Climate change and the prospects of increased navigation in the Canadian Arctic

There is wide recognition that the process of climate change may be affecting the Arctic region at a faster pace than other regions. What is uncertain is the full impact of climate change on ice cover, and in particular whether there will be a significant decrease of summer ice from the current three months to a longer period and accompanied by navigation conditions suitable and safe for commercial shipping. New international navigation routes through the Canadian and Russian Arctic sectors could significantly reduce the length of sea voyages from Asia to North America and Europe. However, on the basis of what is known to date, there are significant differences of view as to the feasibility of international commercial navigation in the Northwest Passage.If Arctic change occurs on a scale sufficient to permit international commercial navigation, it would be useful for polar states, the maritime industry and the IMO to anticipate the significance and limitations of new Arctic sea routes. Major constraints include the special sensitivity of the Arctic marine environment which would certainly necessitate the need for very high environmental standards for ships, in addition to the IMO Guide lines for Ships Operating in Arctic Ice-covered Waters. Arctic states can draw upon UNCLOS Article 234 on ice covered areas, potential MARPOL 73/78 special area and PSSA designation utilizing various measures under SOLAS to raise standards. The infrastructure of navigational services for commercial shipping would need to be upgraded, in particular navigation aids, search and rescue and contingency planning and response to environmental incidents and casualties.A significant consideration in the context of such change is likely to be Canada’s sovereignty claim over the waters of the Northwest Passage. Also, any action in the Arctic will need to take heed of the Arctic Council and the views and interests of the indigenous peoples of the North. In this regard, some preliminary work has commenced with the Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment.The paper concludes with issues for consideration at the 2008 Conference on the Impact of Climate Change on the Maritime Industry.


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  • Accession Number: 01609079
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Jun 16 2016 9:19AM