China, Japan, India, Italy, South Korea and Singapore hardly leap to mind when the Arctic is mentioned, but each country hotly pursued permanent observer status on the Arctic Council.
The scramble to attach themselves to the council, where the senior leadership meets every two years, is an indication of the dramatic changes and perceived opportunities that climate change is bringing to the top of the world.
The council, which met on Wednesday, was formed in 1996 to discuss environmental issues. Now the permanent members – Russia, the United States, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden and Finland – are dealing with the interest stirred by the possibility of new shipping routes and access to natural resources.
Part of the meeting in Kiruna, Sweden was approving the applications for permanent observer status, and reminding the interlopers how little official power they will have. Russia and Canada and indigenous groups did not support the expansion. Canada was able to fend off, or at least delay, an application by the European Union.
India and the Arctic would seem to be, well, polar opposites. But an Arctic passage between East Asia and Western Europe would trim the distance of current shipping routes by 40 percent. The region would be attractive to cruise lines.
Growing economies also know the Arctic holds enviable oil reserves and gas deposits.
The opportunities and discussions are all modified with the words like expected, predicted and likely, but the potential payoffs are huge, and nations far afield want in on the action.
An online source, Alaska Dispatch – News and voices from the Last Frontier – offers a link-rich tutorial dubbed Arctic Council 101. Expect the council virtually no one knew about to make headlines as the ice melts.