At the forefront of the international environmental agenda, with Shell now granted authorisation by the Obama administration to commence drilling in the Chukchi Sea. The question of how the Arctic is developed gains increased momentum on the world stage.
With perhaps around 80% of the region’s known oil and gas reserves within Russian territorial borders it is strategically imperative that Russia is leading the discussion, not only to ensure the responsible environmental stewardship of the area but also from an economic and safety standpoint.
Shipping routes are being redrawn and the Northern Sea Route (NSR) is positioning itself as a serious alternative to the newly-expanded Suez Canal.
The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) issued a report suggesting that retreating ice caps will result in the NSR, currently clear for passage during the summer, becoming available to transiting vessels all year round by 2030.
Navigating via the NSR reduces transit times significantly and consequently, positively effects fuel savings and emissions. Routes between North European countries and Taiwan experience a 17% reduction in duration, 23% for similar routes to China, 31% to South Korea and a massive 37% for vessels travelling to Japan.
Other activity is on the increase in the area. This summer saw the first non-Russian, foreign-flag vessel enter Franz Josef Land territorial waters without first stopping at a large Russian port like Murmansk. The Poseidon Expeditions’ Sea Spirit received the first permit to cruise the area via the direct route between Svalbard and Franz Josef Land. This is a considerably shorter sailing route than via mainland Russia and a cruise that many Arctic operators will look to run once Russian authorities give general authorisation.
The International Expert Council on the Cooperation in the Arctic was established in 2013, with the purpose of initiating constructive dialog at an international level to positively benefit development in the Arctic. The council was formed with the assistance of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation and is supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, the A.M. Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund and the Russian Geographical Society.
The council’s annual meeting will form a central part of the NEVA Programme in 2015. Matthew White, General Director, Dolphin Exhibitions, said: “The Arctic is an incredibly important topic both economically and environmentally. It is an area that due to its unique challenges poses an unrivalled showcase for ingenuity in marine technology. As this area is ecologically sensitive but with the potential to provide a wealth of economic benefits to many nations, cooperation at an international level is fundamental to success. NEVA provides the ideal platform to bring partners together to discuss the pertinent issues and highlight these to a wider, global audience.” He continued, “It is a privilege that the council are not only holding their annual meeting as part of an Arctic session within the NEVA 2015 Programme but also using the event as the launch pad for the first issue of its Arctic Review publication.”
The session will specifically focus on the theme of ‘Economic, technological and maritime cooperation in the Arctic”. Among the participants and guests attending the meeting will be the staff of diplomatic missions of the Arctic Council member-states and observer countries, representatives of Russian and foreign companies engaged in the development of the Arctic, representatives of the St. Petersburg Administration, Russian and foreign industry experts.