India joins Arctic Council as observers

New Delhi/Kiruna, May 15 (IANS) The Arctic Council agreed Wednesday to include six new nations, including India and China, as observers to their eight-state diplomatic council.

The council includes the eight Arctic nations: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States.

India welcomed the decision to include it as an observer.

“We welcome this consensus decision admitting India as an Observer State of the Arctic Council and affirm our commitment to contribute our proven scientific expertise, particularly in polar research capabilities, to the work of the Arctic Council and to support its objectives,” the external affairs ministry spokesperson said in a statement.

Officials estimate the Arctic holds 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves, and 30 percent of undiscovered gas deposits.

Membership to the Arctic Council has become increasingly attractive as with the melting Arctic ice the region’s waterways have become open to commercial shipping traffic. It has also made accessible the region’s abundant quantities of oil, gas and minerals as well as the waterway for shipping and for commercial fishing.

Besides China and India, the other countries granted observer status are Italy, Japan, South Korea and Singapore.

The European Union application was deferred until Arctic Council members are satisfied that issues of concern — Canadian objections about EU restrictions on seal products — have been allayed.

US Secretary of State John Kerry joined foreign ministers from the eight Arctic nations and several indigenous groups for the biennial meeting of the Arctic Council. The ministers endorsed recommendations to protect the ecologically fragile habitat.

Canada, which hosted the founding conference of the Arctic Council in 1996 and was its first chair, has again taken on the responsibility at the meeting in Kiruna, Sweden.

The ice cap in the Arctic Circle is fast disappearing. Last month, scientists at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a study that predicted the Arctic will be ice-free by 2050, much earlier than previous estimates.

In September last year, the thick ice cover had shrunk to half the average for that month during the years 1979-2000, researchers found.

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