Presidency.

    Mr. Bipandeep Sharma commented on the issue of suspension of the Arctic Council and termination of all forms of scientific cooperation with Russia. He questioned that if the  existing mechanism of cooperation through the Arctic Council fails to restart any form of cooperation with Russia, how can G20 do it differently?  He further highlighted that Norway, which is going to be the next Chair of the Arctic Council in May 2023, also does not hint at restarting any form of such cooperation with Russia in near future.

    Dr. Uttam Sinha complimented the speaker for his presentation and commented on the point of ‘Arctic Exceptionalism’ mentioned by the speaker in his presentation. Dr. Sinha mentioned that the concept does not exist in current times as the world has become largely interconnected. This interconnectedness is further linked to climate change, where any transition occurring in the Arctic has global linkages. Dr. Sinha further mentioned that the Arctic Council till recently remained a successful forum to address various Arctic issues and this ongoing suspension has brought it into a unique conundrum. Dr. Sinha lastly pointed out that the world need not to forget the issues of Arctic indigenous communities that are most vulnerable to climatic transitions occurring in the region.

    Capt. Bisen gave a detailed explanation to all these comments and questions asked by the scholars at the Monday Morning Meeting.

    Report prepared by Mr. Bipandeep Sharma, Research Analyst, Non-Traditional Security Centre, MP-IDSA.