See full-size infographic for more legibility.
The Race for Arctic Domination
Note: see full-sized infographic for more legibility.
In the year 1776, James Cook was dispatched from Great Britain on an important mission: to discover the Northwest Passage. The famed hypothetical route from the Pacific to the Atlantic was a primary motivation for many British expeditions to the New World. Such a route would expedite trade between Europe and Asia, creating wealth for the kingdoms and merchants that could navigate it. The British government tried to motivate explorers even more by putting into law that there would be a prize of £20,000 for whoever could make such a discovery.
After spending some time in Hawaii, Cook came at it from the Pacific side. He and his crew searched northwards along the long coast of British Columbia, and eventually made his way in between Alaska and Russia through the Bering Strait. Seeing nothing but icebergs, it became clear that there was no navigable passage that could be seen.
For close to 300 years, explorers had searched for such a route, but ice and cold made it ultimately impossible for the technology of the day. Even Robert McClure, who was credited with the discovery of the Passage, got stuck in ice for three winters near Banks Island and had to be rescued.
Today, these routes through Northern waters have regained importance. Over recent decades, ice has thawed in the Arctic and 2008 became the first year that both the Northeast Passage (North of Russia) and the Northwest Passage (North of Canada) were open to ships simultaneously. This means it may be the first time that a vessel could theoretically circumnavigate the North Pole in 125,000 years.
Not surprisingly, countries such as Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, and the United States have taken notice and are posturing accordingly. The thawing waterways of the Arctic are the potential home to shipping routes, natural resources, and other territorial claims. For example, the US Geological Service estimates that the Arctic is home to 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil, as well as 30% of its undiscovered natural gas.
However, nation-states are not the only group engaged in this Battle Royale. Environmentalists have also entered the ring, and they’ve already helped to deliver a solid takedown. In September 2015, Royal Dutch Shell announced that they would abandon their Arctic drilling campaign even after spending $7 billion on the well. Realistically, there were several reasons for the change of plans, but traction on behalf of environmentalists definitely played a key role.
While some experts are referring to this as a new Cold War (pun likely intended), the conquest for Arctic domination is certainly heating up.
Original graphic by: SCMP
Visualizing the BRICS Expansion in 4 Charts
We provide a data-driven overview of how the recent BRICS expansion will grow the group’s influence and reach.
Visualizing the BRICS Expansion in 4 Charts
BRICS is an association of five major countries including Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Distinguished by their emerging economies, the group has sought to improve diplomatic coordination, reform global financial institutions, and ultimately serve as a counterbalance to Western hegemony.
On Aug. 24, 2023, BRICS announced that it would formally accept six new members at the start of 2024: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Egypt, Argentina, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
In this graphic, we provide a data-driven overview of how the BRICS expansion will grow the group’s influence and reach.
Share of Global GDP
Because most of the new BRICS members are considered to be developing economies, their addition to the group will not have a major impact on its overall share of GDP.
The following table includes GDP projections for 2023, courtesy of the IMF.
|Country||GDP (USD billions)||Share of Global (%)|
|Yes||🇿🇦 South Africa||$399||0.4%|
|No||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||$1,062||1.0%|
|-||Rest of World||$74,362||70.7%|
The original six BRICS members are expected to have a combined GDP of $27.6 trillion in 2023, representing 26.3% of the global total. With the new members included, expected GDP climbs slightly to $30.8 trillion, enough for a 29.3% global share.
Share of Global Population
BRICS has always represented a major chunk of global population thanks to China and India, which are the only countries with over 1 billion people.
The two biggest populations being added to BRICS are Ethiopia (126.5 million) and Egypt (112.7 million). See the following table for population data from World Population Review, which is dated as of 2023.
|Country||Population||Share of Global (%)|
|Yes||🇿🇦 South Africa||60,414,495||0.8%|
|No||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||36,947,025||0.5%|
|-||BRICS Total||3.7 billion||46.0%|
|-||Rest of World||4.3 billion||54.0%|
It’s possible that BRICS could eventually surpass 50% of global population, as many more countries have expressed their desire to join.
Share of Oil Production
Although the world is trying to move away from fossil fuels, the global oil market is still incredibly large—and BRICS is set to play a much bigger role in it. This is mostly due to the admission of Saudi Arabia, which alone accounts for 12.9% of global oil production.
Based on 2022 figures from the Energy Institute Statistical Review of World Energy, BRICS’ share of oil production will grow from 20.4% to 43.1%.
|Share of Global (%)|
|Yes||🇿🇦 South Africa||0||0.0%|
|No||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||12,136||12.9%|
|-||Rest of World||53,394||56.9%|
It’s worth noting that China has been pushing for oil trade to be denominated in yuan, and that Saudi Arabia’s acceptance into BRICS could bolster this ambition, potentially shifting the dynamics of global oil trade.
Share of Global Exports
The last metric included in our graphic is global exports, which is based on 2022 data from the World Trade Organization. We can see that the BRICS expansion will grow the group’s share of global exports (merchandise trade) to 25.1%, up from 20.2%.
|Country||Exports (USD billions)||Share of Global (%)|
|Yes||🇿🇦 South Africa||123||0.5%|
|No||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||410||1.6%|
|-||Rest of World||18,646||74.9%|
Unsurprisingly, China is the world’s largest exporter. Major exporters that are not a part of BRICS include the U.S. (8.3%), Germany (6.6%), the Netherlands (3.9%), and Japan (3.0%).
Who Else Wants to Join?
According to Reuters, there are over 40 countries that have expressed interest in joining BRICS. A smaller group of 16 countries have actually applied for membership, though, and this list includes Algeria, Cuba, Indonesia, Palestine, and Vietnam.
As the group grows in size, differing opinions and priorities among its members could create tensions in the future. For example, India and China have had numerous border disputes in recent years, while Brazil’s newly elected President has sought to “kickstart a new era of relations” with the U.S.
One thing that is certain, however, is that a new acronym for the group will be needed very soon.
Markets7 days ago
Mapped: The Migration of the World’s Millionaires in 2023
Maps3 weeks ago
Mapped: The Deadliest Earthquakes of the 21st Century
Countries5 days ago
Charted: The World’s Biggest Oil Producers
Wealth4 weeks ago
Visualizing the World’s Growing Millionaire Population (2012-2022)
Energy2 weeks ago
What Electricity Sources Power the World?
Technology4 days ago
Which Companies Own the Most Satellites?
United States4 weeks ago
Mapped: The Richest Billionaires in U.S. States
Markets2 weeks ago
The 25 Worst Stocks by Shareholder Wealth Losses (1926-2022)