Global warm­ing aids ship­pers

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Nation & World - By Rick Noack The Wash­ing­ton Post

When the Suez Canal was opened in Egypt in 1869, the im­pact on global trade was rev­o­lu­tion­ary. In­stead of hav­ing to sail around Africa, ships could go straight from the In­dian Ocean to the Mediter­ranean Sea — con­nect­ing Europe with Asia.

Still, the dis­tances, even via the Suez Canal, re­mained enor­mous: 13,000 miles sep­a­rate East Asia from Europe.

About 150 years on, the next hu­man-made revo­lu­tion could cut the dis­tance al­most by half.

As cli­mate change pro­gresses, the ice around the Arc­tic cir­cle is thaw­ing and open­ing a shorter and po­ten­tially eco­nom­i­cally vi­able shipping route to the north of Rus­sia. With a dis­tance of 8,000 miles, con­tainer ships would ar­rive about two weeks faster .

What has long been a Rus­sian dream is matched by com­mer­cial in­ter­est in Western Europe.

The world’s big­gest shipping com­pany, Den­mark’s A.P. Moller-Maersk group, an­nounced that it will send its first con­tainer ship via the Arc­tic route this month.

“It is im­por­tant to un­der­line that this is a one-off trial de­signed to ex­plore an un­known route for con­tainer shipping and to col­lect sci­en­tific data — and not the launch of a new prod­uct,” a com­pany spokesper­son told the Associated Press.

The trial jour­ney could mark the be­gin­ning of a new era in Arc­tic com­mer­cial shipping be­tween three re­gions — Asia, North Amer­ica and Europe — whose ex­ports ac­count for 90 per­cent of world trade.

In 2016, Copenhagen Busi­ness School re­searchers con­cluded the route could be­come ac­ces­si­ble to con­tainer ships within the next 25 years.

“The six years with the low­est ob­served sum­mer sea ice ex­tent have all oc­curred within the last decade. New fore­cast mod­els are con­tin­u­ously bring­ing for­ward ex­pec­ta­tions of ice-free sum­mers in the Arc­tic, creat­ing a sig­nif­i­cant po­ten­tial for pre­vi­ously im­pos­si­ble mar­itime ac­tiv­i­ties,” they wrote.

But with Rus­sia and China push­ing ahead, the Arc­tic route could be­come an al­ter­na­tive much quicker.

Tem­per­a­tures in the Arc­tic have reached up to 85 de­grees Fahrenheit dur­ing some re­cent sum­mer days and a pro­longed heat wave would mean that con­tainer ships would no longer need ex­pen­sive ice break­ers clear­ing the path for them.

Be­ing able to reach Europe within two weeks would make shipping as fast as the rail­way route pop­u­lar among Asian and Euro­pean com­pa­nies be­cause of its speed­i­ness. . But send­ing goods via train is twice as ex­pen­sive as shipping them.

For Rus­sia, the north­east­ern Arc­tic route would also be a rev­enue source. Given that the route passes along vast stretches within Moscow’s ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zone, com­pa­nies seek­ing to use it would be billed by the Rus­sian government.

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