Russia could lose co-ntrol of the North-ern Sea Route if the ice in the Arctic melts, US climate scientists and la-wyers say. RIA Novosti examined the validity of their forecasts.
The climate opens the way
If global warming cannot be contained by 1.5 degrees in the next 43 years, then by 2065, new trade routes may appear in the ice-free Arctic. Accor-ding to American scientists, this can weaken Russia ‘s control over the region.
The authors of the study, climatologists from Brown University ( Rhode Island ) and a lawyer from the School of Law of the University of Maine, note that Arctic trade routes are 30-50 percent shorter than through the Suez and Panama Canals. Transit time will be reduced by about 14-20 days, shipping companies will not only save money, but will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 24 percent.
Of greatest economic interest is the Northeast Passage, also known as the Northern Sea Route. It can connect the largest ports of the countries of Southeast Asia and Northern Europe, between which there is the main world cargo flow.
The Northern Sea Route is called an alternative to the transportation of goods through the Suez Canal. But in fact, if widely used, it will compete with a lon-ger route – bypassing Afri-ca. This is how a significant part of the goods are delivered, for example, from Shanghai to Rotterdam.
No ice – no laws
The Northern Sea Route runs through the exclusive economic zone of Russia and is actually used by one country. The reason is not only the most powerful icebreaking fleet in the world, but also international laws that give the Arctic coastal states the right to control a ribbon 200 nautical miles wide from the coast. Now a foreign vessel cannot pass along the route without coordination with Russia, without pilotage or icebreaking escort.
American lawyers want to directly link the spread of Russian laws to this water area with the fact that there is ice there. One of the co-authors of the study, director of the University of Maine Center for Oceanic and Coastal Law and lawyer Charles Norci, cites article 234 of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The document stat-es that in order to protect the environment from pollution, “coastal states have the right to adopt and enforce <…> laws and regulations” that regulate the movement of ships in areas where “especially severe climatic conditions and the presence of ice covering su-ch areas during most of the year, create obstacles or in-creased danger to navigation.
The effect of the article extends to the exclusive economic zone – areas 200 nautical miles wide from the coast.
According to Norcia, Russia has used this article for decades in its own economic and geopolitical interests. But if there is no ice cover in the Arctic regions for a significant part of the time, then the country will no longer be able to extend its laws to this territory. Although he will try, the American lawyer believes.
“Moreover, with the melting of the ice, shipping will leave Russian territorial waters for international ones. Russia will not be able to prevent this,” adds Norci.
Ice, but not that
However, with this article of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, everything is not as simple as a lawyer from the USA is trying to present. First of all, now there is no generally accepted delimitation of the Arctic spaces – there are several points of view on the delimitation and legal regime of the northernmost region of the planet at once.
In the 1970s, the prevailing theory was that the Arctic was divided into five sectors between Russia, the United States, Canada, Norway, and Denmark. At the same time, the sovereignty of states extended to the lands and islands located within the sector, the top of which was the North Pole.
But such an approach practically excluded the possibility of applying to a large area of the Arctic Oc-ean the provisions of Part VII of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which guarantees freedom of navigation, flight, fishing and other activities on the high seas outside the exclusive economic zones and territorial waters.
A way out, albeit far from ideal, was proposed in Article 234, Vladislav Belyakov, an expert on the law of the sea, an associate partner of AB SPb Inmarine, tells RIA Novosti.
The document does not clearly define what is considered “ice-covered areas”. “But in the world doctrine and practice, the point of view that this is the entire Arctic has become quite widespread,” the lawyer explains.
According to him, the provision on ice covering in the article cannot be considered as a necessary condition for the emergence or disappearance of special rights for coastal states. In fact, it is only “a means of geographically defining the area in which such rights apply, that is, the Arctic.”
As the expert notes, the alternative reading of this rule proposed in the new American study is in conflict with the object and purpose of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. All means of interpretation indicate that the article must be applied without any connection with the change in the ice cover of the Arctic.
“It should also be remembered that the main purpose of the norm is to preserve the fragile marine environment of the Arctic Ocean,” emphasizes Belyakov. “Therefore, the melting of the Arctic ice does not cancel this task, but makes it even more urgent. According to scientific research, this process only increases the vulnerability of the region”.
By the way, the United States is not a party to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, but recognizes the provisions of Article 234 as part of customary international law.
Minus one Greenland
However, the intervention of lawyers may not be necessary. It is too early to talk about the stable release of ice from the Arctic regions for a period that would allow organizing the regular transportation of goods.
At the same time, climate change is really most pronounced in high latitudes. The Arctic is warming about two and a half to three times faster than in other regions of the Earth. Director of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) Alexander Makarov, in his speech at SPIEF 2022, called the reduction in the ice cover of the seas of the Arctic Ocean “dramatic”.
“During the summer period, the ice became about 2.7 million square kilometers less – in terms of area it is approximately Greenland. In winter, the area decreased by 700 thousand square kilometers. At the same time, the thickness of the ice cover also changed: the average thickness of sea ice in the central part of the Arctic of the ocean has decreased by almost three times,” the scientist said.
However, it is not yet known how sustainable this trend will be over time.
“A similar situation existed back in the 1930s,” recalls Mikhail Lokoshc-henko, a leading researcher at the Department of Meteorology and Climatology of the Faculty of Geography of Moscow State University, associate professor, chief specialist of the Meteo Prognostic Center. the sea route is now free. However, a cold snap followed. In the 1940s and 1950s, the ice cover of the Arctic seas suddenly incre-ased again, and the development of the Northern Sea Route had to be forgotten for a long time. “
According to him, no one can accurately predict the ice coverage of the Arctic seas in 2065.
“In recent decades, the area occupied by ice in the Arctic in August-September has significantly decreased. But this does not mean that each next season it is less than the previous one. In September 2012, the area of ice in the Arctic Ocean turned out to be a record three and a half million square kilometers. But in subsequent years, it increased again. And in winter, the Arctic basin is completely covered with ice, and no warming of the climate will change this in the foreseeable future, “says Lokoshchenko.
According to specialists from the Arctic and Antar-ctic Research Institute, the period from 2030 to 2050 will see a phase of decreasing air temperature during the 74-year oscillation, and ice conditions in the Arctic seas will be close to modern ones. There will be no seasonal disappearance of the ice cover in the Arctic Ocean. Even in the “lightest” year, the waters of the Arctic seas will be free of ice only from August to October.
Global warming brings polar explorers not only new opportunities, but also problems.
“The ice began to form much faster – literally in a few weeks. As a result, the number of dangerous ice phenomena on the Northern Sea Route can only increase,” notes Alexander Makarov.
US scientists admit that the accuracy of forecasting models for the Arctic today is much lower than for more temperate latitudes. However, thinking about the legal regulation of potential trade routes is necessary now to prevent a crisis in the future, said the lead author of the American study Amanda Lynch, a professor of earth, environmental and planetary sciences at Brown University. It took ten years to prepare the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, she points out.