Could Global Warming Redraw Shipping Routes?

A new study has suggested that international shipping routes could be transformed by melting Arctic ice. Climate change has led to the warming of the world’s oceans, and scientists predict that the ice-covered Arctic Ocean could be mostly ice free within 20 years.

This would allow for the safe passage of sea freight ships along new routes.

Of course, global warming and the melting of the ice caps is a threat to nature and the environment, and could lead to widespread drought and famine. It is an urgent issue that is finally being taken seriously by governments, who are setting carbon net zero targets to try and slow the process down.

However, some receding of the ice caps is now inevitable; the process has already begun. This has led scientists and legal experts to explore the question of new shipping routes opening up in the Arctic Ocean. The Metro reports that a team from Brown University in the US have suggested that by 2065, new international trade routes could be opened.

Lead author Professor Amanda Lynch said: ‘There’s no scenario in which melting ice in the Arctic is good news. But the unfortunate reality is that the ice is already retreating, these routes are opening up, and we need to start thinking critically about the legal, environmental and geopolitical implications.’

The scientists have identified four possible new routes, based on projections that global warming will exceed 1.5°c over the next 40 years. Legal experts have also examined the changes in relation to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which restricts marine traffic in the region and affords a degree of control to Russia.

Co-author Professor Charles Norchi, director of the Centre for Oceans and Coastal Law at Maine Law, said: ‘The Russians will, I’m sure, continue to invoke Article 234, which they will attempt to back up with their might.’

He added: ‘But they 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. Not only that, but with melting ice, shipping will move out of Russian territorial waters and into international waters.’

The scientists claim that the potential new routes could take the pressure off very busy shipping lanes, such as the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal. It would also shorten journey lengths considerably, leading to reduced carbon emissions.

Prof Lynch said: ‘These potential new Arctic routes are a useful thing to consider when you recall the moment when the Ever Given ship was stranded in the Suez Canal, blocking an important shipping route for several weeks.’

‘Diversifying trade routes – especially considering new routes that can’t be blocked, because they’re not canals – gives the global shipping infrastructure a lot more resiliency.’

The scientists pointed out the benefit of opening discussions about new international trade agreements decades in advance, rather than leaving it until the last minute.

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