Washington: India might become an observer of the Arctic Council though its membership is not open unless a country has territory above the Arctic Circle, a US official has said.
"The Arctic Council is not open for membership unless a nation has territory above the Arctic Circle. India does not (have such territory). India might be able to become an observer of the Council, and be able to participate in that way in many of the working groups the Arctic Council has set up on a number of different topics," said US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Fisheries David Balton.
India and other non-Arctic nations can also engage in Arctic issues in a lot of other places around the world, Balton told reporters ahead of the Arctic Council Ministerial.
"Shipping issues, including in the Arctic, are not actually responsibility of the arctic Council. They are dealt with by a different forum, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). India is a full member. In fact, most nations of the world are full members," he said.
"The IMO is as we speak developing a new polar shipping code. India and any of the other governments with an interest in polar shipping, both in the Arctic and the Antarctic, can participate in that process," Balton said.
Arctic Council is a high-level forum of the eight nations that have Arctic territory, territory above the Arctic Circle.
It meets at the ministerial level every two years, and it is meeting this week in Nuuk, Greenland.
Balton said he anticipates this meeting to be historic as for the first time in its existence the US would be represented by the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"The Arctic is a fascinating part of the world right now and is undergoing major changes. Many of those changes have to do with the climate. The Arctic is warming faster on average than the rest of the planet and its warming has very serious consequences, both for the Arctic region, but also for the rest of the world," he said.
Balton said the ways of life of people living the the Arctic is changing as the sea ice is receding, the coasts are eroding, land glaciers in the Greenland Ice Sheet are melting, the permafrost is thawing.
"Along with those challenges, however, come some opportunities. The Arctic is home to a considerable portion of the world's untapped oil and gas. As the ice recedes, it may be possible to have access to some of those resources.
That was not possible before," he said adding that it may also be possible for increased shipping.
"It's possible new fisheries will take place in the Arctic that did not exist before and so as governments we have a lot on our plate. Some part of that is within the mandate of the Arctic Council," Balton said.