What is the Arctic route and how it could revolutionize global trade

There Arctic route it is a set of sea routes (there are three main ones) that pass through the Arctic Ocean, connecting the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean; strictly speaking, however, when we talk about the Arctic route we are referring in particular to one of these routes, the one that winds along the Russian Arctic coast from Kara Sea until Bering Straitalong Siberia.

The Arctic region is rich in raw materials and energy resources and, if it became completely ice-free throughout the year, it could open up some maritime routes decidedly more advantageous and shorter compared to the Atlantic or Mediterranean routes, in particular following the current one crisis in the Sea Redprovoked by the Houthi attacks, the consequent possible decline of the Suez Canal and the ever-increasing limits of the Panama Canal.

The Arctic route represents a major challenge for the Arctic countries from a commercial, geopolitical and environmental point of view. Instead, it is a potential one threat for theItalywhose ports would be cut off from the main routes used by world trade.

Arctic route
  • 1The passages of the Arctic route and the countries involved
  • 2Why the Arctic Route is becoming more and more important
  • 3The critical issues of the Arctic route

The passages of the Arctic route and the countries involved

The Arctic has long been the subject of attention from the states bordering it. There Russia it is the country that has the largest portion of coastline in the Arctic and represents one of the eight Arctic states with interests in the region, together with Canada, Denmark, Iceland, United States (via Alaska), Finland, Norway and Sweden.

The Arctic route is made up of numerous passages. There transpolar route (TSR), in green on the map, it is the one that connects the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean passing through the Arctic Ocean: this is the most impracticable route due to the ice covering the north pole. We then meet the North West Passage (NWP), in red in the paper and known in Italian as Northwest Passage, which connects the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean passing by Canada and Alaska. Finally there is the Northern Sea Route (NSR), in sky blue on the map and also known as the north-east passage, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, extending for much of its length alongside the Russian coasts: it starts from the northernmost parts of the North Sea and reaches the Chukchi Sea and the Bering Strait.

There NSR would allow a savings of sailing times between Asia and Europe of approx 12 days on average compared to the route that passes through the Suez Canal, with notable savings not only in terms of time but also of emissions CO2 in the atmosphere.

Arctic route map

Why the Arctic Route is becoming more and more important

With the current tensions in the Red Sea due to the Houthi attacks and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, international trade is experiencing a moment of great crisis. The Arctic route could thus represent an important alternative to connect the ports of Northern Europe with Asia and America, avoiding the choke point of Malacca, Panama and Suez.

This would mean the shortening and reduction of routes and travel times for merchant ships, with a consequent positive impact also from the point of view of reducing thecarbon footprint. The Arctic route, however, opens up a whole series of geopolitical implications.

There Russiain fact, it was the first country that in 2001 asked the UN to recognize its sovereign rights in the Arctic and is currently the only Arctic state to possess nuclear-powered icebreaker to allow connections between the ports of the region even in winter. On the other hand, adhesion to BORN of Sweden and Finland also consolidates the presence of the Atlantic Alliance in the Arctic region. At the same time, also two external actors like China And India they are trying to consolidate their presence in the area through partnerships with Russia.


The critical issues of the Arctic route

Despite the shorter travel times and a positive impact on the climate, there are some critical issues to take into consideration with respect to the Arctic route. First of all, travel these routes it still costs a lot because, as they are not yet completely free of ice, it is necessary to use reinforced ships and icebreakers. Secondly, the harsh climate makes the movements of the sea ice unpredictable and requires adequate support infrastructures. Finally, these routes are full of energy and mineral resources whose underwater extraction (deep sea mining) is giving rise to environmental problems, in terms of pollution and damage to biodiversity.

Currently the merger of arctic ice allows you to travel the Arctic route for many months of the year: Russia has announced that starting from 2024 navigation along the Arctic route will become annual It is in the 2035 it will be a consolidated reality. The European Union is also involved in the Arctic: on the one hand for its own energy and mineral supply, on the other to try to support policies of Sustainable Development: this includes not only initiatives in the environmental field but also economic and social ones, such as the involvement of local indigenous communities.