Environmental Audit Committee - Protecting the Arctic - Minutes of EvidenceHC 171

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House of commons



Environmental Audit Committee

Protecting the Arctic

wednesday 18 January 2012

Ruth Davis and Shane Tomlinson

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1-14

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Environmental Audit Committee

on Wednesday 18 January 2012

Members present:

Joan Walley (Chair)

Peter Aldous

Neil Carmichael

Martin Caton

Katy Clark

Zac Goldsmith

Mark Lazarowicz

Caroline Lucas

Caroline Nokes

Mr Mark Spencer

Paul Uppal

Dr Alan Whitehead


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Ruth Davis, Senior Policy Adviser, Greenpeace, and Shane Tomlinson, Director of Development E3G, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: A really warm welcome to both of you. As you are aware the Environmental Audit Select Committee has decided to have an inquiry into protecting the Arctic. Normally, what we would do is perhaps have a private, informal discussion when we would try and get some scoping of the issues that we needed to cover but, because of the interest that so many people have in this and because of the importance of getting different research and views and so on on the record, we thought it would be helpful to everybody if we had a public session, so we are making this available.

We are really grateful to both of you for coming along. We are not sure where we are with votes this afternoon. I think we are looking to finish the session by 4 pm or shortly after that, dependent upon the business in the House.

If you both would like to introduce yourselves, we will then look forward to having your presentation.1 Hopefully, there will be time for questions from members of the Committee afterwards.

Shane Tomlinson: Thank you very much for inviting us this evening. My name is Shane Tomlinson. I am the Director of Development at E3G, which is third generation environmentalism; a non-profit organisation working on climate and energy issues,

Ruth Davis: I am Ruth Davis. I am Chief Policy Adviser for Greenpeace, UK.

Chair: We are in your hands.

Shane Tomlinson: We are dividing this into two presentations. I am going to provide a brief overview of some of the vast number of different issues that are covered in the Arctic. Obviously, as you said by way of your introduction, there are a huge number of things we can cover here. This gives a skim over of a lot of these different things but looking at four areas: governance; UK interest in the arctic; the economics of Arctic deep-water drilling and resource extraction; how we could potentially improve governance options going forward and what the UK’s role could be in that.

Governance in the Arctic in our assessment is currently focused on accelerating a development agenda, as opposed to a protection, environmental and global public good agenda, primarily. This is not to say that there are not protection elements of the governance structure and we will examine those in some detail, but overall, agreements are bound in soft law and rely heavily on bilateral co-operation. Over the last few years, a lot of this has been seen as, "How can we provide increased access to oil, gas and other mineral reserves to improve economic development and energy security issues?" That has definitely been one of the current focuses as we have been moving forward.

It is critical when we talk about Arctic governance to distinguish between whether there are processes, of which there are a wide number covering different issues, as opposed to delivery of final regimes in governance. There are many more different processes and initiatives that operate in the Arctic than there are finalised governance regimes. That is important to distinguish as we move forward. However, as we say that, the most significant venues are the Arctic Council, which has the permanent members of the littoral states and a number of observer states of which the United Kingdom is one; the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, UNCOS, which governs international water space overall; and the International Maritime Organisation, which governs overall shipping and access issues there.

Governance is quite fragmented, and there is what you might call a deep division of strategic interest between littoral and non-littoral states in some issues around the Arctic, particularly when we look at environmental and global public good issues,

This is E3G’s assessment of where the focus of the current governance regime lies on two key axes: those that focus on more sovereign governance issues and those that focus on more multilateral governance issues. Those that focus on a protection/global public good agenda at the top and those that focus more on a development/extractive agenda at the bottom, What we see is there is a cluster of bilateral relationships between the littoral states that are very much focused around how they govern access and development of issues around that.

The Arctic Council has a development focus and moves over into a protection agenda. That includes initiatives under that, say the AEPS, which is the Arctic Environment Protection Strategy, the Arctic Impact Assessment, the ACIA, and the Search & Rescue divisions. That also provides guidelines for offshore oil and gas drilling.

When we look over to the other axis at the more multilateral level, there is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. That includes things like assessment and overview of UN fish stocks; UN deep-sea mining; the International Seabed Authority; conventions like MARPOL on marine pollution and OSPAR, the Oslo-Paris Accord on environmental pollution; and the International Maritime Organisation, which has a number of relevant issues there.

There is also a number of global scientific monitoring and research initiatives. So it is a very crowded governance field that includes both formal regimes and processes and more informal regimes and processes. I am very happy to go into that in conversations, but I think as you move forward in your inquiry on this, unpicking the relationships between the complex governance network, I think is important in terms of getting the balance right between sustainable development and environmental protection as we move forward.

Arctic territorial claims are ongoing and dispute negotiations have been going on in quite a lengthy process. The map on the right-hand side of this slide shows among the littoral states you come across Russia; Greenland, which is obviously a dependency of Denmark; Norway; Canada and the United States through Alaska. There is this region that is shown by the dotted line in the middle that has a number of overlapping claims as to who owns the geographic North Pole region. This is administered under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It is worth noting at this point that all the littoral states except for the United States have ratified this. The United States largely abides by UNCOS guidelines, but it has never formally ratified the Convention. So what you end up with is each state has a 12 nautical mile special economic exclusion zone, its EEZ. That goes from 12 to 200 nautical miles offshore. Beyond 200 nautical miles, coastal states may claim a right over an extended continental shelf that is determined through the Committee on the Limits of Continental Shelf Extension, CLCS. That means that several Arctic states have indicated their interest in extending the continental shelf over the North Pole, so competing claims stretching from Russia, US, Canada and Greenland, who can all potentially put in bids. However, there is a small area of the Arctic, the white piece in the middle there, which is still unclaimed and uncontested. There is therefore an opportunity for the unclaimed space round the North Pole to be designated as a protected area under international conservation law in some way, shape or form.

No country currently owns the North Pole region or the Arctic Ocean surrounding it. It is possible that Russia, Denmark or Canada could scientifically demonstrate that they own all of this, but, as I say, this process is ongoing. Denmark has raised the possibility-this was under the previous Danish Government, before the new one came in-that they would establish a protected zone over the contested area. So they would claim all of the geographic North Pole, but then establish a zone to essentially give it back to all of mankind as a special zone for nature conservation. That opened up an agenda around seeing the North Pole as an area of common heritage for all mankind and the possibility that we may be able to move forward, similarly as we have in Antarctica, to preserve forever the North Pole region.

This diagram goes through the very difficult and contested states around how you can extend your continental shelf as these claims go forward. It sets out the special exclusive economic zone and then the extension that may go through that. Essentially, what you have to prove is that you have a continuous plateau or terrace under the ocean bed that extends outwards from your exclusive economic zone. This is done through the Committee on the Limits of Continental Shelf Extension, the CLCS, where states make claims to the CLCS. This is administered under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Other boundary and adjacent states have a three-month opportunity to comment on the claim. The CLCS then meets in private. It includes scientific and legal representatives from all the UNCOS members. It either rejects or approves the claim and that allows the settlement of boundary conditions. This is a very untransparent and unaccountable process for outside observers. If you are not a Government that is involved in the process, there is very little opportunity for NGOs, civil societies or other groups to engage in this process.

There have also been significant problems in the CLCS in determining boundary disputes in other areas of the world. In the South China Sea, we have had disputes going on for many, many years now. I think there are some real questions as to whether the CLCS is really the right body to determine who ultimately should own or move forward on the North Pole and whether there are other ways we could have a more legitimate discussion about how we move forward on that.

Moving on to look at some of the United Kingdom’s interests in the Arctic, the bullet points on this slide are all taken from a Foreign and Commonwealth Office document, UK’s Engagement in the Arctic, so these are their words that I am using here. They have assessed a number of objectives. Firstly, the protection of the Arctic environment and eco-system; secondly, supporting and encouraging continued co-operation among the Arctic states, especially through the Arctic Council; thirdly, looking at the effects of climate change in the Arctic and the Arctic as a barometer of climate change globally; also the potential of the Arctic to strengthen energy security and the sustainable use and safe extraction of resources. Safe extraction is one of those issues that we will turn to as we move forward in this.

The opening up of the Arctic to increased shipping and the issues related to that including the new polar shipping code that has been agreed under the Arctic Council, the sustainable management of any new fishing grounds in the Arctic-as Committee members may be aware, as climate change impacts and sea temperatures rise, fish stocks may tend to migrate north and so this could become an increased issue-and the study of the region by UK scientists.

We have put these different objectives into wedges on this diagram, so each wedge of this broadly represents one of those UK interests. What you can see across them are three overlapping or high-level meta objectives. The first is around managing resource scarcity, conflict and security issues. That goes across climate change, security and conflict and resource extraction and security. It is worth noting here that there have been significant increases in militarisation around the Arctic in recent years, and that is something that could move forward. Although we do not see open tension between Arctic littoral states at the moment, it is certainly not something that we could rule out in the future and is a trend we need to continue to monitor.

Trade, promotion and economic growth goes across the resource extraction and energy security agenda, shipping and trade and fishing. Then obviously the commitment to achieve a below 2°C future and the specific commitment of this Coalition Government to be the greenest Government ever, which cuts across the climate change, eco-system protection, science and monitoring objectives.

Obviously, there is some tension between those, and I think one of the key things that we would like to look at is how the Government works to both prioritise, manage and resolve the tensions between these three meta objectives and whether sufficient emphasis is being placed on the commitment to secure a below 2°C future and a protection of a very fragile and unique eco-system versus the resource extraction, energy security, shipping and trade agendas out there. Obviously, we recognise that there are competing objectives here, but we think this is something that needs to be managed in a very open and transparent process.

The UK needs a comprehensive strategy to reflect its interests and rhetoric in the Arctic. This is purely an E3G assessment. We would say that the UK really is not prepared for a lot of the Arctic threats and opportunities as we move forward. It is quite comfortable with the status quo position of being a permanent observer on the Arctic Council and has not really wanted to rock the boat. However, shifting global dynamics means that we cannot retain this position moving forward. Germany and the Netherlands, who are also observers on the Arctic Council, have made quite strong moves in recent years looking at things around shipping and resource extraction. China, who have forged quite a close partnership with Denmark in recent years and whom Denmark has supported very strongly in becoming an observer on the Arctic Council, has very significant interests both in the resource extraction and the shipping and trade issues. As global geopolitics moves, so the UK needs to be able to act to do this.

There is also dissonance within Whitehall regarding some of the risks and opportunities of the Arctic, particularly the future worldview that this implies. I think often risks are downplayed given that they are not seen as immediate threats whereas the short-term benefits of shipping and resource extraction-economic opportunities there-may be overstated and ultimately at odds with some of our global climate goals. This is something we will return to.

British companies have access to licences and are active in prospecting in the Arctic region. You may have seen the reports of Cairn who drilled a number of wells off Greenland this summer. They were unsuccessful in finding oil, but they have been extremely active there.

I think it is important that we try to take a risk-management approach to dealing with Arctic issues. A lot of this is being driven by the politics of anticipation, so although the Arctic is obviously an eco-system that is changing quite rapidly at the moment, people are looking to the future to times where there may be much more access to the North Western Passage or the northern sea routes and other things. That is driving the politics of the present in anticipation of those and including the significant military build-up there. We think it is important there is a risk assessment to look at both the feasibility of resource extraction in the short term, what that means in terms of insurance risks and particularly deep water opportunities; also exploring what the counterfactuals of what high-price future oil-world would mean-at what prices could you extract significant resources from the Arctic and what would that mean for the opportunity costs of low-carbon development in other countries?-also looking at the shared strategic agenda linking environmental and security concerns around sustainable fishing and shipping where the UK has played quite an active role in developing a sustainable fishing and fisheries management policy and how we could apply some of those lessons in the Arctic.

There is also a need to engage with a broad range of other strategic actors. As I said, we used to look within Europe, so what Germany, France, Netherlands and other countries are thinking about the Arctic regions and how the UK can act to shape Europe’s position, but also the increased interest from other non-littoral states, including China, South Korea and Japan. It is important that we look at our relationships and potentially shared and unshared objectives with those states as we move forward. Obviously, that links to the broader international governance agenda at the IMO and other places.

Moving on to look at the economics of Arctic deep-water drilling: deep water prospecting is physically and politically challenging. Companies are betting quite significantly both on technology breakthroughs or continued improvement in technology and high oil prices to make this viable. The Arctic is an extremely difficult eco-system to operate in. I am sure you are all aware of the extreme changes in weather temperature conditions you have there; the dangers that ice floes can pose to drilling equipment and ships. A lot of this is often dealt with in terms of guesstimates, so there are some surveys in the Arctic, but we have not really looked at this as deeply as we have in other areas of the world. The regulatory risks reflect low confidence following some of the other issues we have seen in the Macondo oil spill. So unconventional fossil fuels, I think there is an overall thing about what oil price will that be viable at and also the potential for shale gas and other development.

The US Geological Survey, the USGS, has examined quite a lot of this and their assessment was if oil was worth $100 per barrel, only 2.5 billion barrels of oil could be commercially extracted from deep water sources within the Arctic. There would really only be about a 50% probability of success. To get to really high numbers of barrels of oil-up to 4.1 billion barrels of oil-you need to be looking at a $300 per barrel of oil world to make that feasible. That is just covering the cost of getting the oil out of the ground. That does not include the transport and shipping costs from such a remote and extreme region. That could lead to additional costs. This is just one estimate; there are others. I am sure you will want to dig into that as your inquiry goes on. But I think it is important that we look at how much oil is viable, particularly from deep-water sources in the Arctic, and at what price. Also to look at the counterfactual that this implies in terms of International Energy’s reference scenario on which oil companies justify their business that predicts that by 2030, 80% of world’s future energy will still come from fossil fuels. This is really only consistent with temperature increases looking at a global future of around 6oC rather than a below-2°C future. So the implications of putting us on a below-2oC future path is we will have to very rapidly shift our consumption of fossil fuels on to a low-carbon trajectory and look at other means of abatement, so carbon capture and storage, new technologies, those types of things, in order to be able to manage that transition.

The policies around anticipation and moving in advance of reality, so a broad range of economic models, including both the International Energy Agency and McKinsey, show that oil prices above $110 or $120 per barrel of oil, the economic benefits of decarbonisation outweigh the cost. This is different in terms of different models quite where the breakeven comes, but it is somewhere around that and I think it is worth noting that today’s oil prices, West Texas Intermediate is trading about $100 per barrel of oil and Brent is about $110. So we are already pretty close to the range where the costs of decarbonisation by 2030 may outweigh a higher future imported-oil cost.

So the key dichotomy at the heart of Government policy around this for us is that the resource extraction agenda in the Arctic may only be valuable for deep water and a lot of the new sources at $100 to $300 per barrel of oil, which means that decarbonisation would potentially be a lot cheaper. Also in order to meet a 2°C future we will need to rapidly transition away from our current dependency on oil and other fossil fuels in order to do this. So what is the feasible window whereby you could meet our environmental and climate change objectives and still significantly extract new deep-water resources from the Arctic? For us that may be a vanishingly small space indeed.

If we look at the global picture around this, onshore and conventional oil production is decreasing, so that represents the blue bars in this chart as we move through time, which means that offshore and more unconventional sources are having to be increased to meet growing global demand as we move forward, as we look at future production. Essentially, the madness of our dependency on oil means we are increasingly pushing to new frontiers in the world to try and extract more and more resources when we could potentially be investing in decarbonisation.

That being said, a lot of those comments are looking at offshore and deep-water drilling. There is current extraction of oil from both onshore and shallow-water sources that are viable at much lower rates within the Arctic, so the International Energy Agency assess between $35 to $100 per barrel of oil for oil production in the Arctic for current onshore production. That is likely to continue under a number of scenarios and obviously we see that as part of being part of the global picture, but it is really that there are limits to how much you can do that through onshore. Increasingly, in order to increase production in the Arctic you would need to look at offshore and deeper places.

There are also a number of bodies now looking at whether or not there is a growing consensus that the age of cheap oil might be coming to an end. So if you look at the rate of discoveries over the recent time versus potential growing demand both from China and other fast-emerging economies, is it possible that we ever go back to a very low oil price scenario? It is also worth remembering that at the end of 2009 global proven oil reserves stood at over 1,300 thousand million barrels of oil and so burning all of the existing fossil fuel reserves would put us well beyond 2°C. So the total amount of oil in the world is not the problem at the moment; it is how quickly we can move away from it.

What does that mean in terms of how we could look at improved governance? I think for us this is really looking at a spectrum of options where the UK can use its diplomatic and other assets in order to influence the processes here. This can happen both through local and targeted issues, looking at offshore hydrocarbon regulation and the support we may provide for our activity, companies, sustainable fishing regulation and shipping, through to looking at much more overarching, topdown and global agendas. Could we designate either the Arctic as a special marine protected area to preserve it for all mankind or look at a decision to have a new Arctic treaty similar to the Antarctic Treaty, which would be able to set that up? I think what is important is to examine the full range of different options that we have here and really look at how the UK can use its leverage most wisely. I am going to stop there and hand over to Ruth.

Ruth Davis: Would you like me to go straight on and then have questions or-

Mr Spencer: Some of those acronyms in there I have forgotten what they-

Chair: Yes. Well, maybe we will just have a sort of five-minute break from the presentation to ask questions. Yes, by all means, Mark.

Mr Spencer: No, I do not have a question, just to request those acronyms.

Shane Tomlinson: Yes, we can certainly refresh all the acronyms. I apologise.

Chair: Zac, did you want to come in specifically?

Zac Goldsmith: Only if we are going to have a discussion now, but if it is only to ask-I am happy to move on to the next one and do it afterwards.

Q2 Chair: Perhaps we will just move on to the next one and then we will have time for discussion at the end. Thank you, and thanks very much for that. It is all on the record as a result of that presentation and it was very exhausting to listen to, exhaustive as well, and useful and helpful, so thank you. Ruth, if you would kindly like to continue that would be helpful.

Ruth Davis: I will do. I am going to focus down on the particular characteristics of the Arctic ecosystem, why that makes it particularly vulnerable to the impacts of any potential oil spill and what the technical challenges are around oil extraction in the Arctic at the moment, and then consider what that means for a transparency agenda and the kind of approach that the UK might take in looking at more effective regulation in the Arctic.

The Arctic Ocean is among the least understood places on earth. What we do know about the Arctic is, firstly, that it is a unique ecosystem and, secondly, that it is particularly vulnerable, but we do not know an enormous amount more than that. It is unique because we have two places in the world that have that level of ice cover and those kinds of temperatures, and they are very far separated from each other, which means that actually an ecosystem has developed in the Arctic with species that only occur in the Arctic. It is also really important, because it is an extraordinarily nutrient-rich place-that cold water supports a very nutrientrich ecosystem and that means that it attracts large numbers of migratory species, both birds and marine mammals, that concentrate in great numbers and, therefore, are vulnerable to any impacts on the Arctic. That includes 80% to 90% of the world’s narwhals as well as blue whales, polar bears, seals, golden eagles, beluga whales. I probably do not have to talk to you much more about this because I am assuming that everybody here will be familiar with some of it from Frozen Planet and will, therefore, have quite a vivid sense in their own minds about how extraordinary and unique that place is.

What we do not really know about the Arctic is exactly the way in which the different parts of the ecosystem relate to each other and, therefore, its specific vulnerabilities. It is clear that the way in which Arctic ecosystems have developed reflect the fact that there is a large amount of moving ice and that species in the Arctic use that and use the fringe between the ice and the water as a critical part of their lifestyles. [Interruption.] I will let it finish.

Chair: We are going to go and vote and we will continue then.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

Q3 Chair: I will bring us back to order again. Please continue the presentation.

Ruth Davis: Okay, no problem. Where I had got to? I was saying that there is a limited understanding of the nature of the Arctic ecosystem and particularly the interaction between ice and water. The space between ice and water, the place at which those two things meet, is the place at which large parts of the Arctic wildlife are found and the space that they move between in order to be able to find resting places, nest and eat. That is partly why the impacts of climate change on the Arctic ecosystem are so challenging because they fundamentally change that interaction between ice and water and, therefore, between very large parts of the ecosystem and the species that depend on the Arctic. This is a place that is unique. It is a place that is not completely well understood. It is a place that is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and it is also a place where it is very likely that a significant oil spill would have a very significant impact on that unique system. We have to think of it as being both very vulnerable and already under significant pressure as a result of climate change.

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as anywhere else on the planet with an average temperature rise of approximately 2°C. This is already having a profound impact on the region. Many of you will have seen the reporting last year around whether or not 2011 was going to be the lowest ever sea ice minimum. It was the lowest ever according to one of the critical agencies that reports on that. It was the second lowest according to the other. What is obvious is that the trend for Arctic sea ice is dramatic and frightening and that it is getting less year on year. In the last 30 years, the Arctic sea ice cap has shrunk by approximately 40%.

Changes such as disappearing sea ice and changing water temperature are already having a profound impact on many species. The declining sea ice is jeopardising the ability of mammals such as polar bears to hunt for food, and as a result, polar bear populations are declining. That is because of this critical relationship between where the ice is, how it moves about and where the water is. I do not know how many of you are familiar with the lifecycle of the polar bear, but essentially it feeds by being on the ice and then going into the water. If the ice is too far dispersed and it is not able to use that ice to access seals during the early part of the summer then it will not feed sufficiently well to be able to get through the second part of the summer, when there is not actually enough food available. This is why you are seeing very dramatic declines in polar bear populations at the south side of their range where the impacts are the strongest.

Changes in ocean currents and circulation patterns are resulting in temperature changes in Arctic waters that are compounding the decline in fisheries, which are already overfished. We have heard Shane mention the fact that it is very likely as the temperature rises that fish populations will move north. It is also the case that those fish populations moving north and those that are already located in the Arctic are under a challenge from the fact that what they are encountering there is a rapidly changing situation where they may find themselves in water temperatures that are completely unlike those that they would have experienced in previous migrations.

Melting ice is allowing oiling and mining companies to tap into previously inaccessible new reserves. I think the picture that we have here is of a very vulnerable place that is already changing very rapidly but where that change is also opening the possibility of a significant industrialisation. You have to remember that this is one of the last true wildernesses on earth. It is a place where, for a large part, conditions are as natural as they are likely to be anywhere on earth. We are thinking about a rapidly changing environment where the prospect of industrialisation may mean that we lose one of the very few places on earth where human impacts are still relatively limited.

The rush for oil and gas in the Arctic region has actually been going on for some time, but obviously the fact that we have this very changing environment means that that rush is accelerating. This map shows some of the places where oil is already being extracted, but it also shows the places where people are looking to open up new exploration and production. Where most of that new exploration and production is is in offshore areas, in deeper water than has been tried before. The conditions are, therefore, becoming increasingly more challenging as we move into those deeper waters. You can also see from this that almost every country who has a claim in the Arctic also has an interest in the resource extractive agenda.

We know a fair amount about what current industry plans are. Most of the international oil companies whose names will be familiar to you have either started drilling, started exploratory drilling or have options available for exploratory drilling. Shell are proposing to begin exploratory drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, which are off the Alaskan Coast, between July and October 2012. There is currently a very intense conversation going on around the regulatory regime that should apply to Shell in undertaking that activity. You will know that Cairn last year drilled a total of eight exploratory wells in Baffin Bay, which is west of Greenland-that was actually over a two-year period in 2010 and 2011-but found no commercial discovery of oil. The costs associated with that may mean that they do not go back.

Many of the other projects that are going forward are going forward in a context of a regulatory regime in Russia that is particularly challenging. During December there was an incident where a rig toppled over, an aged rig toppled over. It was apparently operating illegally. Several people’s lives were lost as a result of that incident. Subsequently, the regulatory authorities in Russia removed the information from their website that demonstrated that the rig had actually been operating illegally. It is a very, very challenging regulatory environment, and I think one of the things that we might talk about in the context of the UK’s position is whether or not they could adopt a role that would actually at a multilateral basis include the regulatory regime that operated across the whole of the Arctic.

The reason why this is such a difficult issue for Greenpeace and other groups like us is that we know that the drilling conditions in the Arctic are extraordinarily challenging. Freezing conditions and severe weather pose unprecedented challenges, in fact. The Cairns spill plan documents some of the kinds of weather conditions that you are likely to face when drilling in the Arctic. The season is very short, in the case of the area off Greenland between 1 May and 30 November, with water temperatures between 5°C and -6°C and air temperatures fluctuating between 5°C and -20°C. June to July has the highest concentration of icebergs. Icebergs represent a significant challenge to being able to drill safely in the Arctic. Ships in the Arctic have to operate in such a way that they blast potential icebergs out of the path of rigs in order to be confident that you are not going to have a devastating collision at some point. I do have a picture of that that I will show you. That is an extraordinary picture, I think. It is a ship trying to remove an iceberg from out of the path of a rig. This is a regular procedure in trying to protect rigs in the Arctic from the potential impact of collisions with icebergs.

Strong winds frequently occur upon the shorelines and sea ice is normally present between January and May, with inner fjord areas freezing up in November. The Cairn plan acknowledges that ice formation can vary significantly depending on weather conditions. I think this is another thing that we have to remember is that we think of a kind of drilling window as the time when there is totally open water. You can see that that is not the case. Actually, ice formation can happen in a very unpredictable and irregular way, and during the drilling season, it is almost inevitable that at some point you will have to manage your relationship with floating ice. Gale-force winds are prevalent in many of the areas where the drilling is taking place and severe storms are common in the fall and early winter in the US Arctic Ocean. I think it is also worth noting that severe weather events are getting more frequent in the Arctic probably as a result of the impacts of climate change. We can expect, particularly towards the end of the drilling season, companies to be faced with extreme weather events and potentially 30-foot seas.

The question then we need to ask ourselves is how would an oil spill actually impact in the Arctic, given that we are operating in extremely different conditions. "If there is a serious spill under the ice in the Arctic, it will be extremely hard, if not impossible, to stop it becoming an environmental catastrophe", says Professor Peter Wadhams of University of Cambridge, who I hope you may be talking to at some point. Fragile Arctic ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to oil spills. The kinds of organisms that you find in the Arctic often have very long life spans and slow reproductive rates, so we are talking about large marine mammals that have perhaps life spans in decades and may only produce offspring once every five to 10 years. Oil dissipates more slowly in freezing temperatures and the lack of sunlight inhibits the breakdown of oil. That means that in Arctic conditions you can estimate that it is likely that oil will still be around and in a toxic condition over decades because it gets locked up, frozen and then released over long periods of time. That is certainly what happened as a result of the Exxon Valdez spill where we know that toxic oil is still being found in the Arctic ecosystem even over 20 years after that spill happened.

The Pew Trust says that a spill would wipe out populations of walrus, seal and polar bear and destroy isolated indigenous communities that depend on hunting to survive. This is partly because what happens in the Arctic is that you get very large concentrations of animals in relatively small areas and that is a reflection of the fact that you will get open areas of water within the ice or upwellings of cold water where nutrients are concentrated. The potential to have a devastating population level effect as a result of a spill is very high if that spill happens close to large populations of mammals. The oil industry itself acknowledges the risk of significant environmental impacts. Cairn’s energy plan documents significant longterm impacts on narwhals and breeding colonies of puffins and razorbills, while populations of cormorants and king eiders would be significantly depleted.

I do not think anybody in this conversation is pretending, firstly, that the conditions are not difficult and, secondly, that the impacts of a spill would potentially be devastating. We know what those look like in practice as a result of having followed what happened to the oil that emerged as a result of the Exxon Valdez rig in 1989. That is still being felt 20 years on. Only 9% of the oil was recovered from the Exxon Valdez and populations of sea otter and killer whale were decimated locally and have still not recovered.

Given that, we need to think about what is actually being put in place to try and manage the possibility of a spill. I think the most important question to ask here is how likely is it that there is going to be a spill, because the industry’s proposition around spilling in the Arctic is that it is so unlikely to happen that actually it really does not matter that they do not necessarily have adequate or tested provisions to clean up once a spill has taken place. The US Mineral Management Service estimated a 1:5 chance of a major oil spill occurring over the lifetime of activity in just one block of leases in the Alaskan Arctic. Now, that does not look like a vanishingly unlikely proposition to me. The review of major blowouts worldwide shows that at least one blowout has occurred every year since the mid-1970s and there have been 16 in the last decade, two of which have resulted in major spills. We do not have data on the likelihood of an oil well blowout in the Arctic Ocean, particularly because we have limited experience of exploration in that area. But I think it is reasonable to assume that it is more rather than less likely that a blowout will occur in conditions as challenging as those in the Arctic than across the rest of the world.

This is a particularly important point. The industry remain unprepared for what they consider to be black swan events. Reporting on the implications of the Deep Water Horizon disaster, your fellow Committee, the ECC Committee, said, "We are concerned that the offshore oil and gas industry is responding to disasters rather than anticipating worst case scenarios and planning for high consequence, low probability events." I think that is something we would all like to see the industry challenged on. Are they preparing for the worst case scenario? We think they are not. We think they are assuming that the worst case scenario will not happen.

The industry’s plans lack detail on measures taken to prevent spills; for example, well control practices. Cairn’s plans omit critical information such as the exact blowout preventative designs and how many centralisers will be used. These are the equipment that you use to stop there being a disaster. We know very little about what the industry is intending to do to try and stop those disasters happening because they provide very little detail to the public.

In our view, therefore, we should be planning for a worst case scenario and planning for the possibility that there will actually be a spill. Once a spill has happened, the immediate response is how you prevent that from becoming any worse, which is around the question of drilling relief wells, capping and containment. Many of you will be familiar with that as a result of the response to the Deep Water Horizon disaster.

At present, the proposition on the part of the industry is that they will be able to cap and close down the well during a single drilling season. BP took 80 days to drill a relief well, which finally stopped oil flowing from the Macondo well. If it took 80 days to cap and contain a spill in the Arctic, it is very likely that the consequence of that is that that spill would still be going on once the Arctic ice began to encroach and you would, therefore, face a situation where you had oil spilling out for more than a single drilling season.

We think it is going to be extremely unlikely that you will be able to cap a well within a time period that does not result in significant amounts of oil spilling out into the Arctic Ocean. In those circumstances, the question is then how effective can a clean-up operation be. The Arctic is a unique operating environment. Its remote location, extreme climate and dynamic sea ice make containing and cleaning up an oil spill extremely difficult and in some cases arguably impossible.

Nearly all of the experts that deal with this issue will say that the ordinary techniques that companies put forward as effective in cleaning up spills in marine environments are very likely to be ineffective in the Arctic environment. That includes the use of booms and spill control devices. It includes burning and it includes dispersants, all of which are less likely to be effective in the Arctic environment than they are going to be in the marine environment, for example, that we saw in the Deep Water Horizon disaster. Once oil is out there, moving ice floes can trap spilt oil as they move over the drill site and then float up to 1,000 miles from the source of the spill during the course of a winter. This is important because it is going to be very, very difficult to be able to track where that oil has gone. It is also going to be very difficult to work out actually which country arguably is responsible for cleaning up that oil because it may be that you find a trans-boundary issue where oil is spilt in one country and actually ends up in the jurisdiction of another.

The industry’s worst case spill scenarios are not, in fact, worst case. Cairn outlines a worst case spill scenario of 5,000 barrels a day for 37 days. The Macondo well released around 60,000 barrels a day for 84 days.

During ice conditions the response may be limited to monitoring the spill with recovery operations resuming once the thaw is complete. If ice is present, conventional clean-up techniques are largely ineffective and oil companies are left to monitor the spill until the ice thaws. I have already said mechanical recovery, booms and skimmers are generally not effective in ice and will only clean up between 10% and 20% of oil. If ice cover is more than 25% they simply cannot be used. Freezing temperatures make oil more viscous and dispersants are much less likely to be effective. In situ burning cannot take place if ice cover is more than one-third and the oil has to be of a minimum thickness to ignite. Also very important is that the remoteness and inaccessibility of the region could seriously hinder shoreline clean-up. There simply are no Coastguard stations within a reasonable distance of most of the places where the companies are intending to drill. There is no onshore infrastructure that would enable you to get equipment out there to deal with this problem and there are not enough vessels to be able to sort the problem out once it happens.

We believe that the kinds of spill response plans that are being put forward, given the nature of these technical challenges, are completely inadequate. Cairn’s plan includes the claim that a section of oiled ice could be cut out and allow the ice to thaw in a heated warehouse and then separating the oil from its water. We are curious as to how you would set about doing this. If you imagine a situation where you have oil trapped in extraordinarily large pieces of floating ice in a very hostile environment, how is this going to happen? Are we going to have helicopters with saws chopping pieces of ice up and then taking off to heated warehouses that do not exist in parts of the world that are astonishingly remote? We would be interested in Cairn being asked that question.

If drifting ice is present and the use of booms is not feasible, oil collecting naturally among ice will be monitored. Again, this does not seem like a spill response plan. It seems to us like a position where the company is saying, "Okay, we accept that while something has gone wrong, if the conditions are as difficult as we think they are going to be, all we can do is sit back and watch".

In this situation, you might expect that the industry response would be to be working with regulatory authorities to find a common position that would make it safer to drill in the Arctic. But, in fact, as you know, the oil industry has a long record of arguing vociferously against improved regulation. As we understand it, Shell are reportedly lobbying right now against a recent US authorities decision to stop drilling 38 days before the first ice encroaches on to the drill site. Let us remember that it took 80 days to cap that well in the Deep Water Horizon disaster. The US authorities are suggesting that Shell leave an additional window of 38 days in the drilling window in order to make sure that if there is a spill they can actually deal with that before the ice starts to encroach. Shell is saying that is unacceptable. They are saying that is unacceptable presumably because it starts to push the costs of their operations over the level at which they will actually be commercially viable.

Oil companies strongly lobbied the Canadian Government post Deep Water Horizon to relax rules that stipulate a relief well must be drilled at the same time as the main well. If you did have a relief well you would not be in the position that we were in at Deep Water Horizon where you then had to spend months drilling that additional well. As you probably know, Cairn resisted intense pressure to publish their oil spill response plan and actually ultimately it was the Greenlandic Government that published that plan in response to pressure from Greenpeace. There is a long history of this activity, and BP were revealed to have spent many, many hours with millions of pounds lobbying against regulations that might perhaps have prevented the Deep Water Horizon disaster.

The position of our Government in relation to this situation at the moment is that as far as we can work out they have been investing significant political capital in making sure that Shell, BP and other British companies can access the right to drill in the Arctic. Secretary of State Chris Huhne gave personal support to BP Chief Bob Dudley in the illfated partnership with Rosneft that was signed at the beginning of last year. In response to inquiries from Greenpeace, Energy Minister Charles Hendry has made it very clear that he personally believes that Arctic drilling is entirely legitimate and that there is no reason, for example, to ask British companies in the Arctic to obey the same kinds of safety rules that they would actually obey if they were drilling off the coast of the UK.

The UK is also opposed to European Commission proposals to apply EU standards to EU companies operating outside of the UK under pressure from oil companies. We know from the results of an FOI request that Greenpeace put in, which meant that we were able to access emails from the Foreign Office, that the Foreign Office considers the environmental risks around the Arctic drilling proposition to be very high but sees them mostly in terms of a public relations challenge to the possibility of then British Government support for oil companies looking for leases and licences to drill in the Arctic.

We believe there is a more sustainable approach to the one that we see our Government pursuing at the moment. There is a much more rounded view, as Shane has pointed out, that would look to try and deliver across a whole range of strategic objectives and would look for multilateral opportunities to do that. I would particularly be interested in exploring the UK’s position in relation to legally binding rules on oil and gas exploration and production being produced through the Arctic Council. It is not a perfect solution, but the UK does have an opportunity to influence that. We could also pursue low-carbon transport options, which would ultimately reduce our demand for oil and would put us in a position where we were not necessarily looking to go to the ends of the earth to find the most expensive barrels as a means of securing energy security.

In conclusion, the Arctic is a unique and uniquely vulnerable environment. Drilling conditions are some of the most challenging on earth. There is a significant risk, in our view, of a major spill in the Arctic and techniques for containing a spill and cleaning up after it are inadequate and untested. Companies, meanwhile, continue to lobby against tough regulation. In our view, Arctic drilling is too risky and too unmanageable for it to be an acceptable proposition at the moment, and we would like to challenge the UK Government to come forward with a new plan that is based on reducing demand for oil through sustainable transport and championing Arctic protection through multilateral institutions and through its diplomatic influence on Arctic nations. Thanks very much.

Chair: Thank you very much indeed, both of you. I am sure that is going to prompt quite a lot of questions, so we will go straight to questions.

Q4 Paul Uppal: Very briefly, you touched on it with oil industry plans and just at the end there where you mentioned about it being a challenging regulatory regime, you touched on the important point of the UK taking a fairly robust lead on this. I do not know how you can maybe-because obviously just in guidance in how specific we can make points in terms of the UK Government. From your take on it, what is your feeling in terms of, firstly, will that resonate with all of the partners we are talking about; and, secondly, can you put some more meat on the bones of how that would actually work in terms of working with other bodies or other mechanisms? What can the UK Government actually do to see that through and make that quite effective in terms of having quite a robust regime then?

Ruth Davis: The UK makes a point of arguing that its own regime here for drilling companies is one of the most robust in the world. We might challenge that, but they certainly put forward that point on a regular basis. They will argue that that makes UK companies uniquely placed to be able to drill safely in difficult environments abroad. Well, actually, the BP case shows you that that does not necessarily work out. It seems to us that the UK could go back to its own regime and at a very minimum consider applying the rules that operate inside the UK regime to UK companies. That is a proposition that has been put forward in the EU regulations that were being developed and that the UK Government specifically opposed. So that is the starting point that says actually can we really apply standards less stringent in the Arctic than we apply in our own waters? We would argue no.

If you want to look at more multilateral approaches, then the obvious place to go is to look at the working group in the Arctic Council that is considering the possibility of producing legally binding guidance to companies drilling in the Arctic. Now, in that context, the UK can either take the role of a country that is looking to promote a sustainable resource extraction agenda and also looking to protect this unique environment and, therefore, will, for example, import its view of what the highest standards are from the UK into that conversation in the Arctic Council. Or it can see itself simply as a representative of the interests of its own companies looking for opportunities in an extractive environment. That is the choice it faces at the moment.

Would other countries be receptive? Well, it is a diplomatic challenge, but there are other countries around the table who certainly share some of the UK’s interests in at least ensuring that common high standards are imposed around the Arctic. I would argue that, for example, that proposition is one way in which it might be able to draw Russia into a slightly more robust and credible regulatory regime than it is currently operating with.

Q5 Paul Uppal: I do not want to put words in your mouth, but do you think there has been a bit of a diplomatic vacuum there?

Ruth Davis: The information that we have-Shane can add to this, I think-is obviously limited to what is in the public domain. I recommend members of the Committee to have a look at the FCO material that we were able to see as a result of that FOI request because what that demonstrates is an agenda that is all about securing the interests of companies to extract resources from the Arctic with almost everything else being seen as something that is an impediment to that as opposed to a shared set of strategic objectives. Shane put up that list earlier. There is no evidence that we can see that any of those strategic objectives, other than resource extraction, are being actively pursued by our Government at the moment.

Shane Tomlinson: Yes, just to quickly add on that I think it is clear that one-I think it would be interesting to question whether the Polar Regions Unit in the Foreign Office has sufficient staff and resources to deal with a number of these issues. I think our assessment is that they are quite a small body dealing with massively challenging issues. It is also primarily in terms of our diplomatic engagement we deal with Arctic nations who are individual embassies in specific countries and so that makes it very easy to just look at it on a case by case basis, so what is our agenda in Russia with regard to the Arctic separately from Canada. At what point in Government does that come together and become an across the piece, whole of Government Arctic strategy? I think those would be two areas where I think it would be useful for you to ask further questions.

Chair: Just to give an indication, we have Caroline, Caroline and Peter, Mark and Martin and Alan. I think we have an extra 15 minutes because of the Division, so perhaps if we take the separate questions, then you could come back to us if that is okay.

Q6 Caroline Lucas: Actually, it followed on very neatly from what Paul was asking. I just wonder if you could give a bit more detail about potential allies on the Arctic Council and whether or not on any of these bodies are they simply intergovernmental or do they bring other specialists, scientists, NGOs, anybody else along with them. I am just trying to get a sense of where leverage and allies and partnerships might be possible.

The second question was just, Shane, in your earlier presentation you talked about increasing militarisation, but you talked about it very briefly and I wondered if you could flesh out more about who was doing that and with what end.

Shane Tomlinson: Sorry, are we doing all the questions here?

Chair: I think we might, otherwise I think we will have people leaving.

Q7 Caroline Nokes: I apologise for my ignorance on this, but you commented that the US authorities had a decision to stop drilling 38 days before the first ice encroached on the drill site. I just wondered what the risk posed was of an oil rig that was not drilling and was just sat there mothballed until the next season. Was it completely benign or was there still a potential hazard?

Q8 Peter Aldous: Going back to Shane’s first presentation on fishing, I was just wondering if there was any opportunity to influence through the current round of CFP reform. I know it is very much looking in European waters, but I have heard suggestions that there is the opportunity to look more globally because there are European fishermen obviously going outside European waters.

Then, moving on to the oil challenge, a number of my questions have been asked, but is there anywhere else in the world, whether it is the Antarctic or challenging conditions, say, in the South Atlantic, where there may be lessons we can learn?

Finally, we have someone from DECC coming in as part of this inquiry, haven’t we?

Chair: Well, we will have at some stage. Maybe there might be things where you might perhaps want to get back to us in writing as well.

Q9 Mark Lazarowicz: You seem to be suggesting that some form of mechanism through the Arctic Council might be the best way to try and control some of the risk, but how far is that really going to be effective? Because presumably there will be many countries or activities, companies in many countries, which are not going to be part of the Arctic Council and I am not quite sure how they could actually be made to be bound by the Arctic Council decisions. In which case, are you not pointing towards something at UN level rather than Arctic Council level and, if that is the case, how far has that been progressed?

Secondly, one of the conclusions you could draw from what was being said particularly by Ms Davis there is that there are some activities that are just too inherently dangerous to take place in the Arctic, that in some parts of it some of the drilling is just going to be too high risk in terms of possible consequences and spills and so on.

Finally, again, as well as the obvious climate change effects in terms of reduction in ice cover and all the rest of it, there is the ongoing debate about tipping points because of developments in the Arctic level. The debate on that is very alive, and there are all sorts of different viewpoints on that. Have you any views on how far we could come to any judgment about that, or is it something we would only know when it has happened, as it were?

Q10 Martin Caton: I think it is implicit in what you said, Ruth, that if the standards that we use in our own waters were applied in the Arctic would that effectively, because of the technical problems and the finance that would bring about, mean that it just could not go ahead certainly in the present circumstances.

Chair: Zac, I think you wanted to come in.

Q11 Zac Goldsmith: Actually, I was going to say that, if we apply the standards that you are suggesting, all of the standards that are our existing standards, does that not mean that there would be no drilling at all? It seems like you have set your mind to it.

The other question, the first point you made, Shane, about Denmark and their suggestion, I am just wondering whether or not that is a mile away from acceptability, whether there is any momentum at all behind the suggestion to have a world zone.

Q12 Dr Whitehead: I just wanted to take the tipping point argument a little further. Obviously, the area is heating up much more rapidly than the rest of the world. That will produce almost certainly open sea somewhere within 10 or 15 years. I understand that the result of open sea in addition to the reflection is the fact that this sea then starts breaking up the rest of the ice much more rapidly, so you have a scenario even aside from the question of methane release in the basins and in the tundra whereby you increasingly come to a sea with an annual freeze. Does that continue or is there a point at which it stabilises in a different kind of environment, i.e. when the ice has gone, the ice has gone, if you see what I mean?

Q13 Chair: Just before you answer, can I just add to the questions? In terms of the idea of the tipping point and so on, could you just refer as well to the timeframe in all of this? Some of the informal discussions that seem to be going around suggest that we actually face an emergency in respect of the speed of the melting of the sea water and the climate change aspect of it. How much should we be regarding what is happening there, irrespective of all the other issues about what will lead on from that, as an emergency? I would be very grateful if you could try and respond to the different points that have been raised.

Shane Tomlinson: Excellent.

Ruth Davis: There were a collection of questions about the role of the Arctic Council and the relationship to the UN, which perhaps if we take together in a group that would make sense. I think you were asking initially the question as to whether or not there is any possibility of achieving a better outcome on regulation via the Arctic Council and who was represented on that and how that works. The Arctic Council is under increasing pressure to be something other than just a club for Arctic nations, because many other countries who are not Arctic nations have diplomatic and wider resource extraction or even arguably environmental protection interests in the Arctic.

The UK sits as an observer on the Arctic Council, as do some other European countries. Indigenous peoples are represented on the Arctic Council. There is increasing pressure for others to sit as observers. I think we can see it as a body that, while it does not offer actually the whole solution-and I would argue the whole solution does need to come from a UN perspective-it is a body where increasingly it is possible to begin having a dialogue about what the future of the Arctic should be in the context of the legitimate interest of a much wider set of countries than simply the Arctic nations. That is why I think it is a reasonable venue to start having this conversation, but also recognise that actually the bigger top-down multilateral solution does really need to come from the UN.

Shane Tomlinson: Yes, I think I would support that. I think there is certainly value in engaging with the Arctic Council. It is quite a dynamic process at the moment as more observers come on board. However, the fact that if you think of a world of climate makers and climate takers, littoral states on the Arctic are largely the climate makers and they do not include the voices of a vast range of other countries that through both climate change and ecosystem issues have an interest in the Arctic. Therefore, the UN, I think, is potentially a more legitimate body to deal with some of those issues.

I think, following up on that, specifically on the opportunity to have an Arctic treaty, I do not think we are close to that yet, but I would certainly not want to take it off the table. The UK’s formal position is to oppose an Arctic treaty, I should mention this now, although it did play obviously a massively significant role in the Antarctic Treaty development post the Second World War. I think there is a genuine issue around preserving the Arctic for the common heritage of all mankind.

I think there is actually an opportunity this year at the Rio+20 sustainable development summit to raise some issues such as this. There are a number of unique ecosystems in the world and how we think about through a formal UN process their governance and management I think is something that could be addressed at the Rio+20 conference. However, at the moment business as usual is not that we will get there, but hopefully others will act to help to change that.

Ruth Davis: Yes, I think maybe it is reasonable then to think of this being a twotrack approach because there is an ongoing discussion and process within the Arctic Council that specifically deals with the regulation of the offshore oil and gas industry. We cannot ignore that conversation, while trying to reset the clock on the discussion around an Arctic treaty, which I think is arguably a much longer game. There are parallel strategies, but really if you want an overarching global common solution then that has to come from the UN, I think.

In answer to your question about the hazard of a rig simply remaining in place, I do not want to overstretch my technical knowledge on this. I was actually reading earlier on today about what happens when you essentially close down for the winter. There are two ways of doing that. One is that you take the floating rig away from the area and you get it out quickly enough that it is not blocked in. The other is that you mothball equipment and leave it there essentially to get blocked in in what is arguably a kind of safe environment because it is not moving around in the ice. I must say as a relative layperson it seems to me quite likely that the stresses and strains associated with leaving a rig in that context would mean that you would have to take considerable care when you then started to open it up to redrill in the following year. But at the moment the proposition is, I think, maybe rigs come in and out, as I understand it. Do you want to take the fishing one?

Shane Tomlinson: Yes, sorry-

Q14 Chair: Before we move off from the Arctic Council, was your point answered about the military side of things?

Shane Tomlinson: Oh, sorry, yes. On militarisation, obviously this is something where if you were to ask the Ministry of Defence, I am sure they could tell you an awful lot more than I could on the specifics here. Certainly, there was always throughout the Cold War quite a strong military focus on the Arctic region given the close proximity of North America and Russia under the Arctic. In terms of submarine and other activity, it has always been quite a hot place. What we have seen is that there have in recent years been increased build-up of militarisation in the Arctic, both from Russia but also from America and Canada looking quite closely at this. There are some significant disputes both through, as we talked about in my presentation, the limits of the continental shelf. There are also some disputes around access to both the northern sea route and the north-west passage and quite where the boundaries around there are contained. Again, this is about the politics of anticipation. Countries are starting to not overtly at the moment but gently lay down some military markers to back up their diplomatic claims around this. We also saw various PR stunts with Russia claiming to have put a flag under the North Pole with its submarine. This is an area where I think although there are not immediate security threats in that sense in the Arctic, over time countries that have significant disputes over access to both resources, shipping rights and territorial claims has been a recipe for increased tension and conflict in many other regions of the world and that certainly is not something that we could ignore here.

On fishing issues, I am not an expert on fishing, I should stress this. I think it is interesting that Europe can play quite a significant role in trying to develop a more comprehensive strategy around fisheries management in the Arctic. I think when you look globally Europe’s policy around fishing, although not perfect is certainly one of the better regimes that we have been able to deal with. Europe has a lot of experience of how competing nations can have a debate over access to scarce resources and manage them sustainably. I think actually Europe play quite a strong role together either through the advisory relationship that many European members have on the Arctic Council, in the IMO and in other bodies. That is something where I think there is a significant opportunity moving forward.

Ruth Davis: If I can just add to that, on the fisheries issue, the UK are a voice of reason to a degree in the debate around the common fisheries policy. We certainly are in a more progressive place than many of the other nations that have large industrial fleets. I would argue, therefore, the UK is particularly well placed to have a conversation about sustainable fisheries management in the Arctic. I do not think that is happening at the moment because of the strong focus on a resource extractive agenda.

You asked the question about whether there are lessons to be learnt from other parts of the world. I am tempted to respond to that by saying I think the lessons that we can learn at the moment is that the oil industry is actually not equipped to drill in many of the places where it would currently like to drill: in very deep water areas where actually it has been demonstrated that we do not have the capacity to be able to clean up once a disaster has happened, and in the Arctic where the conditions are just so extreme that it does not seem very likely you would be able to manage a spill in a reasonable and sensible way. I am afraid there is a relatively straightforward answer to that question, which is at the moment the ambition of the industry has outreached its technical capacity to deal with the challenges that it is facing in difficult positions.

I think there is a similar answer to Zac’s question about whether or not actually this would simply make it financially unviable. You saw Shane’s figures about the likely costs of extraction in deep water environment in the Arctic. I suspect those figures do not take into account what the impacts of a fully functioning regulatory regime will be, so if you actually applied the additional regulatory costs to that, the chances are that the answer is yes, it is not a viable thing to do. All that says to me is that if you take fully into account the environmental consequences of this activity, it is not economic or rational.

I think that probably answers Mark’s question as well. We would certainly say, yes, this is one of the last wildernesses on earth. It is already extraordinarily vulnerable. A process of aggressive industrialisation in a context of very poor regulatory control is just a mistake. I think the vast majority of people who watched Frozen Planet, saw what that looked like, understood why that is a unique heritage for mankind, would think that the idea of taking these kinds of risks with that place is simply not a morally appropriate thing to do.

Shane Tomlinson: Moving on to the tipping elements in the Arctic, which I think came from a number of different places, there are a number of leading UK and international science organisations that do monitoring in the Arctic. Our knowledge here is always improving. However, there are significant gaps in our ability to be able to assess a lot of the risks around tipping elements in the Arctic. I think in terms of where further emphasis is important, having a robust monitoring of the different types of tipping element-and there are many more than one-is something that we need to think about going forward and what the risk management strategy around that is. It is certainly something where the UK has some quite significant expertise.

In relation to the specific questions that Dr Whitehead had around the opening up of the sea, I think there are two additional points around that. One is we are already starting to see sea ice formation changing in the Arctic region to actually look a lot more like the Antarctic region. Where traditionally in Antarctica, because you had a great expanse of sea between land masses and the Antarctic region, you get quite big waves that leads to-they call it pancake ice. It is little bits of ice forming and then it goes into great sheets. Traditionally, in the Arctic, because it is largely ridged by land masses, you actually get much quicker ice formation. However, as we are starting to see the sea ice minimum retreat further and further back, there is more ocean space leading to greater height and amount of wave, which then actually reduces the extent of sea ice reformation in winter. There are feedback loops in the Arctic that as the sea ice retreats actually prevent it from being able to move back as we go forward.

The other important element that does link to both shipping and exploration is the impact of short-lived climate forces-particularly from the exhaust fumes from shipping-can have quite a disproportionate impact on the Arctic, so the black carbon that can be emitted there. There again you can have very significant feedback loops that play in. I think tipping elements is definitely something we need to increase our monitoring of.

In terms of the question of timeframe, the real answer is we do not really know. No one thinks there will be a significant element before 2030, but again we do not really know that. Certainly, when you look out to 2080, on that timescale, there could be very significant changes in the Arctic. There is significant thermal potential both trapped under the sea bed and from rapid melting of the ice cap that could impact globally.

Ruth Davis: I think that probably picks up some of your question, Chair, as well that relate to how much of an emergency this is. Well, it demonstrably is an emergency in terms of the changing climatic conditions, and I hope I have illustrated why I think it is an emergency in terms of industrialisation. I also do not think that that should become a counsel of despair. I think it is quite likely that there will be some people at least who will present the case that it is too late for the Arctic. It is not too late for the Arctic in the sense that while we know that the ice is retreating upwards and that circumstances are changing very dramatically, this is still a very large area where the possibility is that if we act now we will be able to sustain some of that ecosystem in future. But it is a question of acting now and not piling additional pressures on what is already an extremely vulnerable environment.

Chair: I think on that optimistic note we will actually bring it to a close. Can I just thank both of you so much? It has been a long session but it has been informative and we really do appreciate it.

[1] The presentation slides are reproduced at Ev 108

Prepared 21st September 2012