CALGARY, May 17, 2016 /CNW/ - With sea ice in Canada's North steadily melting away, observers were eagerly tallying up the savings in time, fuel and costs that a reliably ice-free route across the top of the planet would provide for shippers using the Northwest Passage. But, according to a new report, the Northwest Passage is neither imminent nor inevitable. The retreat in sea ice may persist, but it is evident that due to regular fluctuations in ice coverage, the Northwest Passage will not be reliably ice-free for many, many years, if ever.
Today, The School of Public Policy and author Hugh Stephens released a major new report on the viability of shipping via the Arctic and Northwest Passage. The paper provides a reality check to those who have hyped northern seaway routes as a way for Canada to rapidly expand markets, and shipping market share. This report is a major step forward in understanding some of the realities Canada faces as it seeks to expand trade and exports to non-traditional markets.
"Shipping may be more possible through the Northwest Passage than it was in the past, but it will not be consistently unobstructed. The challenges of ice combined with Arctic weather conditions may well mean that any shipping through the passage is slower than expected. Other complicating factors include uncharted or poorly charted sea lanes and the difficulty in securing insurance for Arctic shipping", says Stephens.
At the same time, the competition from alternate routes is only becoming more intense, with expansions in both the Suez and Panama Canals and the potential for a new canal across Nicaragua. Canada lacks much of the infrastructure in the North that would make Arctic passage a strong competitor, including multiple ports enroute and sufficient icebreaking equipment. It will need to up its game in terms of commitments to make that route a safe and viable navigational option.
Canada cannot change the rate of sea-ice reduction or the weather, nor can it make the geography of the NWP more user-friendly, but it can make the necessary investments so that human infrastructure is in place to complement whatever changes nature may bring.
The paper can be downloaded at http://www.policyschool.ucalgary.ca/?q=research
SOURCE The School of Public Policy - University of Calgary
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