The UK – the northernmost country below the Arctic Circle – needs to up its game or risk being ‘outmanoeuvred’ in the region by other states, says the House of Lords Arctic Committee in a report published today. The Committee concludes that the UK should follow the example of nations including France, Singapore and Japan in appointing an Ambassador for the Arctic.
The Committee’s report, “Responding to a changing Arctic”, concludes that momentous and unprecedented change is underway in the Arctic, with temperatures there rising twice as fast as the world average. This will have a massive impact on the region’s environment, ecosystems and people and presents both huge challenges and opportunities.
The Committee says the UK has a successful history of engagement with the Arctic but concludes that the Government’s approach is too hesitant and cautious. Other countries are assertive about their interests in the Arctic and the UK should be too.
The report makes recommendations in a range of areas including:
The Committee calls for a moratorium on fishing in the high seas area of the central Arctic Ocean, at least until a recognised management regime for the area, based on sound science, is agreed.
It is estimated that 30% of the world’s undiscovered, recoverable gas and 13% of undiscovered, recoverable oil supplies are located in the Arctic. These resources, however, will be difficult and costly to extract. The recent fall in world energy prices provides a window of opportunity for thorough examination of whether oil and gas extraction can be done safely and responsibly in ice-affected Arctic waters, and for considering whether any international standards on where drilling can be undertaken in relation to sea ice can be agreed.
Every effort should be made to insulate Arctic co-operation from geopolitical tensions arising in other parts of the world because there is a global interest in protecting this unusually vulnerable environment.
The Committee concludes that it is a question of ‘when’, rather than ‘if’, the Arctic will be substantially free of sea ice in the summer.
The Government should urgently make a commitment to substantially increase funding for British Arctic science through the Research Councils.
The Committee highlights the alarming prospect of additional global warming arising from the release of methane from the Arctic seabed and melting permafrost, and other disturbing climate feedback loops.
The EU should be granted observer status at the Arctic Council as the case for its inclusion is ‘overwhelming’.