To be published as HC 1739-ii i




Environmental Audit Committee

Protecting the Arctic

Wednesday 29 February 2012

Rod Downie, Dr Martin Sommerkorn and Dr MikhaiL Babenko

Alan Andrews and Ed Dearnley

Evidence heard in Public Questions 51 - 112



This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.


The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course.

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Environmental Audit Committee

on Wednesday 29 February 2012

Members present:

Joan Walley (Chair)

Peter Aldous

Neil Carmichael

Katy Clark

Zac Goldsmith

Mark Lazarowicz

Caroline Lucas

Sheryll Murray

Caroline Nokes

Mr Mark Spencer

Paul Uppal

Dr Alan Whitehead

Simon Wright


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Rod Downie, Polar Policy and Programme Manager WWF–UK, Dr Martin Sommerkorn, Head of Conservation, Global Arctic Programme, WWF, and Dr Mikhail Babenko, Oil and Gas Officer, Global Arctic Programme, WWF, gave evidence.

Q51 Chair: Thank you very much indeed for coming along to our session this afternoon. We are sorry to have kept you waiting a little while. We had some important business to discuss. We wish to go straight into the questions. We have quite a few questions and quite a large Committee, so hopefully we can get through the various issues that we need to touch base on.

As well as thanking you for coming along, can I just ask you, just by way of general introduction, if you can just set out for us what WWF’s Global Arctic Programme does?

Rod Downie: Yes, I am happy to start on that. Would you like us to introduce ourselves first of all, or go straight in?

Chair: Go straight in.

Rod Downie: WWF, I am sure you are all aware is a global conservation organisation. We work in over 100 countries and have roughly 5 million supporters across the world. Our Global Arctic Programme is one of 14 of what we call our global initiatives-the big programmes that we focus on. We operate out of offices in six of the eight Arctic nations; that includes Canada, where we have our headquarters, Russia, the US in Alaska, Norway, Sweden and Denmark for Greenland. As an NGO, we have a fantastic reach into the Arctic and we also have very good and important relations with the Arctic peoples; indeed, our Global Arctic Programme this year is celebrating its 20th birthday, so we have been doing conservation in the Arctic for 20 years.

Within the UK office, our role has largely in the past been to provide support, fundraising and capacity where we can to the Arctic programme, but I think we are changing slightly. I was appointed to a new role about a year ago, and we are now also starting to focus on policy and the UK’s role in the Arctic. The aim of our programme is to see an Arctic that is shielded from the worst effects of rapid change, through international stewardship, promoting healthy living systems to the benefit of local people and to the benefit of humanity. So our goal, if you like, is to see a change from exploitation to stewardship; that is our key goal, and we do that through the three pillars of our strategy.

The first pillar is based on good governance, and that is working through the Arctic Council; indeed, both Martin and Mikhail attend the Arctic Council. Our second pillar is one of responsible industry, so that is focusing on oil and gas, shipping, fisheries and other major activities. The third pillar is focused around conservation; we call that our conservation blueprint, so that is looking at ecosystem-based management and resilience to change in the Arctic, and Martin leads that pillar of our global strategy.

Dr Sommerkorn: If I may add one thing, yes, we do celebrate our 20th anniversary this year, which coincides almost exactly with the Arctic Council being in place. From the very start, WWF had observer status at the Arctic Council, and we have been, as Rod mentioned, participating in meetings and contributing to working groups.

Q52 Chair: Ours is a cross-cutting Committee and we are aware that you have published your set of Arctic principles, and we will look at some of the detail of that shortly, so I do not want to go into that now. But just for now, have you had any response from Government to that? Given that there are various Departments of Government that might have an interest in all this, could you perhaps specify which Government Departments have responded specifically?

Rod Downie: I am happy to respond to that one. I think the premise of submitting those principles was a recognition that the UK, although not an Arctic nation, has very, very substantial interests in the Arctic, and I think that is clear. We sent the principles to the Secretaries of State at DECC, at Defra, FCO, BIS and the Department for Transport. We have had a response from all five Departments, which is encouraging and clearly very helpful to us.

Q53 Chair: Which was?

Rod Downie: Mixed. I think there was a common theme of noting with interest, but also certainly a willingness to work with the NGO community. I can run through the responses that we had from the five, if that is helpful, and just touch on them briefly.

Chair: I think just very briefly to put it in context for us.

Rod Downie: Sure. FCO expressed their willingness to continue engagement with WWF. Defra noted the UK’s involvement in CBD and conventional migratory species, and also welcomed NGO input. BIS noted that the Arctic is a critical region for change at the moment, and also noted the very significant UK interests, including science. The Department for Transport noted the increasing importance of the Arctic to maritime transport, of course, and also the provisions of various other international maritime conventions, including MARPOL, SOLAS and the like. DECC recognised the threats to the Arctic that stem primarily from the impact of climate change, but at the same time, they recognised their view that Arctic resources could have an important role to play in UK energy security. I think DECC’s response was perhaps the most useful, because it recognised this inquiry and this Committee as perhaps the next stage towards examining UK Arctic policy, so that was helpful to us.

Q54 Chair: Are all those responses in the public domain?

Rod Downie: I am not sure. I believe so. I believe they are. I have copies here.

Q55 Caroline Nokes: I notice that you did not include the MoD in that circulation. I recently attended a briefing from the Royal Navy on the subject of their view of the Arctic, and wondered whether that was a deliberate exclusion or whether you think they should have been included.

Chair: Did you approach them?

Rod Downie: No, we did not approach MoD. I am not sure how appropriate that would have been from a conservation organisation. Clearly, we recognise that MoD have very substantial interests in the Arctic, but perhaps we should have done.

Q56 Mark Lazarowicz: Taking those points further, do you think it is fair to say that the UK Government has a reasonably coherent approach to Arctic policy, or do those responses from the Departments stand on their own, as it were? Can you say that the UK has a clear position on Arctic policy?

Rod Downie: As we understand it, the UK Government co-ordinates its input to the Arctic through a cross-Whitehall Arctic Group. We are aware that it is convened by the FCO. I believe it came out of a recommendation from a meeting of Arctic stakeholders back in 2008, but we do not have access to that group, so we are not entirely sure what is discussed there or the substance of the group, no.

Q57 Mark Lazarowicz: It is obviously possible to visualise there being tension between oil exploration, shipping movements and environmental protection. Maybe it is something we have to ask Ministers in due course, but do you feel the right balance has been drawn, for example, on the environmental protection interests, which are obviously a concern of ours, giving them high enough priority in terms of the policy the Government put forward. Are they actually putting policy forward on these areas?

Rod Downie: I am not sure that the Government’s position is entirely clear. I think there is clarity on some areas, but what is not clear to us is this seeming contradiction between, on one hand, the UK’s leadership role in advocating carbon reduction and the need to address the damaging effects of climate change-I think we all recognise that there is nowhere that is more clearly seen than in the Arctic at the moment-but on the other hand, Government seem to be simultaneously looking to the Arctic for energy security, and I believe that is mentioned in the UK Government’s submission to this Committee. At WWF-UK, we cannot picture a less strategic way to increase our energy security than going after very high-risk Arctic oil. This does not strike us as a strategic approach and if we do want to be strategic about energy security, we need to be planning now for transition to a low-carbon economy. We need to see a very credible energy efficiency programme; we need to be looking at alternatives to fossil fuels.

Q58 Mark Lazarowicz: Can I interrupt, because I am sure we probably accept those points. I just want to be clear-this is the last point I will make, Chair, at this stage: is it fair to say the Government is putting reliance on Arctic oil as a major element of energy strategy or is it simply pointing out that there are possibilities there? I do not want to cast the Government’s position wrongly. Is it just drawing attention to the fact this is a possibility or is it really pushing this in the Arctic Council, or in other negotiations?

Rod Downie: In the submission, it has drawn attention to the possibility for energy.

Q59 Mark Lazarowicz: But no more than that?

Dr Sommerkorn: No, not really. On the UK, I do not think we have more to say, no.

Q60 Chair: Last night we debated the run-up to the Rio+20 conference. In terms of the UK’s position, do you see the UK homing in on the Arctic in any way in respect of outcomes of Rio?

Dr Sommerkorn: Outcomes of? I did not get that.

Chair: Of the Rio conference.

Dr Sommerkorn: The Rio conference, okay.

Chair: Okay, obviously not.

Rod Downie: I have not seen any indication from the UK Government that that is the case.

Q61 Zac Goldsmith: You mentioned the Arctic Group. Is that the same as the Polar Regions Unit?

Rod Downie: No, this is something different; there is a cross-Whitehall Arctic Group, which includes, as we understand it, Defra, DECC, FCO, BIS, DfT and probably MoD as well.

Q62 Zac Goldsmith: That is led from the Polar Regions Unit?

Rod Downie: That is led from the Polar Regions Unit at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Q63 Zac Goldsmith: Has that generated any kind of common statement, or vision or goals?

Rod Downie: There is a statement on the FCO’s website about the UK’s engagement in the Arctic. I think that is something relatively new. I think that appeared about six months ago.

Q64 Zac Goldsmith: The focus being on energy security rather than some of the broader concerns that you have been talking about?

Rod Downie: No, I think it is quite wide ranging. The first point that they mention is the commitment of the UK Government to environmental protection of the Arctic, so clearly WWF and other NGOs will want to hold the UK Government to that, but it also covers the UK’s scientific interests, shipping, fisheries, oil and gas and other regions.

Q65 Zac Goldsmith: In terms of influencing the future of the Arctic, not just Britain’s pursuit or otherwise of oil, but in terms of what happens in the Arctic, is the Arctic Council the most appropriate platform or forum for the British Government in terms of trying to exert influence, or is it the UN?

Dr Sommerkorn: I would plainly say that depends on the way that influence is made valid. It would be fair to say that on the technical side of things, on the science side of things, on evidence and on how evidence is translated potentially into recommendations, the Arctic Council is a good place for the UK to exert that role. It would be welcome. Technical expertise is often limited or just in high demand and falls on to the shoulders of only a handful of people, so strengthening that aspect I think would be welcome; not in terms of, I think, political-level influence. The Arctic Council nations have made it relatively clear in the past that they, especially the five coastal nations, do not want any interference with that.

Q66 Zac Goldsmith: Given that, how can the UK Government more effectively exert influence on the Arctic Council? How can we better improve our role?

Dr Sommerkorn: I think the working groups of the Arctic Council, the expert groups, are the right way to bring forward scientific and other technical expertise, even through knowledge of themes and aspects that are now becoming more relevant in the Arctic like management issues-how to translate science into management and governance. These issues have not been on the table in the Arctic so far, because the need was simply not there or not that urgent. These things have been thought about much more further south; ecosystem services, to give one aspect, is something that has been pushed in the UK quite significantly and can be fruitful if transported to working groups in the Arctic Council experts’ group there. I think that would be one of the channels that would be open and welcome. There is, if I talk as an observer myself, a certain attitude that you have to bring to the table in order to do that, and some of that is plainly trust and consistency, seniority, knowledge and expertise. I personally have met only welcome in these working groups.

Dr Babenko: I would add that indirectly bringing forward the knowledge and expertise that the UK has in many areas related to the Arctic could also influence the attitudes or possibilities to have some influence in other areas of work in the Arctic Council, probably including governance issues, given the fact that with the new declaration, which was signed last year, the ambitions of the Arctic Council to become a regulator in this region are very high.

Q67 Zac Goldsmith: I hope I am not straying into anyone’s territory, if anyone was planning to talk about Denmark, but I wanted to know how serious the Danish proposal is in relation to converting that area to a World Heritage zone-I forget the terminology. How serious is that proposal? How serious is it from the point of view of the Danish Government and how many other countries are even flirting with the idea? Is it a distant pipedream or is there any chance that kind of idea would gain traction?

Dr Sommerkorn: I would say that in the past, similar attempts have been met with rebuttals, first degree, but the devil is in the detail here. I think sometimes we have to play something and a couple of years later it comes back in a very similar fashion, and it is received more fruitfully once people have understood what the context and the conditions of this might be. So I would not exclude this as a long-term fruitful shot, but from a conservation point of view, I would fear that the compromise that will be taken at that point will not be enough to secure long-term good management of natural resources.

Q68 Zac Goldsmith: Does anyone else want to answer that point? I have a final point relating to capacity. Does the Foreign Office have the capacity it needs in terms of people, expertise and so on to lead on this issue, specifically I suppose the Polar Regions Unit?

Rod Downie: I am happy to pick up on that one. I have been very fortunate to work with the Polar Regions Unit for more than a decade, largely in my previous role, and I know from my experience of attending Antarctic Treaty meetings and other international fora with the Foreign Office, that they are incredibly well respected internationally in terms of what they do, certainly within the Antarctic. But I think it is clear that that experience and capacity is not carried through to their involvement in the Arctic. I certainly think there is a lot of opportunity to strengthen the Polar Regions Unit’s capacity at Arctic Council and across Arctic issues. It would be a very interesting exercise to look at exactly how much resource from the UK Government goes into the Arctic, into our attendance at Arctic Council, and perhaps compare that with other regions. That would be a very interesting exercise to do.

Q69 Paul Uppal: Zac, I think that was pretty comprehensive, your questioning, which has pretty much covered a few of the points, but I noticed, Rod, in your opening bit you were talking in terms of a goal for WWF going from exploitation to good stewardship, basically. To follow on a little bit from what Zac was saying, I would be interested in terms of the dynamic with the Arctic countries in the UK. Both of you touched base there in terms of our scientific expertise, in terms of how we can progress that, but in terms of, to be quite political about it, the dynamic between the Arctic countries and the UK and your own perspective on that, how do you think it is? Especially as you have touched base on the idea that there is a mixed message there about sustainability, but also this trying to find a secure energy source, what is your view in terms of the balance and the relationship there?

Rod Downie: In terms of the balance, I will start on that. I think Martin probably has more to add, but it depends how we go into it. If we go in with diplomacy, if we are not going in like a bull in a china shop, I think there is capacity for us to be very well received and recognised. I would just highlight that the UK Government already has memoranda of understanding with the Canadian and the Norwegian Governments; that is memoranda to undertake Arctic science. So there is clearly a platform to build on. Martin, do you want to-

Dr Sommerkorn: There is a platform there to build on. When I mentioned earlier that science and technical advice in the working groups would be well received, I meant scientific advice, people from the science side of things who have an idea, or from the management side of things who have a good idea about how these things run elsewhere. Right now, with our agenda to turn around exploitation to stewardship approaches, we often face the problem that concepts and even practices that are known elsewhere are looked at with suspicion in the Arctic nations, because they do not know about them yet. Resilience is one of these ideas that are now much more used elsewhere, but the Arctic Council was until very recently quite suspicious about what that might be and mean for them. I think there are concepts and solutions and practitioners from further south that can bring fruitful advice to the Arctic Council and its working groups, so that I think would be the right approach and I think it would be fruitful; it would be welcome.

Q70 Paul Uppal: That has been taken on board?

Dr Sommerkorn: At least we operate this way, I have to say. That is probably the only experience I can give on that. I see that there is often a need for more expertise, because the nations themselves basically decide about or talk about their own horizon and do not go across that.

Dr Babenko: There is just one more issue I would like to raise. When talking about the Arctic, we should also talk about open sea, which does not fall under the regulation of the Arctic states. Good governance in this area I think will be very high on the agenda for the international community, particularly for the states that have some interest in the states in this area. The area outside the executive economic zone will be, for example, one of the areas where the interests of the UK, including practices of governance as well, will be needed and will not limit only to the interests solely of the Arctic states.

Dr Sommerkorn: There are several areas where current activities of the Arctic Council go much further than the Arctic Council itself. This is work on shipping guidelines, for instance, which fall directly back to IMO based here-negotiations of a polar code. There are numerous issues that basically cross-connect between global instruments and the Arctic where both direct but also indirect work of the UK is essential, and I think the UK would be perceived as an experienced player on several of these issues without putting self-interest too far into the front row, as other nations are critically viewed in this respect.

Q71 Dr Whitehead: Oil. In your principles, as far as the Arctic is concerned, you go rather further than saying that drilling for oil in the Arctic is rather riskier than elsewhere. You basically say that there should be no drilling offshore until certain principles have been met, and you also then, I think, specify a number of critical onshore areas on which agreement might be reached as far as no drilling is concerned. What is the feasibility, do you think, of arriving at that sort of international ban?

Dr Babenko: A very good question. When talking about drilling in the Arctic, honestly speaking, we try our best not to use words like "ban" and "moratorium" because of negative connotations probably. We should be realistic. The development in the Arctic has already been started, if we look at the Russian Federation and Greenland, so we need to be practical. Companies and decisions are there and more drilling will be observed in the upcoming years. So our approach is that on talking about a ban, we consider that certain areas are too valuable and vulnerable in the Arctic from any kind of perspective-environmental, ecosystem, social, cultural-and these particularly valuable and vulnerable areas must be protected from any oil and gas activities. We call them "no-go zones".

We have two cases for the time being of no-go zones. One is in Norway, the Lofoten Islands, which are temporarily protected from petroleum activities until 2013. The other one is in Alaska, in Bristol Bay, which gives us the opportunity to expand this experience to other areas. We are conducting very extensive work across the Arctic partly to bridge the existing knowledge gap, to identify these vulnerable and valuable zones, and to try to give them protection from oil and gas drilling, which is not easy, but having these cases, it is easier to work. One of the issues we raise while identifying these zones is more sustainable ways of developing these areas, like fisheries, for example, in both Bristol Bay and Lofoten Islands. We hope that West Kamchatka Shelf will be the third case; it is very variable from the point of view of fish stock. When combining the risks of oil and gas development and the risk of losing fish in this area, sometimes this overweighs more sustainable activities.

I mentioned the knowledge gap. We are still lacking knowledge on many issues. We lack knowledge of ecosystems in the Arctic. With the efforts of the Arctic states, the UK and other states conducting studies in this area, this knowledge gap will be bridged, and we will come up with more and more areas that should be permanently protected from oil and gas activities.

Q72 Dr Whitehead: The Arctic Council, I think, are discussing an international instrument that they are looking at on Arctic marine oil pollution preparedness, which I assume is in a relatively early stage of preparedness.

Dr Babenko: Right.

Q73 Dr Whitehead: Is that something that you are actively involved in seeking to influence, and if so, what direction do you think that might go in?

Dr Babenko: You are right. First of all, we have been trying to persuade Arctic Council to start working on some kind of instruments, regional instruments on protecting the Arctic Ocean from oil pollution for years. The final decision that this instrument should be developed was made last year. You are right that the work is at the early stage, but the task was to complete these agreements by the next ministerial meeting, which is next year, so the schedule is rather tight. We are very actively involved in the development of this agreement, on one hand through the national delegations, because some of our representatives are included in the national delegations, but also we were invited as external experts to comment on the document. So far the shape of the document that was discussed is more about co-operation between the states in terms of knowledge sharing, and if pollution happens that one state can assist another state, so broader co-operation.

Our intention was, is and will be to bring more environmental protection to this agreement and we have drafted our own proposals to the agreement, which focus on the need to follow the precautionary approach while acting in the Arctic. Second, that Arctic states shall seek to identify the no-go zones in particularly vulnerable and valuable areas and protect them. Third, contingency planning must be in place, both regional and site-specific because the Arctic varies from area to area, and experience from the Barents will not be applicable in the Beaufort Sea.

We also try to persuade countries to force the industry to develop Arctic-specific technical standards, which will include best environmental practices and best techniques, and oblige companies to follow these standards, because unfortunately so far there are five different legal regimes under which companies are operating, and it is not likely that a company will follow voluntary additional constraints and restrictions on its operations.

These are the main issues that we are trying to follow. Last but not least, the issue that we are trying to include in this agreement is transparency and the availability of all environmentally sensitive documentation, including contingency plans, environmental impact assessments and compliance control from the states. All these documents must be available to the public and available not only just to view, but for peer review and comments as well. So these are the key things that we are trying to push through. If you are interested, we can share these other proposals with you.

Q74 Dr Whitehead: You suggested in your memo to us that the British Government should oversee the activities of British companies operating in the Antarctic. That is to a greater extent than that would suggest.

Dr Babenko: Well, overseeing-

Dr Whitehead: We are seeing the oil companies fairly shortly in this Committee. What do you think they might say to that proposal?

Dr Babenko: Well, of course we do not mean when we say "overseeing" by the Government over the companies that we are asking for additional control from the Government. They are operating in the market economy and this will be perceived as a very inconvenient request by an environmental NGO. We would put it in a different way. What we would like to see is-and it is in the force of the Government-encouraging companies to share their best available experiences with each other, with Governments and with environmental NGOs, and to put in Arctic standards, and then to follow the standards. This is one very practical thing.

The second thing is that UK has significant experience of oil offshore operations, and I am quite convinced that this experience, although it is not in the Arctic waters, of regulating surveillance, monitoring and compliance control from state authorities over the routine operations of oil and gas companies can be applicable for Arctic operations as well.

The next thing, which is very important as well, is that as I just mentioned we have different legal regimes, and unfortunately companies, due to operational procedures, usually follow these national regulations and only them. It means that one company can be a good guy in one place, but not a very good guy in other places, and we see that sometimes companies do apply double standards. We would like to be sure that all companies-all operators in the Arctic-follow best available practices.

These are the main things from a general point of view, but there is a technical gap, which we have identified as one of the major gaps before going into the Arctic: we would be very much interested in getting evidence that companies have techniques to respond to oil spills in Arctic conditions and in ice-infested waters. As far as we are concerned, there are no such effective techniques. We want to be sure that there are technologies for prevention that are locally tested, not tested just in other regions. In our opinion, there are no such techniques so far. We want to be sure that the principle of same-season relief well, which was adopted by the National Energy Board in Canada, is spread all over the region, and that all companies, all operators have this capacity.

Last but not least, we want to draw the attention of oil companies to the response gap or the period of time when no response on an oil spill can happen, and we would like to see seasonal restrictions on that. So if you could bring up these issues while discussing with the companies, this would be great.

Dr Whitehead: Could I-sorry.

Dr Sommerkorn: I have something else to add, but-

Q75 Dr Whitehead: I was just going to ask in passing whether there is widespread knowledge at present in principle of where oil, or indeed hydrocarbons, might be in the Arctic Basin. I have in mind the possible idea that if, for example, one says, "Well, you should not drill in the Lofoten Islands" if there is not any oil there anyway, then it is quite possible people will respect the Lofoten Islands until the end of the time, and will only go somewhere else where we know there is oil.

Dr Babenko: In the recent US geological survey, they have produced a map, but the tricky thing is that it is a probability map, so on one hand it created enormous motivation for oil companies to go into this region with such a huge potential of hydrocarbons. At the same time, it created additional motivation for Arctic states to probably use Arctic reserves as potential for their economic growth. At the same time, as we saw in the case last summer of drilling in Greenland, probability does not mean that you have 100% assurance that there are such reserves. Even oil and gas companies say that huge developments of oil and gas and hydrocarbons in Arctic offshore are not a question of one, two or three years, but anyway we had better be on the safe side and take some precautionary measures. There are some deposits that have already been discovered, for example, in a Russian part of the Arctic, in Barents Sea and Kara Sea, so probably this year the development will start.

Otherwise, a more or less reliable map, which we have, is the US geological survey map, plus licensing maps from nations and licensing rounds by all the five countries.

Dr Sommerkorn: There is one aspect I want to add, because I do not think we should debate these matters separately. When we are talking about spill risk, we are talking about risks that extend from a year to decades of timescales in the Arctic. Following the Alaskan oil spill from the Exxon Valdez, we can still, 20 years after, find lots of that oil and it is still impacting the food chains and still affecting the business of the region. The aspect that I would like to add is on a very similar timescale; we face the risk of severe climate change that comes from burning the fossil fuel that we are producing in the Arctic.

If, as in the case of the UK, a policy is made that we should reduce our emissions by 80% in the year 2050, that speaks to a global carbon budget that will keep us below 2 degrees roughly, if others would follow suit. Regardless, we only have about 1,300 gigatonnes to add to the atmosphere before we reach these 2 degrees. We have a real risk of Arctic oil and gas contributing significantly on that timescale to that carbon budget, and we have the irony, to use the most objective word I can, of Arctic oil and gas being approachable because of the effects of burning fossil fuels. We also have then the effect of those climate changes that fossil fuels have changed, have caused in the Arctic to feed back to the Arctic, to make the Arctic more accessible and even feed back to cause more global warming and more severe effects at the global level, for instance, sea-level rise. So these are risks that should not be put in two separate silos.

Q76 Chair: Rod, do you want to come in on that point, because I think Caroline does as well, and then Alan.

Rod Downie: I can be very brief. Martin has covered a lot of what I was going to say, but just to put it simply, we already have more fossil fuel assets than we can use if we are going to be serious about keeping within this 2 degrees centigrade rise, so rushing into new areas is simply absurd.

Q77 Caroline Lucas: It was on exactly that point. I wondered if you thought there was a risk in your being so entirely reasonable, with all of your gaps and implying that we have the technology here and then we have the knowledge over there and we have the governance here. I am just interested to know what kind of discussions you have had within the WWF about whether or not, in a sense, that is letting Governments off a bit easier. Although tactically one can see that is an approach that arguably would be heard in a more receptive way by Governments, because it is not saying no; on the other hand, everything that you have just said, and everything that I know about this, would suggest that what you should be saying, what we should all be saying, is simply no, on the grounds of climate change, if nothing else.

Dr Sommerkorn: We also struggle, but we also fight on all fronts. We basically try to slow down everywhere we can until people learn, experience tells and sectors can be persuaded, so it is not necessarily only an internal struggle that we have here, but it is a societal struggle of becoming transformational. I think in WWF we reflect exactly within our discussions that struggle to be transformational and how to achieve that. These risks operate on different timescales and they are all worth dealing with. That is why we are very busy, I guess, and the same with you, probably. There is one particular reason why we are not saying we cannot drill, and that is respect to the people who own the resources. We have to deliberately engage with them, and we are, but not by saying no: by saying we engage and try to bring knowledge, bring expertise and point out solutions, because if you go to the Arctic, in many places you will find that what people are concerned about is not climate change per se, but it is to have food on the table tomorrow, to have less people leaving the Arctic, or children leaving the Arctic, to have lower suicide rates and to have opportunities, so sustainable development of a place is at our heart.

Q78 Caroline Lucas: I know, for example, there have been some discussions about paying countries to leave their forests standing rather than to cut them down, which is using the same principle, in a sense, as you rightly say, the indigenous people have rights that need to be respected. Are you aware of any debates going on like that around oil in the Arctic, in other words, there would be some agreement that in order to keep the oil there where we need it to be, in a sense, not exploited for the good of everybody, but then what kind of compensation mechanisms would you then be able to-

Dr Sommerkorn: I have tried for the past four years to find or work towards such an agreement or to such a consensus. So far it has not worked and one of the reasons why it has worked elsewhere and why it is not working in the Arctic is that the countries of the Arctic are the rich ones, so you cannot even persuade them by bringing money from elsewhere to relieve your own guilt. In plain language, that is basically the problem.

Rod Downie: I think the bottom line for WWF is that 80% of all known reserves have to stay in the ground. I think that is clear. We recognise the risks that exist, but despite those risks, oil and gas is happening in the Arctic and we need to be ready for it and we need to minimise any local impacts.

Q79 Sheryll Murray: I would like to look at Arctic biodiversity. Is the impact on the Arctic’s native and migratory animal populations from climate change and the resultant opening up of commercial activities well understood?

Dr Sommerkorn: No, it is not. I think we have some insight on some species that are close to our heart when it comes to how they behave under certain pressures and under current conditions.

Q80 Sheryll Murray: Can I ask you to tell us which species they are?

Dr Sommerkorn: Yes. We generally have some good monitoring and some good evidence, understanding of population cycles and pressures for large mammals and some birds. These are always the species that people relate best to-migratory water fowl, whales, some seals, but very quickly it ends. I take the example of the polar bear, which is the icon of the Arctic. Of the 19 sub-populations that we have, we have reliable data that would allow us to assess the trend in numbers of about seven. Of 12, we do not know exactly what the trends are. We may have some data on what the status of the population is, but we do not know trends. In the Arctic, knowledge very quickly comes to an end. Furthermore it comes to an end when we want to forecast what to do and where to invest to safeguard a species or its ecological role for not only the Arctic, but also for areas outside the Arctic. So no, the science is lagging behind.

Q81 Sheryll Murray: What further research is needed in this area?

Dr Sommerkorn: I think what that research should always be connected to is a management side of things, because with the directional change we will see coming to the Arctic-allow me two sentences on that just to bring that home-currently if you look at the commitments to the Copenhagen Accord and Durban, we are talking 3.5 degrees global mean annual temperature rise by 2100. The Arctic is currently, and has for the last 50 years, done twice that and more. We are currently talking roughly two to three times the warming, and it is forecast to continue on that path for this century. So let us say we are talking 7 degrees of annual mean temperature rise by the year 2100 for areas north of 60 degrees. We do not know how a species would react to that. If we projected how a species reacted to that based on the temperature trajectory alone, we would fall short of considering all these intricate links that species are dependent on that come from the whole ecosystem: food, predators, all that. These cannot be forecast at that scale. It is unprecedented, so we say. But what we can do is-and that comes back to your question-we have to basically link the research to an action and that means that we have to have an adaptive management cycle to all these things. We have to see what we learn; we have to react, we have to do something and see how that action translates into conservation.

Q82 Sheryll Murray: Can I just come in there and ask you to describe a little bit about RACER, the WWF tool for identifying and mapping places of conservation importance? How is it used? Could you use it, for instance, to decide where to put marine protected areas or protected areas, and are there any other wider applications that can be used?

Dr Sommerkorn: RACER was born out of the context that I just explained. It also wanted to speak to the paralysis that came from there; everybody was stepping back and thinking, "We cannot do anything except just observation and monitoring" and so on. But we wanted to go a step back and enable an active conservation approach with RACER, enable Arctic Council nations to become active on conservation again. RACER goes back and looks not into species, but into the reason why life happens at a point. It goes back to the very drivers of why ecosystems are there and why species gather there, so it looks at the physical enabling conditions that make ecosystems function. These are diversity-the number of different species or habitats there are around, or productivity, making biomass out of the sun’s energy and the energy of the food webs.

RACER looks at features-landscape features, sea features-that enable this kind of enabling life. The beauty with this approach is that, once you have understood the landscape or the seascape as something that comes as a process, you can link it to projections, because it is again linked to things like light, temperature or salinity of the sea, so you can forecast whether these features will continue to enable diversity and productivity, and the ecosystem services that we all derive from that. That is what RACER is.

There is one other thing that is very important, which is that features are not necessarily stable on a map. These things can move. The sea ice, for instance, is one of these features; the marginal sea ice zone is a very productive zone where lots of energy is fixed into biomass. That sea ice zone is a feature, but it shifts. It will shift to places like Northern Greenland and Northern Canada over the century and it will be only found there. So the additional aspect that we bring to this, coming from RACER, is that we need to find a new way to define protected areas. They have to be linked to what is found there and not to a geographical core element. In that respect, it can help define marine protected areas and others as well.

Sheryll Murray: Thank you very much.

Q83 Chair: Thank you very much indeed. You have been very generous with your time. We have other witnesses to see this afternoon, so I thank all three of you and hope that you will follow our report. Thank you very much indeed.

Rod Downie: Thank you very much, we look forward to seeing your report.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Alan Andrews, Environmental Lawyer, ClientEarth, and Ed Dearnley, Environmental Policy Consultant, ClientEarth, gave evidence.

Chair: Thank you very much indeed, both of you, for your patience and for coming along this afternoon. We have two evidence sessions, as you can see, and I think you sat in on a little bit of the previous session. What we wanted to do with the two of you, with the expertise that you have, is to look a little bit at black carbon emissions and the whole issue of mitigation and what is to be done about Arctic melting, so with no further ado, I would like to move straight on to Katy Clark.

Q84 Katy Clark: What are the main causes of black carbon arriving at the Arctic? Is it specific countries that are the problem or specific groups of countries and regions?

Ed Dearnley: Could I start off by just two points of clarification of that question? Firstly, black carbon is a result of inefficient combustion in general, so realistically we are looking at perhaps smaller sources, things like diesel vehicles and domestic and commercial combustion. Open burning is also a large source of black carbon. Black carbon has global and regional elements as well, so although it is a problem at global scale, the actual regional impacts will depend upon where the black carbon is coming from and the meteorology involved. If we look globally, the science says that about 30% of black carbon comes from China, about 10% from Europe and about 10% from India and about the same from Northern Europe. If we look at the impacts on the Arctic in terms of where the greatest potential for black carbon reduction is coming from, then realistically we are looking at the EU, Russia and, to a lesser extent, China.

Alan Andrews: I think it is important to recognise that obviously the UK’s contribution to the problem is relatively small in terms of its overall percentage of black carbon emissions, but as a key player on the EU and international stage, the UK has the potential to either do a lot of damage in terms of the fight against black carbon, or it could be a real leader and a positive force in implementing measures to tackle black carbon emissions.

Q85 Katy Clark: China is often mentioned. How significant is, for example, coal burning from China? Is that a significant factor?

Ed Dearnley: Black carbon tends to be associated more with the smaller sources. Although coal-fired power stations do emit black carbon, they do not do it on the same scale per unit of energy as smaller sources do, so it tends to be a problem, as I said, more from open biomass burning and these smaller sources of combustions, which can be elderly, inefficient or just out of date.

Alan Andrews: As a very broad rule of thumb, the higher a combustion process is, the higher the temperatures are in a combustion process and the more complete the combustion, so more of the fuel is burnt, so you get less black carbon. Something like a coal-fired power station is burning at a very, very high temperature, particularly modern super-critical plants, so you will not get the same levels of black carbon.

Q86 Caroline Lucas: Can I ask a silly question? It is probably in some of the notes I have not read, but what are we looking at? Is it little black specks, are they visible to the naked eye? If you saw a fire burning would you say, "Oh yes, there is some black carbon"?

Alan Andrews: Well, they are little black specks, but very, very, very little black specks.

Q87 Caroline Lucas: Could you see them? Can you?

Alan Andrews: No, absolutely not, they are microscopic. We are talking a thousandth of the width of a human hair and maybe even smaller.

Caroline Lucas: Okay, that is helpful.

Alan Andrews: If we are looking at particulate matter in general, black carbon tends to be towards the smaller end of the particle size spectrum.

Q88 Chair: How long has black carbon been on anybody’s radar?

Ed Dearnley: Good point. The kind of coalition that we are representing today, the Black Carbon Campaign, is part of a European campaign called Soot Free for the Climate and that has been going for about three or four years, so certainly the science is leading the campaigning. Certainly in the last decade it has started to come more to the fore, but I think in the last two or three years we have seen the science side step up in terms of backing up the case for acting on black carbon.

Alan Andrews: Yes, I would agree with that. We have seen papers from the early and mid-2000s, but it is in the last couple of years that the scientific consensus has started to emerge. There have been two reports, one in late 2011 and one in early 2012, which are significant and demonstrate this real emerging, the consensus on the urgency of tackling black carbon, and they were both produced by UNEP in coalition with the WMO-the World Meteorological Organisation.

Q89 Peter Aldous: Just to take that further, has black carbon always been there and the science has just not identified it? I am going back 50, 60, 100 years, when Britain would have been puffing stuff out to its heart’s content. Would there have been a black carbon issue at that stage?

Alan Andrews: Certainly. We just were not aware of it. If you examine ice cores from the Arctic, you will see there has been black carbon deposition going back all the way through the industrial age. It is only in recent years that we have started to appreciate its impact on climate and also its impact on human health.

Q90 Peter Aldous: So was it having an impact back in those days?

Ed Dearnley: Yes, essentially, but I suppose the reason why it has come to the fore now as an issue is that it is seen as a way we can, I suppose in the short term, reduce the amount of warming the globe, and particularly the Arctic is going to see over the next few decades. That is why it has come to the fore now.

Q91 Peter Aldous: Just taking that forward, is there broad international acceptance that black carbon is exacerbating the melting of the Arctic?

Alan Andrews: Yes, I would say there is definite consensus that black carbon is a very powerful radiative forcer, which exerts a powerful warming effect, and that those effects are particularly keenly felt in the Arctic regions. I would say there is still a little bit of debate around the exact numbers that we are talking about. What is the exact number that you can put on black carbon, exactly what percentage of Arctic warming is a consequence of black carbon? There is some debate around the actual numbers, but I would say real consensus around the causality that black carbon is causing an accelerating of Arctic melting.

Q92 Peter Aldous: Do you think some more research is required to quantify those numbers?

Alan Andrews: Certainly, and it is ongoing, particularly around a couple of issues such as black carbon’s role in cloud formation, the role of co-pollutants that are emitted alongside black carbon and what role they have to play. This is all being researched, but I think the important thing to stress is that we are sufficiently far along in the knowledge that we can act immediately. The UNEP recommendation was, "Okay, the knowledge is robust enough to justify immediate action". I think that is a fair summary.

Ed Dearnley: Just to add an associated point, the other issue about carbon is that the abatement measures that are available to us are tested technology, so as well as black carbon having an impact now on the climate, the actual abatement measures are ready to be deployed. They do not need further research, they are there for us to use.

Alan Andrews: Not just the technology either, we have the actual legal frameworks and legal mechanisms in place now. We are looking at the mess around global climate change negotiations and the difficulties in establishing legally binding frameworks at that level. We already have, in the form of air pollution legislation, quite workable, quite robust legal frameworks. We just need to make sure they are enforced properly.

Q93 Peter Aldous: In your submission, you state that black carbon has less of an impact on heating of the Arctic than CO2 emissions In that context, why should there then be a change of focus from CO2 to black carbon?

Ed Dearnley: I do not think we are advocating a change of focus. We are advocating that both should be targeted together. Black carbon offers, as we put in our submission, an emergency brake on climate change. Essentially, you can use black carbon reduction to temporarily slow the warming of the globe and particularly the Arctic, but doing that without any CO2 reduction would be false economy, essentially. The warming would slow for a period, but warming from greenhouse gases would catch up with us in the end.

Alan Andrews: Black carbon exists in the atmosphere for one week, two weeks, three weeks before it is deposited somewhere on the earth. By contrast, carbon dioxide lasts in the atmosphere for centuries, basically until as long as a tree sucks it in and breathes it, so that is why you can only tackle CO2 with long-term measures, whereas black carbon is short-term action.

Q94 Peter Aldous: At the beginning you identified the culprits. Which countries have recognised that there is a problem and have black carbon impacting on their radar?

Alan Andrews: Interestingly, the US is leading the way on black carbon, which came as a bit of a surprise to me, as it would to most people, but I think that stems from the US Administration’s frustration at the current deadlock over carbon reductions. We saw a couple of weeks ago the US State Department issue a new initiative. They have formed a Clean Air and Climate Coalition, along with Mexico, Bangladesh, Ghana, Sweden and Canada. This is going to be a voluntary partnership, to facilitate exchange of ideas and transfers of technology and to focus on practical ways of tackling black carbon.

Q95 Peter Aldous: Should the EU be engaged with that?

Alan Andrews: I think the EU should focus on what it can do, and I would say that there are two places that the EU has the biggest influence. I mentioned both of these in my evidence, but the first is the Gothenburg Protocol. The Gothenburg Protocol is a protocol to the convention on long-range trans-boundary air pollution-which sets national emissions ceilings for a variety of pollutants. For the first time, we are expecting to have a ceiling for PM2.5. A reasonably high proportion of PM2.5 is black carbon, so that is a significant step forward. Unfortunately what we are seeing at the moment is that the EU Member States are quite resistant to accepting ambitious ceilings under the Gothenburg Protocol. The sense I have is that the UK is definitely one of a number of countries who are resisting any commitments above a business as usual scenario.

Q96 Peter Aldous: Why do you think the UK is adopting that approach?

Alan Andrews: I think if you look at the UK’s overall stance on air pollution-I am sure I do not need to remind this Committee of Monday’s statement by Caroline Spelman-they just do not see air pollution as a priority; they see it purely in terms of its economic cost, they downplay the health benefits and certainly downplay the climate impacts. So we have a situation where the Government is refusing to comply with air quality limits in the UK for the next 10 years at least. The problem is that the same attitude is being carried forward at the international and EU level.

Q97 Peter Aldous: You said, I think at the beginning, that you might hope that the UK might use its influence on the EU to get black carbon higher up the agenda, but the way you are talking, you might not hold out much hope of that.

Alan Andrews: No. The UK’s position seems to be somewhat contradictory, so on the one hand I think the UK would support the introduction of black carbon within air pollution legislation at the EU level, but at the same time-I sit on the stakeholder expert group on the 2013 EU Air Quality Review-already, even at this early stage, we are hearing noises from Defra that they want more flexibility under EU air quality legislation. To me, that means weaker standards, more time extensions, this sort of thing; so any gains we get by including black carbon within EU legislation will be completely undermined if the overall effectiveness and coherence of EU air quality legislation is diminished.

Chair: I think it might be helpful for the Committee and our witnesses to note that we are expecting a vote at 10 to four, so we might want to rush to get through the remaining questions. I will turn to Dr Whitehead.

Q98 Dr Whitehead: Could I try and understand a little bit more about the relative cooling and warming properties of different particles? Black carbon presumably is below the particulate level of PM5, yes?

Ed Dearnley: It is a wide size range. It is a constituent of PM10 and PM2.5. As a rule of thumb, it is about 10% to 15% of PM2.5, but it will vary from source to source so, for example, diesel exhaust is very high in black carbon. Other sources of particulates are more mixed.

Alan Andrews: But in any combustion process-incomplete combustion process-you will have emissions of black carbon, which is warming, and co-emissions of other particles: sulphates, nitrates, organic carbon, which have a cooling effect.

Q99 Dr Whitehead: But if you are trying to track particulates in general, then presumably you will track your black carbon-

Ed Dearnley: You will. This is an area-

Dr Whitehead: -but also some cooling particles as well. What is the relationship between the two therefore?

Ed Dearnley: Basically, as you say, if you reduce particulates, generally most technologies will reduce all types of particles, not just the heating or the cooling ones. On their various impacts, as I said, they vary source by source. They also vary about where they are emitted, so for example, much of the concern in the Arctic is about deposition of black carbon on the snow and ice, which obviously makes it darker and causes it to melt. Now, if you get, say, organic carbon, which is lighter coloured, deposited on a surface in London, for example, that might have a cooling effect, because it reflects more sunlight. If that is deposited on a white surface-snow and ice-then it is not going to have much impact. What I am trying to say is that if we have emissions in the Arctic, the black carbon impacts tend to dominate because there is a different impact from the lighter coloured carbon than in areas such as the UK.

Alan Andrews: The one thing we can be sure of is that you need to focus on those sources that have a high ratio of black carbon to cooling particles.

Q100 Dr Whitehead: Which are what?

Alan Andrews: Diesel. From the UK perspective, diesel is absolutely the win win; there is absolutely no doubt that if you go after that, you will have the benefit.

Q101 Dr Whitehead: But a number of more modern diesel cars will have particulate traps.

Ed Dearnley: They do, but we have a huge legacy of unfiltered diesel so, for example, vehicles are just the tip of the iceberg in some respects. They have been required to have a filter from about 2006, but we also have equipment-non-road machinery like railway locomotives, diesel generators, construction equipment. It is only now that a requirement is coming in to have a filter on those machineries.

Alan Andrews: Those kinds of non-road machines tend to have a long life, 15, 20, 25 years.

Q102 Dr Whitehead: Unfiltered diesel?

Alan Andrews: Absolutely.

Ed Dearnley: It is probably the biggest pollutant.

Q103 Dr Whitehead: And the biomass wood-burning stoves?

Ed Dearnley: Yes, in biomass there is more of a balance between the heating and the cooling particles, but the UNEP in their report, which Alan mentioned earlier, came down on the side that biomass was generally warming. In the UK we are about to trigger a biomass boom obviously through a renewable heat incentive, so it is very crucial that there is protection in there to make sure the particle emissions are kept down.

Alan Andrews: And again, I know that is not the-

Q104 Dr Whitehead: I was just checking to see whether I am emitting black carbon or not. I have an ultra low emission diesel car.

Ed Dearnley: It depends how new it is.

Alan Andrews: You are not.

Dr Whitehead: I am not.

Alan Andrews: How old is it?

Chair: Can we not go into this, please?

Q105 Dr Whitehead: Sorry, I am being a bit flippant, but what I am trying to establish is the extent to which in terms of those sort of areas of emission, it will be possible to take reasonably concentrated Government action or, were the Committee on Climate Change, for example, to be tasked with overseeing action or possible action on black carbon, how that might work as far as policy is concerned.

Ed Dearnley: There are two big opportunities in the UK. The first is legacy diesel, so making sure that we clean up older diesel vehicles and equipment, and the technology is there to do that cost-effectively; the second is making sure that an expansion in wood burning does not come with a rise in particulate emissions.

Alan Andrews: Both these measures will have huge benefits, co-benefits for human health. I know that is not the focus of this Committee, but from a policy perspective, it makes it a lot easier to get these policies through if you can point to lives that will be saved and monetised health benefits.

Q106 Chair: This is a cross-cutting Committee so we can take into account different perspectives.

Alan Andrews: The other thing to note of course is that those health benefits arise where you tackle the emissions, so these are not benefits that occur globally. If you cut emissions in the UK, you will have health benefits in the UK almost immediately.

Q107 Mark Lazarowicz: On the kind of ways in which the black carbon is created, and turning away from the domestic example, if there is a major increase in commercial activity in the Arctic area-everything from new shipping routes to activity on land and so on-will that in itself then be a further likely contributor to black carbon? I know it will depend on what is used, in terms of ship’s oil, engine oil and all the rest of it, but is there a real risk that there would be an increase in black carbon because of that?

Ed Dearnley: Yes. The science here is not perhaps as good as it could be. There needs to be more research to look at these issues, but basically if we commercialise the Arctic, we are taking more sources of combustion and black carbon into that area. So, for example, expansion in housing or commercial activities is going to be accompanied by things like diesel generators, diesel vehicles, these kinds of activities. Shipping again is something that probably does need a lot more research, but logic would suggest that if we bring ships closer to the areas of snow and ice, and ships are quite a large source of particulate black carbon, then there will be more deposition on the snow and ice and therefore more warming.

Q108 Dr Whitehead: Presumably, just as a matter of record, the single worst thing one could do in terms of introducing black carbon as rapidly as possible to the Arctic would be to send a whole load of container ships across the seaways, were they to be open during summer?

Ed Dearnley: I should caveat that, in that again, meteorology can have an impact, so I do not think it is something we can say 100% certainly; but, as I said, logic would suggest that if you have sources of black carbon where there are not huge chimneys on them, so there is not a great deal of long-distance dispersion, then most of that black carbon will end up in the region where it is emitted-the Arctic.

Q109 Chair: Finally, in terms of the Arctic Council and the ways we are looking to see what the issues are, how much do you feel that these issues of environmental pollution are high-priority issues there?

Alan Andrews: I would say that they are certainly a high priority for the Arctic Council. The Arctic Council is one of the first international forums where we saw black carbon being discussed, and certainly on the technical side they have established a working group on black carbon. There was a declaration by the Arctic Council that urged its members to take action to tackle black carbon emissions, but I would stress we need to remember what the Arctic Council is and what it is for. It is very much a high-level forum for negotiations, discussions and idea sharing. I am not sure about the extent to which it has an appetite for law-making and setting up internationally legally binding commitments on black carbon reduction, but it certainly has a role to play and is certainly doing some valuable research of that kind.

Q110 Simon Wright: In your evidence about the International Maritime Organisation, you say that they have been looking into the issue of black carbon for some years, but have so far failed to introduce any binding measures. What have been the barriers to that?

Alan Andrews: That goes to what the IMO is. It is one of these international organisations where you have a huge number of competing interests-you have maritime nations with very, very large shipping sectors. It is very difficult to get agreement at IMO level on environmental protection. We have seen that not just on this issue, but on several issues.

Q111 Simon Wright: They are prepared to look at the issue, but not do anything about it?

Alan Andrews: Absolutely.

Ed Dearnley: I should add here that because shipping fuels tend to be high in sulphur from a global perspective rather than a regional one, then the question of the warming versus cooling particles is not particularly clear-cut, but having said that, the sulphate emissions from shipping are very worrying from a health perspective, so it is not something that should be overlooked.

Alan Andrews: You also need to clean up marine fuel as a first stage in applying these more advanced technologies like particulate filters. At the moment, marine fuel is very, very, very dirty-so dirty that you cannot use particle filters on it-so as a first step, you need to get the sulphur out of it. That is one thing where the IMO has some quite robust regulation, on the sulphur content of marine fuels, which then is implemented by the EU through its directive on sulphur in marine fuels. I understand that the Transport Committee is producing its findings on that next week.

Q112 Chair: Okay. Thank you very much indeed. We appreciate the perspective that you have brought to our discussion this afternoon, so thank you, and we shall deliberate further.

Alan Andrews: Thank you.

Ed Dearnley: Thank you.

Prepared 18th June 2012