To local communities it means the seasonal supply of essential provisions. To the fishermen that ply their trade in the Barents Sea it is the means to access and harvest one of the largest sources of white fish on the planet. It is the means to deliver the petroleum and minerals from the far north to the markets of Europe, America and Asia. ‘Shipping’ could even be used to describe the small craft used by Indigenous communities to harvest fish and marine mammals. Indeed many forms of shipping have been an essential component of human endeavour in the Arctic for hundreds of years.
However, climate change and increasing arctic industry have delivered a new perception of arctic shipping. Headlines in the world’s media are announcing the opening of new trade routes in the wake of receding sea ice. The Arctic is proclaimed widely as the world’s last untapped hydrocarbon reservoir, and an increasingly important and accessible source of coal and minerals. As the wilderness areas of the world continue to diminish, tourists and explorers are looking to the poles as the ultimate nature experience.
The diversity of shipping in the Arctic goes hand in hand with a diversity of opinion regarding what the future will hold. As usual when producing The Circle, we have asked people from a variety of sectors and backgrounds to outline what they see as the challenges and ways forward for arctic shipping, hoping in this way to fuel international efforts to identify gaps and develop solutions.
The Indigenous perspective on shipping presented here highlights the importance of respecting the rights and livelihoods of the people in the Arctic. The NGO contributors outline the unique natural values of the Arctic and the need for precautionary approaches, given the uncertainties and risks related to arctic shipping. The legal perspectives point out that the current legal regime is left open for interpretation, while also outlining the ongoing processes to ensure better regulation through mandatory measures and a Polar Code for shipping. The national and security perspective contributors outline the attractive economic potential and strategic interests linked to arctic shipping. Finally, the commercial perspective provides a reality check for everyone who thinks that trans-arctic shipping will be the norm before the middle of this century.
While few look at the issue of shipping from the same angle, important trends can be seen. We hope that these trends, facts and opinions will contribute to a better understanding of the shipping challenges that emerge as the ice is melting, and ultimately to governance and industry solutions that will be effective and appropriate for tomorrow’s Arctic.