Protecting the Arctic - Environmental Audit Committee Contents

1  Introduction

1. Home to 4 million people and a number of species unique to region, encompassing a diverse range of habitats, the Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of planet. As a result of climate change, a number of 'tipping points' that would hasten further global climate change could be approaching, with serious ramifications for the UK's weather and climate (paragraphs 12 & 13). The Arctic Ocean ice-cap is retreating at a dramatic rate, and within the near future might collapse completely during the summer months, threatening the unique wildlife and ecosystems that are found there. Most Arctic biodiversity is migratory and shared with the rest of the world, particularly the UK.

2. The retreating ice-cap is enabling greater exploitation of the Arctic's natural resources—fossil fuels, minerals, and fisheries—and opening up new major global shipping routes. As a maritime nation close to the Arctic, with well-developed oil, finance and insurance sectors, British companies will have a clear interest in these new opportunities. Given the challenging Arctic conditions, there are concerns that such development could result in significant environmental damage in a region already feeling the effects of climate change more than the rest of the planet. The fact that the Arctic is one of the least understood places on Earth exacerbates the risks.

3. The 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development set out Principles on which all states would work together to protect the environment and achieve sustainable development. Part of our Committee's role entails ensuring that there is an ongoing process to enshrine those Principles into future international agreements, UK laws and government policies. To that end, we have carried out a number of inquiries looking at the outcomes of the June 2012 Rio+20 Earth Summit, which aimed to reaffirm political commitment to the Rio Principles and past action plans and to agree the actions needed to achieve sustainable development. This is an important agenda and we must all work to 'take Rio Home' and implement the future programme of work that was agreed. As an iconic region where environmental and climatic changes will affect all states and peoples, not just those in the Arctic, the international community must work together to ensure that the Rio Principles are at the core of future development in the Arctic.

4. Against this background, we decided to explore the:

·  impact of climate change on the Arctic (Part 2);

·  risks to ecosystems from increased development, particularly oil and gas extraction, shipping and fisheries (Part 3); and

·  governance arrangements for the Arctic, including the role that the UK Government should be taking (Part 4).

5. We received over 30 written submissions and took oral evidence from non-governmental organisations; academics; oil companies; the International Chamber of Shipping, the Norwegian and Swedish Ambassadors (Norway chaired the Arctic Council between 2006 and 2009, and Sweden is the current chair); the Met Office; Natural Environment Research Council; Maritime and Coastguard Agency; the Department for Transport, Department of Energy and Climate Change and Foreign and Commonwealth Office; and Henry Bellingham MP, the then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which is the lead department on the Arctic. We would like to thank all those who contributed evidence.

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Prepared 20 September 2012