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Global Supply Chain News: Melting Arctic Ice Bad for Ecosystem but Good for Global Shippers, as Routes Open, Russia Loses Control



Trip will be much Faster, have much Lower CO2 Emissions


June 28, 2022
SCDigest Editorial Staff

A new study finds that global shipping is likely to change dramatically as arctic waters remain ice free for months at a time, opening new shipping routes for global cargo and reducing Russian control over the maritime activity.

Supply Chain Digest Says...


with climate change, the status quo is in question, and the arctic may be ice free for the majority of the year, wresting control away from Russia.


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The new research was performed by climate scientists at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, partnering with a legal scholar at the University of Maine School of Law.

While lead study author Amanda Lynch at Brown University said there is no scenario in which melting ice in the arctic is good news ecologically, “new arctic routes are opening up, and we need to start thinking critically about the legal, environmental and geopolitical implications.”

Ocean shipments from Asia to the US East coast and Europe generally take routes through the Panama and Suez canals, respectively.

Reliable passage, at least for some good portion of the year, through the Arctic Sea and free of Russian control could have major benefits for carriers and shippers alike.

According to Lynch, previous studies have shown that arctic routes are 30 to 50% shorter than the Suez Canal and Panama Canal routes, with transit time reduced by 14 to 20 days.

The UK’s Daily Mail notes that carriers could also reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by about 24% while also saving money and time.

The Brown research team’s projections showed that unless the world can warming to no more than 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit over the next 43 years, climate change will likely open up several new routes through international waters by 2065 – and in some cases even faster.

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Parts of the arctic are warming so rapidly, the report says, that they will be reliably ice-free for months on end in as few as two decades, which would be enough time to complete round trips from Asia and back.

Changing the dynamics of Russia’s role in arctic shipping is another major benefit.

According to the Daily Mail, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea has since 1982 given arctic coastal states – including Canada and Russia – enhanced authority over primary shipping routes.

Article 234 of the convention says that in the name of 'the prevention, reduction and control of marine pollution from vessels', countries whose coastlines are near arctic shipping routes have the ability to regulate the route's maritime traffic, so long as the area remains ice-covered for the majority of the year. ,

But with climate change, the status quo is in question, and the arctic may be ice free for the majority of the year, wresting control away from Russia. What’s more, many of the routes will now be able use open international waters.

Under current circumstances, Russian law requires all vessels passing through the Northern Sea Route to be piloted by Russians. Russia also requires that cargo vessels pay tolls and provide advance notice of their plans to use the route.

Russia will surely fight any change to the rules or practices – and it could get ugly.

“The Russians will, I'm sure, continue to invoke Article 234, which they will attempt to back up with their might,” said University of Maine legal scholar Charles Norchi.

He added that Russia “will be challenged by the international community, because Article 234 will cease to be applicable if there's no ice covered-area for most of the year.”

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