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

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House of commons



Environmental Audit Committee

Protecting the Arctic

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Mr Kim Traavik

Ms Nicola Clase and Ms Eva Fagerman

Evidence heard in Public Questions 330 - 386



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 20 June 2012

Members present:

Martin Caton (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 Witness

Witness: Mr Kim Traavik, Norwegian Ambassador to the UK, gave evidence.

Q330 Chair: Good afternoon, Ambassador. Welcome to this Committee’s inquiry into the Arctic. We give apologies on behalf of Joan Walley, the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, who is at the Rio summit at the moment, but you have a fairly full house from the Committee here. Can I begin by asking you, what changes in the Arctic will have the biggest implications for Norway that you foresee?

Mr Traavik: Thank you very much, Mr Chairman. Thank you for having me here. Can I make a few introductory remarks before I get to that issue, or would you prefer me to go straight into the questions?

Chair: A short introduction would be very welcome.

Mr Traavik: It will take me about two-and-a-half minutes, if it is okay.

Chair: Fine.

Mr Traavik: Let me then start by noting that it is perhaps obvious that the Arctic is important to Norway, my country. That is not surprising, I would assume, because it is a region that is part of our history, our identity and, most importantly, our future. By the way, that is also why the Norwegian Government has designated the Arctic-or the High North as we sometimes call it-its number one foreign policy priority.

Clearly, the Committee is quite aware that there are major changes underway in the Arctic, in particular caused by climate change. From our perspective, these changes pose new challenges but at the same time give rise to significant new opportunities. Let me assure you that, as one of the Arctic littoral states and, in all modesty, a major stakeholder, Norway is committed to addressing these challenges and making use of the opportunities in a safe and, above all, environmentally sound way. To that end, we will continue to base ourselves on an integrated ecosystem and knowledge-based management regime. We are committed to engaging our partners in the Arctic Council, and beyond, in efforts to ensure that the Arctic remains a peaceful region of co-operation and sustainable resource management. In short, Chair, Norway wants to make use of the opportunities that are opening up while, at the same time, managing the risks in a responsible manner.

Those risks clearly are real and they are complex, but the legal framework and the political institutions needed to deal with them are in place. Hence, the claim that there is a legal vacuum in the Arctic is, of course, a myth. Being an ocean surrounded by land and under undisputed national jurisdiction, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is clearly the applicable legal framework for the Arctic. In the Arctic Council we have a well-functioning political arena for addressing regional and trans-boundary issues relating to the Arctic.

Finally, and this is an important point from our point of view, there is no "race for Arctic riches" as it is sometimes phrased in the media. On the contrary, the High North is today a region of low tension. Bearing in mind that the vast majority of the resources are located in areas under undisputed coastal state jurisdiction, there is no reason that we can see that should change in the foreseeable future. In conclusion, there is no need for a new legal order or new structures. The present governance arrangements are functioning well, and they are in a continuous process of being further strengthened. Thank you very much.

Chair: Thank you, Ambassador. In fact, your opening statement answered my opening question as well.

Mr Traavik: I thought it might.

Q331 Chair: As Ambassador here, what is your perspective on the UK’s approach to the Arctic, and is there anything that Norway would like to see the UK evolving in policy terms?

Mr Traavik: In recent years, we have established an extremely close dialogue with the United Kingdom at most levels, be it at the political level or the level of officials on Arctic High North issues. You can see that reflected most recently in the joint statement after the Prime Minister’s visit to Oslo, where there was reference made to co-operation on Arctic issues. We are very pleased with the dialogue we have with the United Kingdom on these very important issues.

Q332 Chair: It has been suggested that the British Government should develop an Arctic strategy to bring together various policy objectives of the six British Government Departments that have an interest in the Arctic. Would you welcome that or would you think it is rather presumptuous for a non-Arctic state to develop an Arctic strategy? Clearly you have an Arctic strategy, what are the pros and cons of having that sort of approach?

Mr Traavik: It might perhaps be seen as presumptuous for me as a non-Briton to pass advice on that issue, but let me just say that we see it as a positive thing, a good thing, if our partners-and particularly as close a partner as the United Kingdom-would consider it useful to draw up some sort of a strategy for the Arctic. That can only be helpful. We are like-minded on most, if not all, of the essential issues pertaining to the Arctic.

Chair: Thank you very much. We are going to move on to talk about the Arctic Council now, and Caroline Lucas has the first question.

Q333 Caroline Lucas: Thank you. As you know, the Arctic Council was established with a particular focus on sustainable development and environmental protection. How successful do you think the Council has been in that respect, and how do you see that role evolving particularly with an environmental focus into the future? Perhaps in your answer you could reflect on some of the issues I have been seeing around governance, where increasingly countries that are not represented on the Arctic Council, even as observers, are saying that the decisions made by countries who are members of the Arctic Council can have big implications for them. I am thinking of climate change. For example, you have the Climate Change Ambassador from the Seychelles saying, "We should have a voice on what is happening up at the Arctic". Ultimately it will affect their lives as well.

Mr Traavik: If I may just deal, at least briefly, with the last point you made about outside interest. In general terms we are very open to that, in the sense that we recognise that the wider international communities have legitimate interests and concerns about development in the Arctic. We have always been of the view that countries that express an interest in joining the Arctic Council as observers should, a priori, be given a positive hearing on that.

As you know, there are some criteria that have been established by the members of the Arctic Council: in the first place that candidates who join as observers recognise the sovereign rights of the Arctic States; that there is support given to the existing legal framework in the Arctic; and that the country in question is also prepared and able to support and participate, actively and constructively, in the work of the Arctic Council. If that is the case we are extremely positive to admitting new observers. As you know, there has been an ongoing discussion about that, and I am sure my Swedish colleague will go further into that afterwards. We hope that these issues pertaining to the wishes expressed by several countries, and the European Commission, to join as observers can be resolved next year in 2013.

On your question about the effectiveness of the Arctic Council, I think that it has been a success story. As you are aware, in the initial stages of its existence it focused essentially upon making assessments, analysing trends in the Arctic, and it did that very successfully. For example, the so-called Arctic Climate Impact Assessment study, which came out some six or seven years ago, was a pioneering analysis of how climate change was making itself felt, particularly, severely in the High North, and as such it had a tremendous political impact in a wider international area. Since that time the Arctic Council has moved on. It has drawn up its first legal instrument on search and rescue, and there is ongoing work on a legal instrument on Arctic marine pollution. I think that the Arctic Council has shown its ability to adapt and to further strengthen its activities, and to do that in an inclusive, open and transparent way.

Q334 Caroline Lucas: That all sounds very positive. Could you also give us an insight into what I assume must be some tensions and so forth around the table as well, in terms of difficulties, intentions? If there is anything you can say about that with respect to upcoming discussions on the oil spill plans, that would be very interesting.

Mr Traavik: Work on the oil spill instrument seems to be progressing in a very positive manner. To the best of my knowledge, there would not at present seem to be any insuperable obstacles to a speedy conclusion of that work. I am confident that it will be concluded in time for next year’s meetings.

In passing, I did allude to the discussion that has taken place on the issue of adding new observers to the Arctic Council. Obviously, there have been differences of opinion among Council members as regards the observer issue. Again, I trust my Swedish colleague will go into that from the point of view of the chairmanship. For our part, we have a very open mind and would welcome adding new observers to the Arctic Council, because that will enrich the discussions. And as I said a while ago, non-members of the Arctic Council have legitimate interests to pursue and concerns about developments in the Arctic.

Since many of the challenges that we are facing in the Arctic are linked to environmental issues that have been caused from outside the Arctic region, it is important that we have as broad a representative participation in the Arctic Council’s affairs as possible.

Q335 Caroline Lucas: I have one last question, which is not related to that, but while I have the floor I want to ask you about a Reuters’ report that I saw from November. It may just be that the translation is the problem, but it talks about how Norway has unveiled a 20-year plan to unlock offshore Arctic oil and gas resources. It talks about infrastructure building, research investment and a new fighter jet fleet. The part about the fighter jet fleet concerns me, because it seems to be linked to what is then called "a new industrial era in the High North". Could you say a little more about that fighter jet capability?

Mr Traavik: I cannot remember having read the Reuters’ story that you refer to, but it sounds as if it is mixing up things that do not have much to do with each other, in the sense that we-as are many other allied and indeed non-allied countries-are in a process that will lead up to replacing ageing military airplanes with new modern ones. That is a normal part of the modernisation and updating of our military forces.

Q336 Caroline Lucas: It is not because you foresee some kind of military conflict over resources in the Arctic?

Mr Traavik: No.

Caroline Lucas: Perfect, good.

Mr Traavik: Absolutely not, and if I may add one further comment on that. We do not see a potential for conflict in the Arctic, mainly because-as I said at the outset-the Arctic littoral states are all in agreement that they will resolve any outstanding legal issues on the basis of the existing legal framework, which is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. And, incidentally, there are not that many left since the agreement between Norway and Russia came into effect on the demarcation of maritime jurisdiction in the Barents Sea. Furthermore, as already noted, the vast majority of the resources are located in areas under undisputed coastal state jurisdiction. Against this backdrop we do not think there is a great deal of risk that there will be competition or conflict about those issues in the Arctic.

Q337 Peter Aldous: Ambassador, I was going to talk a little bit more about the role of observers on the Arctic Council. You have already answered my first question, which was about the value that the Council observer status brings, and you very much said it enriches discussions. Taking that a bit further, are there some areas where observers can have a larger role than in other areas?

Mr Traavik: I am sure there could be. It would be hard for me to pinpoint with any degree of accuracy where that could be. I think we would, as a matter of principle, welcome the participation of observers in all the issues before the Council. At the same time, and that is quite obvious, the various candidates for observer status have differing interests. I would imagine, for example, that China, South Korea and Japan would be interested in matters related, for example, to the prospect of shipping in the Arctic as well as resources. That would vary from country to country, it seems to me.

Q338 Peter Aldous: You mentioned China; does the Norwegian Government continue to support China’s bid to become a permanent observer?

Mr Traavik: Absolutely.

Q339 Peter Aldous: Can you elaborate? You are fairly firm on that.

Mr Traavik: We are firm and, as I said before, on the principle that if countries are interested, and willing and able to contribute to the activities of the Council, then we are positive with regard to their entry as observers into the proceedings of the Council. Of course, we have also made the point that, in order to process the request for observer status, it is important to be able to speak together and to have dialogue.

Q340 Peter Aldous: If we just look in a little bit more detail at how the UK uses its observer status, what is your view on that? Do you think Britain is using its observer status as it should?

Mr Traavik: We appreciate the role that Her Majesty’s Government is playing in the Arctic Council, as in other arenas for international co-operation. As I noted a few minutes ago, we have a very close dialogue bilaterally with Britain, which is very important from our point of view and something that we see commitment to in the highest reaches of both Governments, so we are very, very positive about that and see Britain’s role as a constructive one in the Arctic Council.

Q341 Peter Aldous: Is there any specific expertise that the British Government brings to the table as far as their role is concerned?

Mr Traavik: Absolutely. Let me specifically mention Britain’s role in polar science and research, for which we have the very highest regard. In this area we have a long tradition of close co-operation, and the two Governments have committed themselves to further deepen and broaden that co-operation. This is a very significant development. In order to be sustainable all activities in the Arctic have to be science and knowledge-based. That is why we set such great store by the bilateral memorandum of understanding that William Hague and our Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, signed last December, and which sets the stage for further development and strengthening of the already robust bilateral cooperation on polar science and research.

Peter Aldous: Thank you very much.

Chair: That leads nicely on to the next subject, which is ensuring sustainable development.

Q342 Katy Clark: You said there is no race for Arctic riches and Norway’s strategy for the Arctic seems to foresee an opportunity for future economic development but, more than that, has regard both to the environment and to indigenous peoples. How are you seeking to strike a balance between growth and environmental protection?

Mr Traavik: I think we do that by basing ourselves to the extent possible on a holistic approach, a broad approach to whatever human activities are being planned. That is reflected in the notion of an integrated ecosystem management regime, which really means that you draw up a total plan for any given area where you plan some sort of economic activity and you try to make sure that by, for example, pursuing petroleum-related activities you do not damage or hamper the activities of the fishing industry, you do not damage spawning areas for important fish stocks and so forth. In other words, you do not assist opportunities and plans for extraction of fossil energy without looking into its implications in other areas. You try to draw up, as much as possible, a broad, comprehensive and holistic plan for whatever activities you are planning to undertake.

Q343 Katy Clark: On the marine management plans, is this something that you are doing unilaterally, or it is something you are sharing with other Arctic States and are they engaging and showing an interest?

Mr Traavik: To respond more specifically to your question, some of the issues are obviously transboundary or regional in nature, so, yes, we try to engage our partners, particularly Russia, and will continue to do so. Russia is a neighbouring state and one with which we share a number of important responsibilities, not least as regard the management of key commercial fish stocks, and we have had some initial very positive responses from the Russian side that could pave the way for a broader Barents Sea ecosystem approach, which Russia will participate in too.

Q344 Katy Clark: Does your Government see future protection for the Arctic as being decided by each Arctic country, or specific countries working together in the way you have just described, or agreed at a multilateral level through the Arctic Council?

Mr Traavik: There is no question that you need to do both. Each individual state has to do what it has to do to comply with its commitments and its-how should I put this?-responsibilities as a coastal state, on the basis of the International Law of the Sea and the responsibilities it places on the Council states. That is the other side of the coin. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea confers privileges on the coastal states but it also gives them responsibilities that we take very seriously. So, yes, we have to do it on a national basis but we also have to do it on the bilateral and on the regional basis.

Q345 Katy Clark: How essential is the Arctic Council to that?

Mr Traavik: It is extremely essential.

Q346 Katy Clark: In what areas would the Norwegian Government like to see greater environmental protections for the Arctic? You have obviously exposed some areas, but what other areas?

Mr Traavik: One of the key areas is exactly the one that the Arctic Council have been focusing on in the first instance. In these parts of the world, where at present there is less infrastructure than in more southerly climes, we need to make sure that we co-operate to the best of our abilities, in order to ensure a optimal level of preparedness when it comes to search and rescue, and to make sure that we can co-operate in a systematic fashion if accidents were to happen. The same applies to oil spill preparedness and mitigation. Bearing in mind that the resources are limited, we may need to make sure that we are making optimum use of them.

There is also the perspective raised by the possibility of having increased shipping in the Arctic seas. That will take time for many reasons, one being that the ice will still be a problem-that may change with time; there is every likelihood that it will-but also because of the high costs incurred, because of high insurance expenses, and the need to develop and build vessels that have the technical capability of navigating in these inhospitable areas. While this will take time, it is important that we do what we can, in both national and multilateral fora, one case in point being the so called Polar Code, which hopefully will provide as soon as possible for mandatory rules and regulations to govern shipping in ice infested waters, such as the Arctic. That is a very important next challenge for the international community, and we are pushing very hard for these negotiations, which take place at the International Maritime Organisation, to be concluded as soon as possible.

Q347 Katy Clark: Your Government’s strategy emphasises a generational perspective to help shape Norway’s policies in the Arctic, can you explain what that means in practice and outline whether any particular policies have been influenced by this?

Mr Traavik: I think the generational principle is-if I may put it in those terms-mainstream into most of the things we do. The simple consideration is that if we want the Arctic to remain as important to future generations, to our children and grandchildren, as it is for us today, we need to proceed at all times on the basis of the precautionary principle and make sure that whatever we do is not inflicting damage upon the rich but extremely vulnerable natural habitats in the Arctic. I think that is the basis of whatever we do, it is also clearly reflected in the integrated ecosystem approach, and we want to make doubly sure that we are not doing things that will do irreparable harm to the natural environment in the Arctic.

Chair: Our next question is on oil and gas exploration in the Arctic.

Q348 Zac Goldsmith: Thank you, Ambassador. You have mentioned Russia already, and clearly the relationship between your two countries is, as stated, top priority. But the approach to regulation and governance in your country is starkly different, one could say, than the approach adopted historically within Russia, and there have been some recent examples of mishaps by Russian exploration initiatives. Can you give us your Government’s views on the adequacies of Russia’s regulatory regime for oil and gas exploration: areas that you think work and areas that you think could be improved?

Mr Traavik: The point of departure, from our point of view-and I think the Russians would recognise and admit as much themselves-is that the Russians do have a lot of experience, and they have had regulatory frameworks in place on land, onshore oil and petroleum activities for a long time, but they have not had a lot of experience when it comes to offshore activities. In that area, which has been our area of experience and gradually expertise, I think our regulatory framework is certainly something that we could see as a model for regulating activities in other parts of the High North as well.

Q349 Zac Goldsmith: Do you think that is a view shared in Russia? Is Russia willing to accept Norway’s lead in relation to those standards you have just described?

Mr Traavik: Of course, that is for them to reply to, but I would imagine that, at least in the sense that I mention that they have limited experience with offshore activities, they would probably agree with that.

Q350 Zac Goldsmith: The relationship at the moment, in terms of energy co-operation and future plans, is not a tense one?

Mr Traavik: No. We have a very close co-operative relationship with the Russians, and the resolution of the outstanding issue pertaining to maritime delimitation between our two countries has also paved the way for intensified co-operation. As part of that agreement, there was also reference to each country being granted the opportunity to take part in offshore activities on the other country’s continental shelf. Our continental shelf is a very open one. Companies from a large number of countries, including Britain, have been given the opportunity to take part in development and extraction activities on our continental shelf, on the basis-obviously- of the Norwegian regulatory framework. As we see it, the best way to create awareness of the issues and perhaps also to "export" the very exacting regulatory framework that we have developed over time is to cooperate in this way.

Q351 Zac Goldsmith: Thank you. Could you provide a little more detail about what your Government is doing to minimise the risk of an oil spill, or blowout, from oil production in your country’s Arctic waters? What are the steps that your country is taking or planning to take?

Mr Traavik: Obviously I am not an expert on the technicalities of this, but what we basically do is to provide an extremely strict regulatory framework, which requires the operating companies to comply with standards that are among the most exacting in the business. And we keep track of what the companies are doing as well. In short we try to impose and apply the strictest possible environmental standards in the business and also to make sure that they stick. If I may just complete that thought, we have a pretty good record on the Norwegian continental shelf. That is not a reason to be complacent because we all know that accidents can happen, but it is important to be sure that you have as exacting standards as possible in place, in order to reduce the risk of a mishap as much as possible.

Q352 Zac Goldsmith: Before I move on, do you think it is the case that the standards being set by Norway are the highest standards in the region? Is that a goal that you set yourselves as a country? Are there any other countries that you could objectively describe as being more ambitious, in terms of the safety standards being set?

Mr Traavik: In terms of safety standards, for the European part of the Arctic, I think my answer would have to be that the standards set by Norway are indeed the highest, and that is the way we want it.

Q353 Zac Goldsmith: One final question. Would you be able to give us an update on Norway’s negotiations at the Arctic Circle on oil spill response in the Arctic? I think your country began those negotiations. It would be useful to know where they are and what your country aspires to, what you think those negotiations will deliver?

Mr Traavik: You mean in the context of the Arctic Council?

Zac Goldsmith: Yes.

Mr Traavik: They are going ahead with a view to being concluded by next year. The sense I get from those of my colleagues who have been involved in this, is that the odds are pretty good that will happen. The talks are proceeding well, and we have seen a full commitment on the part of the Governments involved, because of the importance that is attached to these issues by all of them. That is all I can say about that at the present stage.

Chair: Our next question is about indigenous peoples.

Q354 Paul Uppal: Thank you, Ambassador. I am going to primarily refer my remarks to the indigenous population that runs across the top arc, from Norway to Russia, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, and that is the Sami people, about 85,000 people, but particularly in Norway. They have led a fairly nomadic, traditional existence, and I was interested in your view of how they maintain a balance between that traditional existence in view of the modern pressures they face, particularly in terms of industrialisation and in terms of extracting resources within the Arctic. How do you think that balance is at the moment?

Mr Traavik: The Sami used to be nomadic people, as you just said. With time I think many of them have turned more semi-nomadic, in the sense that they usually have a permanent place where they live but during parts of the year they follow the reindeer herds, sometimes across quite considerable distances, mainly from the interior of the north of Norway to the coasts where the reindeer find their summer pastures.

The Sami are very much taken into account and given a hearing on issues related to developments in the High North. That happens at the national level, and it happens at the international level. At the national level, a Sami Parliament has been set up, which is the political arena for consideration of issues that may in some way affect the interests of the Sami population, including aspects of policies for the High North. The Sami are furthermore heard on plans being drawn up at an early stage, and they are frequently represented in expert committees or boards that are preparing for political initiatives and plans. Finally, in the international arena, of course, the Sami are so-called permanent participants in the Arctic Council, along with other Arctic indigenous peoples.

Q355 Paul Uppal: I note the political aspect that you have highlighted there, that there is political representation, but I just want to-and it is probably the wrong words-drill down, if you will pardon the pun, a bit further into that. From my own experience, I know there can sometimes be a disconnection between so-called community leaders or politicians and the people they speak on behalf of. Is there anything that is done in terms of surveying the views of indigenous populations and getting their views, specifically at a ground level, on how they feel about the changes that they are facing at the moment?

Mr Traavik: I am sure there is. There is polling for just about everything in our society, as in yours, so I am sure there is.

Q356 Paul Uppal: We have plenty of that here as well.

Mr Traavik: Yes. So I am sure there is. Of course, the Sami are Norwegians and they are Sami. Like other Norwegians, they take part in elections and other political processes. They have their own institutions, representative organs and all that sort of thing. All in all, they have quite a reasonable opportunity to make their views heard. You may be right that there could sometimes be a disconnect between the Sami elite and the proverbial man and woman in the street on issues such as this. I do not think, however, that this is a significant problem.

Chair: What will probably be our last question for this afternoon is on shipping, which you have already raised.

Q357 Dr Whitehead: Thank you, Mr Ambassador. Clearly as the sea ice retreats there will be increased shipping traffic through the north-west and north-east routes, and presumably through your waters. We heard just recently that, I think, a total of 33 ships had completed those passages last year, but clearly that is going to increase somewhat. What opportunities and threats does your Government see arising from that increased shipping traffic?

Mr Traavik: First of all, I think it is important to bear in mind that this is very much a gradual process, and you are absolutely right to note that last year some 35 vessels navigated the North East Passage. That is a significant increase over preceding years. But you have to keep this number in perspective. We are still talking about a miniscule part of the total number of ships going between Europe and Asia. The process of making Arctic shipping a more important part of the sum total of ship transport between Europe and Asia will take time. That is perhaps a bad thing from the point of view of those who are impatient about making use of the reduced sailing time and the reduced consumption of fuel for ships involved in this Arctic navigation, but it is a good thing if you want to have the time you need to prepare as well as possible for this kind of activity and the risks that it could entail.

Clearly one risk is that even though the sea ice is receding, making it possible in purely physical terms to navigate along the Siberian coastline, it is still a very inhospitable place. For half the year it is totally pitch-dark. To say that the weather conditions are inclement is an understatement, and there will be ice all the same. On top of that, there is very limited infrastructure on land. If accidents were to happen, in many cases help will be far away, and it will take time to bring help there. So you need to make sure that whatever vessels are sailing there are having recourse, as far as possible, to icebreaking support. They must themselves be reinforced, as much as possible, for operating in those sorts of conditions. There must be clarity about what sea lanes they are going to use, whether they are going to be allowed to travel on their own, or whether they are going to be required to travel in pairs or in larger groups, in order to make sure that the risk to lives, to property, and to the environment is as low as possible.

That is why we are pursuing these parallel tracks; firstly, to make sure that the Arctic Council member states have the time to complete the legal instruments that we have been talking about this afternoon, including the one pertaining to oil spill preparedness and mitigation. Secondly, that the work on the Polar Code in the IMO is concluded, and then to take any additional measure that we deem necessary to mitigate and to reduce the risk as much as possible. We do have time, but we must use that time efficiently.

Q358 Dr Whitehead: You mentioned the work on the Polar Code at the IMO. Do you have any concerns about how long that is taking and what the possible content outcome might be of that Code? I particularly have in mind the issue that we have heard about in this Committee of the status of flags on vessels, and the extent to which there really is the possibility, as you have mentioned, of having proper control, supervision and oversight of vessels that are really fit for purpose in Arctic waters, and whether the Code will reflect that adequately, in your view?

Mr Traavik: I think it is not terribly indiscreet to suggest that we would now have hoped that they could have moved forward slightly more briskly than they have. We have a reasonable hope that they might be concluded next year, and if so that the Code might enter into effect in 2014/2015. We would have loved to see the process concluded before that, but we do know that complex international negotiations do take time. In this case, of course, there are balances to be struck between considerations of safety and economy, and that can obviously be challenging. We do hope that this will be finished in the course of next year, and we will do as much as we can to foster brisk progress.

Q359 Dr Whitehead: Do you have any thoughts on this question of the extent to which the Code might enable the countries responsible for the vessel-flagging to ensure that their ships are actually able to go where they are supposed to go? Bearing in mind you have mentioned the question of strengthening the vessels, the problem of getting help, the need for accompaniment. All those issues, certainly at first sight, appear to not necessarily have been taken full account of in terms of the responsibilities of flag countries.

Mr Traavik: I would hesitate to go into details there on that issue, but I think what we would want is to have a Polar Code that is mandatory and as strict as possible in all respects that pertain to security of shipping in these difficult climatic conditions. Then we will have to see what we end up with at the end of this process.

Chair: Thank you very much indeed. I am afraid we are going to have to conclude there. Ambassador, thank you very much for the evidence you have submitted to our inquiry.

Mr Traavik: Thank you.

Chair: I am sure it will inform our final report.

<?oasys [pg6,cwe1] ?>Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Ms Nicole Clase, Swedish Ambassador to the UK, and Ms Eva Fagerman, Counsellor, Political Affairs, Embassy of Sweden, gave evidence.

Q360 Chair: Welcome to you both, to this inquiry on protecting the Arctic environment. Could you perhaps introduce yourselves? We have now set the precedent for opening statements, so if you would like to make an opening statement, we would gratefully receive it.

Ms Clase: Mr Chairman, thank you very much. Thank you for inviting us here today. We are very pleased about your great interest in the Arctic region. Although Sweden may not have any direct exposure to the northern seas as other Arctic States, like Norway, as we just heard, the Arctic still matters a great deal to Sweden. The northern part of our country is sparsely populated, but the greater Arctic area of Sweden-Norrland, as we refer to it-is still home to about 1 million people, including the indigenous Sami. The Arctic has long constituted a very important pillar of the Swedish economy, the export of very large amounts of iron ore from a large mine, as you are probably aware. In fact, the largest iron ore mine in the world is in the very northern part of Sweden. About 35% of our domestic energy comes from hydropower plants in the greater Arctic area. We also need to remember that people who live in the north need jobs and economic growth just like everyone else, but we have to make sure that this development is balanced with protection of the sensitive Arctic nature and engagement with local societies. The indigenous population must have the possibility to maintain and develop their identity, culture and knowledge transfer, and traditional living-such as reindeer herding-must be upheld. It is very important to ensure that we take advantage of the many strengths that we have, not least the very strong research traditions and advanced technology in environmental protection, but also experience in icebreaking, as well as ice management that we have a lot of from the Baltic Sea area.

The Arctic is home to over 4 million people, many with indigenous backgrounds, and these societies are sometimes very fragile and located in harsh environments. As you are aware, the Swedish Government adopted its first Arctic strategy last year, where the sustainable development element is a key word in the strategy. It is important that the opportunities in the Arctic can be seized, and that the significant challenges in the region are met with great determination. We have noticed an almost global exploding interest in the Arctic as the result of globalisation, of climate change, and of advances in modern technology. We all know by now that the Arctic warms twice as fast as the global average; the receding ice cap-which researchers of the Arctic Council say will not exist in 30 to 40 years-in the summer is a very stark reminder to all of us of the dramatic effects of climate change. I think it is stating the obvious when I say that it is a major challenge for all of us and one with consequences that we cannot fully predict.

At the same time, and this is important, the receding ice cap, combined with scientific and technological progress, opens opportunities previously blocked, so we see the emergence of new trade routes that in the long run are likely to change global transport logistics. This is something that was discussed earlier on, that we have seen a number of vessels transferred through the North East Passage, the Northern Sea Route, and we believe that this is something that will increase this summer. It is not very impressive compared to how many vessels pass through the Suez Canal, where it is about 18,000 vessels each year compared to 34 in the Northern Sea Route, but this might very well change in the future-gradually, though. If we look at the future, we firmly believe that the Arctic Council can make an important contribution. It is strengthened by ongoing reform and, after a decision at the meeting of Deputy Ministers in Stockholm one month ago, there will also be a secretariat set up in Tromsø in Norway. We believe that will be operational by the beginning of next year.

I will just conclude by saying that the four elements when we have our chairmanship, which we are very focused on assuming, are, first, that we need to aim for more concrete decisions in the Arctic Council; secondly, we have to improve communication; thirdly, we need to focus on the human dimension; and fourth, we need to make the Arctic voice heard. I conclude by saying that opportunities are to be seized, challenges met and the respect for indigenous people must remain central.

Q361 Chair: Thank you very much. I will repeat the first question I asked to the previous witness. From Sweden’s perspective, what is your view of the UK’s role in the Arctic?

Ms Clase: I would say that you have a very important role in many ways. The first one I would highlight is that you have world-class researchers; you have researchers in place in the Arctic region, in Spitsbergen. There are a number of countries that are there under the management of the Norwegians. But I think that you should be very well aware of the expertise that you have. We see a lot of think tanks here in London that are focusing more and more on the Arctic issues and you have several universities that are very strong on this particular subject. So you have a lot to add, and already a lot of countries now turn to you to take note of what you have in the form of research reports, and so on. The other thing is that you have so many other fields where you are strong, when it comes to oil and gas exploration and the knowledge you have in that field, so we then get into the commercial aspects; shipping also. One could really make a big case for you taking a rather big interest in the Arctic, and we also value the bilateral co-operation that we see with you on this particular subject. I know this is always brought up by our Government in contacts with you, not least by our Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, who was here and gave a presentation on the Arctic issues at the IISS this spring.

Q362 Chair: Are there any ways in which Sweden would like to see the UK approach to the Arctic evolve?

Ms Clase: One thing is that we always welcome further research. There are so many aspects, even if there is a lot of research going on there is always more that can be done. For example, one area where not enough research is being done is on the permafrost issue. That is just one example, and there are so many, but being present at the Arctic Council you will see a lot is going on and add a lot of knowledge.

Q363 Chair: As I said earlier, it has been suggested that the UK Government should develop an Arctic strategy. Would you welcome that?

Ms Clase: We think that is an excellent idea. Currently all eight members of the Arctic Council have developed their own Arctic strategies, which actually makes the Arctic voice heard even more, so if you also had one that would be excellent. There are so many issues-environment, climate change, energy, transport, fishing-that could be part of such a strategy.

Chair: Thank you. Our next question is on Sweden’s chairmanship programme.

Q364 Mark Lazarowicz: Good afternoon, Ambassador. Halfway through the Swedish chairmanship of the Arctic Council, what would you say are the major achievements so far? I know it is halfway through a two-year programme, but what do you think have been the major steps forward achieved as a result of your chairmanship?

Ms Clase: I mentioned the four main aspects of our chairmanship when I gave my initial comments about conflict decisions: communications, human dimension, and also giving the Arctic a voice. But I could say that what is currently happening is very interesting, because this is actually the first round where all Arctic states have held the chairmanships. We are the final country in that role; next year it will be Canada that will have their second chairmanship. What is happening now is we are negotiating a strategic statement that we hope will be adopted next spring when we conclude our chairmanship.

What was mentioned by my Norwegian colleague is that we are working on a binding agreement of oil spill preparedness, which we think is a very important part of it. We are stressing that we should have more corporate social responsibility used in the Arctic and have a better dialogue with business, because we think this is essential if we want to really take these matters very seriously. It was decided last year that there should be an Arctic Resilience Report. There is the Stockholm Resilience Centre, which is an environmental institute that the Prince of Wales visited on his official visit to Sweden. It was very interesting. They are going to work on better understanding the integrated impacts of change in the Arctic, and that could be a rather interesting report; high-class researchers, and some of them are from this country.

The other thing then is communication. If we can improve communication about this issue during our chairmanship, so that we reach out to more parts of the world, that will also be a major achievement.

Q365 Mark Lazarowicz: One issue that we have looked at that was raised with your counterpart from Norway was the issue of the work of a Polar Code. Although Sweden is not directly affected during your chairmanship, so that is perhaps not so important. I heard the Norwegian Ambassador say, as I am sure you will have heard-and I paraphrase-progress was perhaps not as fast as it could have been, which in diplomatic language must be quite a major criticism. As a Committee, we are concerned that that is moving forward very slowly, and that is really important to protect the environmental sustainability of the Arctic, isn’t it? What has the Council been doing to try to get movement on a Polar Code under your chairmanship?

Ms Clase: It is in our programme for the chairmanship that we want to give this issue priority, but unfortunately it does not seem to be going as fast as we had hoped. We thought it would be sooner than 2014. But I can assure you that as much work as possible is being done by the chairmanship on this particular issue because it is very important. It is actually critical. So that is where we stand.

Q366 Mark Lazarowicz: To the best of your knowledge, has there been any ministerial involvement in any of the moves to get a Polar Code from the UK, or is it something that has been taken forward mainly by civil servants, diplomats and delegations at this stage? Have the politicians been trying to move this forward or is it not up to that level yet?

Ms Clase: To my knowledge it has been on both levels, but I would need to check that and get back to you to be quite sure that I give you a correct answer.

Q367 Mark Lazarowicz: I move back to the Arctic Council itself. Given the growing interest there is in Arctic issues-and I am sure that would apply to the Arctic Council as well-is the level of participation at Arctic Council meetings from the members and observers also increasing? For example, is there now more ministerial involvement? Obviously a lot of it is going to be from the Civil Service and diplomats, but is there now more direct ministerial involvement, political involvement, in the working of the Council?

Ms Clase: Judging from the Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, he has taken an enormous interest in this. I think you can see that in several other countries as well, not least in Norway with the Norwegian Foreign Minister also being very active. That is the communication part where the more we can make the Arctic voice heard, and the more we can spread information about what is going on in the Council, the more interest we create. I think that is critical and that is something that is very much going on. Carl Bildt currently has 146,000 followers on Twitter, so that gives you an idea.

Q368 Mark Lazarowicz: Has the UK had any ministerial involvement yet in the Arctic Council to any significant degree?

Ms Clase: That I am not sure about.

Q369 Mark Lazarowicz: Next year the Arctic Council is deciding on a number of applications from observer states and from a number of countries. Are these now being actively discussed or is it simply a question of waiting until an appropriate point in the timetable next year? What preparatory work has been taken as far as the chairmanship is concerned?

Ms Clase: It is a process that we hope will be concluded during the spring of next year. As you are probably aware, there are seven criteria to become an observer. One of them is very much being able to have a dialogue with all countries that are members of the Arctic Council. But we hope, and have a positive view, that this will be concluded by spring of next year. In the chairmanship role we have to be a bit careful not to-how do you say-say too much at this stage, because it is a process that is ongoing. As I said, we are optimistic that it will conclude in the spring and will have a positive outcome.

Q370 Mark Lazarowicz: You said applicants need the ability to have a positive dialogue with all members of the Arctic Council; what does that mean?

Ms Clase: That means that a country that wants to become an observer should be able to have a dialogue and speak with all eight countries on the Arctic Council.

Q371 Mark Lazarowicz: Is there any suggestion that any of the applicants at the moment would not be able to have that dialogue?

Ms Clase: I would say that there is currently a situation where it has to be ensured that that is the case. It has been the case that it has not always worked. That is something that has to be sorted out. But we are very hopeful that that will be the case and that will be sorted out by spring. I think that was also something that my Norwegian colleague alluded to.

Q372 Mark Lazarowicz: One issue that you identify in your Government’s chairmanship programme is working towards substantially reducing short-lived climate change forces, and it has been suggested that one of those climate change forces is black carbon. In particular, China has been a major source of that or so it would appear. That is an issue where there could be some productive negotiations, as part of the application process from China, to try to move forward on that. Is that something that is being considered in terms of China but more generally in terms of any of the other applicants? Are there opportunities to encourage them to take certain action in return for observer status at the Arctic Council? Not just China, other ones as well.

Ms Clase: One could say that if we had China as an observer in the Arctic Council, it will be easier to have a dialogue on this particular issue. It is a well-known fact that China does a lot, but a lot more needs to be done. If you look at Chinese investment in renewable energy, for example, they are the biggest investors now in renewables. So there is a lot happening, but I think it would be quite useful to have them present to be able to discuss with them and actually talk about the direct consequences that we see in the Arctic region because of this pollution.

Q373 Mark Lazarowicz: My final question is back to the issue of the UK’s role in the Arctic Council. The question was asked: what the UK might usefully contribute in future years? Do you have any views on how well the UK has used its observer status so far? Has it been an active contributor to the Council, in terms of its discussions as an observer?

Ms Clase: We have the impression that it has been a very positive presence and, as I mentioned earlier on, you have so much expertise in so many of the fields that are applicable here. I would say it has been a very important contribution that you have been making and will continue to make.

Q374 Mark Lazarowicz: Just one final question; the existing member states are either fairly wealthy or large or both, in world terms. There is some suggestion that some developing countries might be interested in joining because of their interest in the future of the Arctic for the entire world. Presumably, countries that join the Artic Council have to pay some money or some membership fees to join. Is that something that would deter some smaller, poorer countries joining, or is it something that would not, in your view, be a deterrent?

Ms Clase: No. The issue about being an observer, though, is that you have to take an active interest and you have to be prepared to set aside personnel resources to be present at meetings and be part of the work. But I could not see that. It is open to observers. There will be an overview about observers in 2017, so it will be interesting to see how that then lands. But that is into the future.

Q375 Peter Aldous: Ambassador, in your introduction you did refer to a global explosion of interest in the Arctic, and this itself presents opportunities as well as challenges. Probably, some of the biggest of those challenges are on the environmental side. In what areas would the Swedish Government like to see environmental protections for the Arctic enhanced and increased?

Ms Clase: What we see as very important is to continue the work that has been done on environment assessment that we see. Looking at shipping, for example, now that we see an increased potential for shipping in the Arctic region we then think about the consequences. That is why this oil spill preparedness is so important. But we also have the binding agreement that was taken previously about search and rescue so that we are ahead, because a number of years from now we are not going to have 36 ships; it is going to be hundreds. Then before we know it we will see thousands of them. That will take some time but still we do this work and prepare ourselves for what might be coming.

It is very interesting that when the Chinese look at the Northern Sea Route, and they see how much time they will save if they can use this Northern Sea Route, we are talking about probably a week, perhaps even more. So there are some huge savings. You should also remember that there are no pirates in these areas. This sea route is only open five months a year and it is also very much uncharted territory. What we do not want is to have vessels in this territory that are not equipped to do it, because many of the vessels that will try to use this Northern Sea Route might not have access to icebreakers or other important help. So that is something that we need to think about, and that is something that is being discussed in the Arctic Council.

Q376 Peter Aldous: Do you see future environmental protections, like this perhaps, being decided by each Arctic country separately and individually, or would you see it being agreed and then implemented at a multilateral level through the Arctic Council?

Ms Clase: I think that it is something where individual countries have a lot of responsibility, but it is obvious that it also helps to do work on a multilateral level. That is being done. But one should never forget about the individual responsibility of countries in the region as well.

Q377 Peter Aldous: Sweden’s chairmanship programme tells us that Sweden would like to see future reports of the Arctic Council focusing on, I think, what you have termed "particularly sensitive areas of the Arctic". Is there consensus between the Arctic countries about where these particularly sensitive areas are?

Ms Clase: The Arctic Council can identify and define areas that they would then decide are highly sensitive, by doing it through various working groups. Once those working groups have concurred, then it can be passed on to the individual countries to pass recommendations to the IMO for what they refer to as a PSSA classification-Particularly Sensitive Sea Area.

Q378 Peter Aldous: Are you making progress on this particular work at the moment or is it pretty tough going?

Ms Clase: No, work has been definitely in progress on this.

Q379 Peter Aldous: Finally, I am aware that there are some competing claims to the territory around the North Pole itself, and I think some have proposed this area should be designated as a special protection area. Does the Swedish Government support this idea?

Ms Clase: Well, we have the UN clause, the Law of the Sea that is very important in this respect. I think, as was said by my Norwegian colleague, we have a very good situation in the region where the littoral countries have actually stated that they remain committed to this legal framework, and I think that is a very important statement that they have made. Then there are possibilities, of course, for countries to put forward their claims. That is something they then do to the UN Commission on the limits of the continental shelf. But one should remember that the UN only comes up with recommendations. The UN cannot decide about this. That is why what I said first is so important because that means that you could have countries agreeing they have to sign bilateral agreements among themselves; and we just heard about the Russian-Norwegian group.

But taking it from that, then, because that is the ground that you have to stand on, you have to have figured out exactly where you stand, and from there you can say, if a country then wants to have a special area, that would then be up to that particular state, if it is an area that is then decided to belong to them.

Q380 Peter Aldous: Do you think this is an issue that one could pursue through the Arctic Council?

Ms Clase: That is something that one could put forward to be discussed.

Chair: Thank you. We would like to move on now to Arctic Oil and Gas Exploration.

Q381 Mark Lazarowicz: In your strategy you state that it is certainly in your country’s interests, "That new emerging activities are governed by common and robust regulatory frameworks, and above all they focus on the environmental sustainability". Have you obtained support or agreement or a favourable attitude towards common regulatory frameworks from other Governments in the Arctic Council in the Arctic area? For example, is there an appetite for a common regulatory framework on oil extraction among the Arctic Council states? Because at the moment I understand there are different regimes obviously in each state.

Ms Clase: Exactly. What we see as important is that each individual country takes responsibility for the exploration that they get into or they are conducting. We have just heard about Norway being a very good example in this respect, but I think the important thing is that these issues are being discussed at the Arctic Council, and that is happening. One should not forget that if we look at the future exploration of oil and gas it is a very costly operation. Although there are some 400 oil and gas fields that have been developed since 1920, it is extremely costly, quite difficult and it is done under very harsh conditions. We should also remember during the winter time it is basically 24 hours of darkness. One tends to believe that is not the case but it is, and extremely cold.

Q382 Mark Lazarowicz: Are there any areas besides oil where you see there would be some advantages for a common regulatory framework? That is what you say in your statement, so what kind of activity do you have in mind for having that kind of common framework?

Ms Clase: A key issue to remember is that we need a dialogue with business on the subject. I think the more dialogue we can have the better. That is why I mentioned the CSR issue before because there is a great interest from the companies that might develop even further into this region. They have an interest that this is done in a correct way and that we very much take care of the indigenous population and the environmental impact that it might have, but we also realise that these things might very well happen; if the ice melts, there will be developments and there will be more interest in oil and gas exploration.

Q383 Mark Lazarowicz: Is that business interest coming from across the Arctic Council members or does it vary from country to country? There is some suggestion that the USA is not as engaged, for example, as Canada is on this. Do we find this among their business interests? What about businesses in Russia, are they actively involved in these discussions with yourselves or is it more concentrated on other countries?

Ms Clase: That is where we get into the issue of getting the Arctic voice heard more. I would say that the Arctic Council is known more in some countries than in others, but I think it is necessary, not least in the case of Russia, that they become more interested in the work of the Arctic Council but that is happening slowly, and I think the Russian Government is definitely helping in that respect. But there needs to be more work with business. That is a priority issue.

Chair: Thank you. What will probably have to be our last question this afternoon is on a subject that you have given strong emphasis to in your evidence already; that is, indigenous peoples.

Q384 Caroline Nokes: In your introduction you certainly emphasised the human dimension, making sure that the Arctic voice was heard and respect for indigenous peoples. Can I just ask how your Government goes about gathering the perspective of indigenous peoples on how the Arctic is changing, and what their concerns and aspirations for the future are?

Ms Clase: First of all, it is very important that they are present in the Arctic Council, and that we can listen to their voices in many different ways and their viewpoints about the region. We have seen a development in Sweden. There are some 20,000 to 35,000 Sami people that live in the northern part of Sweden, 10% of them are involved in reindeer herding. They have a strong voice. They have a Parliament that opened up in 1993, and I think that helped a lot. Another thing that the Swedish Government has done is to help the Sami people preserve their language, which has been a very important thing. For example, when you travel in the northern part of Sweden you will have signs in both the Swedish language and the Sami language. That has been one measure.

We have also ratified the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. That is also something that has helped in this respect. We also targeted special measures to help Sami women become more involved in political processes. So there are lots of things going on to help out and ensure that the Sami voice is also there.

Q385 Caroline Nokes: Do you see any difference between the way the Swedish Government has engaged with the Sami population and the methods that the Norwegians have used?

Ms Clase: I would say that we have a lot in common-Norway and Sweden-and we work hand-in-hand on these issues, because I think the experience that we can share is very important. We just heard earlier on that Norwegians also have a Sami Parliament, so I would say that we work very closely together. I would say in general the Nordic countries do that, not only on this issue but on very many issues, and actually also increasingly so together with the UK.

Q386 Caroline Nokes: Using your chairmanship of the Arctic Council’s Sustainable Development Working Group, do you perceive that there are any specific powers that that group has to make sure that the concerns of indigenous peoples are addressed?

Ms Clase: The important thing is, as they are participating, that we listen to what they are saying, and that is being done, to acknowledge the expertise that they have, being out there, seeing it first hand and that they are being listened to. Many things that they see are not perhaps obvious to the rest of us, but that is working quite well.

Chair: Thank you very much. I am afraid we are going to have to conclude there. Thank you on behalf of the Committee for the evidence you have provided to this inquiry, and I am sure it too will inform our final report. Thank you very much.

Prepared 21st September 2012