By Katherine Cima and Russell Sticklor
After a lengthy courtship, China and India formalized their relationship with the Arctic Council in May 2013 by gaining admission as official observer states. In the months since, both countries have been actively seeking influence with the Council’s permanent members to further establish footholds in a region certain to emerge as a central arena of 21st century geopolitics, scientific research and commerce. But while public statements out of Beijing and New Delhi since May have often cited climate change research as the primary driver of the two countries’ Arctic engagement, the real underlying motive remains securing access to the region’s greatest natural treasure: energy.
In recent years, the U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that the polar north may hold up to 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil resources*—potentially as many as 160 billion barrels—and as much as 30 percent of the world’s untapped natural gas supplies.
With climate shifts in the Arctic raising temperatures and reducing sea-ice coverage, the region has become increasingly accessible with each passing year, heightening the potential for commercial development. This has raised the prospects for not only maritime shipping across Eurasia’s northern rim, but also seabed energy-drilling operations on the continental shelves of the Arctic littoral states, where much of the oil and gas reserves are thought to lie.
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