Turning the Northern Sea Route into a key commercial route would open new opportunities for Finnish-Russian techno-economic cooperation.
25 October 2011
With temperatures rising at twice the rate of the rest of the world, the Arctic has undergone some of the most rapid
transformations on the planet, most notably the unprecedented loss of sea ice, and accelerated melting of glaciers and
the Greenland Ice Sheet. © Erectus
Arctic ? an opportunity for Finnish-Russian cooperation
Turning the Northern Sea Route into a key commercial route - capable in competing with
traditional sea and rail routes in transport cost, safety and quality - is of importance for the
international transport and the development of the Arctic regions. One of the main challenges
is to preserve the vulnerable environment and to ensure sustainable and equitable
development of the local communities. The development efforts would open new opportunities
for Finnish-Russian techno-economic cooperation.
Air temperatures in the Arctic increase twice as fast as the global average. Satellite images show
that ice recedes towards North Pole at a rate of 5 percent per decade. Submarine observations show
that the ice was thinned by 40 percent over the last two decades.
Arctic sea ice extent for September 2010 was 4.90 million square
kilometers (1.89 million square miles). The magenta line shows the
1979 to 2000 median extent for that month. The black cross
indicates the geographic North Pole. Credit: NSIDC
Previously frozen areas in the Arctic sea are becoming seasonally
or permanently navigable for sevaral months in a year, increasing
the prospects for marine transport through the Arctic. A similar
development is taking place also in the North-West Passage via the
Canadian and the Alaskan arctic coastline.
Since the beginning of this August the icebreaker-free sailing has been open on almost all the parts
of the Northern Sea Route. The mild conditions would last through September on shipping lanes
from the West to Asia, according to the Russian climate monitoring agency.
Though for today northern sea route opens only for
some weeks in a year. This year shipping may reach
700,000 tons, according to a Russian tentative
estimate. Using this route at that time can already
considerable reduce fuel consumption and carbon
dioxide emissions. But the use of icebreakers to
support and secure transports and to extend the
navigation season will be important for a several
decades to come.
For instance, a voyage from London to Japan via the
A route along the Russian Arctic coast from the Suez Canal covering 20,300 km takes 35 days. The
Barents Sea, along Siberia to the Far East. Graph: distance via the North-East passage is only 13,000 km
Hugo Ahlenius, UNEP/GRID-Arendal and would take around 22 days. By using this
alternative, states and private companies will gain
tangible economic benefits.
Climate change, which is gradually increasing the navigation period, and technical progress are
paving the way to new and still unexplored areas of the Far North - a part of Russia beyond the
Arctic Circle - where economic activity is likely to grow.
But the increased human activity in the region changes the conditions of life for local communities
and especially indigenous peoples, and can potentially threaten the vulnerable environment. The
Arctic region is increasingly becoming the focus of attention because of its key role in the climate
change process and of its wealth in natural resources.
"Science-based information and efficient dialogues with local inhabitants and stakeholders for
knowledgeable decisions related to the Arctic is the key factor of sustainable development and
environmental protection of the region," says Professor Paula Kankaanpää, Director of Arctic
Centre, University of Lapland, Finland.
Forums for promoting Arctic cooperation
The Arctic is comprised of territories governed by eight countries Russia, Canada, the United
States, Norway, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Iceland, Sweden, and
The Arctic Council, a high-level intergovernmental forum, promotes cooperation, coordination, and
interaction among Arctic states and indigenous peoples.
Several other international forums with regional or broader European interests also address
economic, social, and environmental issues that often relate to the Arctic. These include, for
instance, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the Northern Dimension (ND) - a policy framework
involving European Union states, plus Iceland, Norway, and Russia.
Since 2000, the ND has fostered partnerships for programs on public health and social well-being,
culture, transport and logistics, and the environment. For example, in the Baltic and Barents seas
region the ND sponsors projects for water and wastewater treatment, management of municipal and
agricultural waste, energy efficiency, and nuclear safety projects for spent nuclear fuel and
radioactive waste management.
Arctic states also enter various bilateral or multilateral pacts including maritime delimitation in the
Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean, illegal fishing, and polar bear protection.
Russia's comprehensive development plans
Russia is developing international cooperation on exploration of the
Northern Sea Route (NSR) and also plans to create special economic
zones for port construction projects with particular preferences from
authorities and potential tax incentives from the state.
"We plan to carry out a series of measures to develop the Northern
Sea Route. A draft law is designed to regulate all NSR navigation
issues. The Duma is expected to pass it before the end of this year,"
said Prime Minister Vladimir Putin when speaking at the
International Arctic Forum "The Arctic ? Territory of Dialogue" in
According to Prime Minister Putin, Russia aims to:
*expand existing ports and build new ones, for instance the Port of Varandei by the Yugorsky Shar
Strait and the Sabetta Port on the Yamal Peninsula - the NSR and its major harbours will be
integrated with other modes of transport;
*upgrade river, car and railway routes and communications with northern airfields, airports and
*expand the country's ice-breaker fleet currently consisting of 10 ice-breakers by building three all-
purpose nuclear-powered icebreakers and six diesel-electric ones before 2020;
*continue working to develop systems of communication, navigation and hydrography in the
Arctic, primarily with the using of Russia's global positioning system;
*develop a multi-purpose Arctic satellite system that will monitor the environment of the Far North;
*build a system of warning, monitoring and responding for natural and man-made disasters in
Russia's Arctic zone, including 10 all-purpose rescue centres in the Far North by 2015.
In addition, specialists are already working on a project to create the "North Pole" ice-resistant
© Arctic Centre © Aker Arctic Technology
Finnish experience and knowledge
"Finnish companies and institutions have
experience and knowledge on many fields of the
Russian development program described above,"
says Professor Pauli Jumppanen.
He has worked since early 1980s for Finnish-
Russian economic and technological co-operation
concentrating mainly on oil, natural gas forest
industry and energy development. Since 1996, he
has been the Finnish chairman of the Finland-
Komi Working Group.
According to Professor Jumppanen, the most promising cooperation fields
* Construction (offshore & onshore) of the northern harbors with adjacent
services and communities
* Design and construction of icebreakers and ice-going vessels
* Navigation in arctic conditions with safety, monitoring and awakening
* Technologies for arctic environment monitoring and protection in the
construction and transport operations
* ICT systems for remote & isolated communities, building sites etc.
* Construction and maintaining of roads and railroads in northern (arctic &
* Management and combined use of different marine and land-based (road &
railroad) logistics systems in the North
Co-operation between Finland and Russia on many of the fields listed above
has a history of several decades.
Balancing economy and the environment
Russia started to develop the Arctic continental shelf already in 1980s. In the near future, it is likely
contain the commissioning of the Shtokman gas field in the Barents Sea and the development of
hydrocarbon resources in the Kara Sea and on the Yamal Peninsula. The hydrocarbon exploration
should last the next 25-50 years.
According to Prime Minister Putin, Russia will continue playing an active role in developing and
consolidating the international legal foundation for the Arctic, in particular, the agreement on oil
pollution prevention and control, which is currently under development. He said that this entirely
new field of international cooperation is extremely important.
?All our plans will be carried out in compliance with the toughest environmental standards. A
careful, civilized attitude to nature is a requirement of all the development programs,? the Prime
?Active economic development of the Arctic will be beneficial only if we maintain a rational
balance between economic interests and environmental protection for the long term, not just for 10,
15 or 20 years.
Clean-up operation launched in problem zones
Russia's position is borne out partly by its participation in the Arctic Council's first collective fund,
an instrument of financial support for environmental initiatives, including those aimed at dealing
with Arctic problem zones.
Russia has already launched a general clean-up operation in the Far North and the Russian Arctic.
It will do the same on the Wrangel Island and Russian villages in Spitsbergen.
Implementation of these proposals will not only improve the Arctic environment but also allow us
to develop unique technology for reclaiming polluted territories.
?Environmental protection should become a key theme of our activities in the Far North because for
all its severity, the Arctic has the most fragile ecosystem on our planet. The price of a negligent,
careless attitude towards the Arctic is very high and the consequences disastrous,? Prime Minister
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