Singapore has interest in the Arctic region

Esther Teo Straits Times 14 May 13;

SINGAPORE'S application for permanent observer status in the Arctic Council might seem like an obscure pitch for a country lying just a smidge north of the Equator.

But the Republic's interest in the icy northern region ranges from the risk of rising sea levels caused by melting polar ice to the possibility that its port might be bypassed should the Northern Sea Route running through the Arctic coast take off in a big way.

The council comprises eight Arctic states, including Canada, Russia and the United States.

Tomorrow's Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting, which takes place once every two years and will open in Kiruna in northern Sweden, is expected to decide on the applications. Singapore's special envoy for Arctic Affairs Kemal Siddique is in Sweden.

Singapore applied for permanent observer status, which is likely to allow a country to attend council meetings and take part in working groups, in December 2011. Others that have applied for similar status include China, the European Union, India, Japan, Italy and South Korea.

While Singapore has no territorial or resource claims, it does have various economic and political interests in the Arctic. As a major international port, it takes a keen interest in maritime affairs.

The emergence of new sea routes would reduce the distance between the North Atlantic and the North Pacific, causing shifts in shipping patterns a few months every year. The implications of these shifts could have far-reaching consequences for Singapore's economic viability and existence.

Rising sea levels caused by melting polar ice could threaten Singapore. Moreover, the island is on the migratory pathway of some Arctic species and the effects of climate change on Arctic flora and fauna would affect those here.

Singapore hopes to contribute its shipping-related expertise in areas such as oil spill prevention and maritime traffic management to the Arctic Council.