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

Back to Report




Environmental Audit Committee

Protecting the Arctic

Thursday 5 July 2012

MR Henry Bellingham MP, Jane Rumble and Chris Barton

Evidence heard in Public Questions 404 - 463



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 Thursday 5 July 2012

Members present:

Joan Walley (Chair)

Zac Goldsmith

Mark Lazarowicz

Caroline Lucas

Paul Uppal

Dr Alan Whitehead

Simon Wright


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Mr Henry Bellingham MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Jane Rumble, Head of the Polar Regions Unit, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and Chris Barton, Head of International Energy Security, Department of Energy and Climate Change, gave evidence.

Q404 Chair: Minister, we are very grateful indeed to you for coming along this afternoon. I should add that this is not our usual time for an Environmental Audit Committee session, so we are slightly depleted in numbers. Nonetheless, it is very important that we get your perspective. What we want to try to address in this evidence session this afternoon is the whole cross-cutting aspect of it all, and how the Foreign Office and other Government Departments link into all of this. Some of the evidence that we have heard-particularly from Greenpeace-has been that the priority seems to be on resource extraction. It would be very helpful for the Committee if you could set out for us just what you see as the priorities, the aims and ambitions you have for the Arctic, and how much it is about resource extraction and how much it is about other things as well.

Mr Bellingham: Chair, thank you very much indeed. Would it be helpful if I gave a short opening statement?

Q405 Chair: A short one would be helpful.

Mr Bellingham: Indeed. First of all, thank you for inviting me, as Minister for the Polar Regions, to come to your Committee to give evidence. I would like to introduce, on my left, Jane Rumble, who is head of the FCO Polar Regions Unit, and, on my right, Chris Barton, who is head of Energy Security at DECC.

I will say a few words about our priorities and perspective. First of all, climate change: we believe that climate change poses the biggest single threat to the Arctic environment. Its effects are already being felt in the region and are likely to continue more profoundly than perhaps anywhere else on earth. There is no question about that. I recently visited the Met Office Hadley Centre down in Exeter. Having spoken to them, I believe that they are one of the world leaders in climate science and are very well placed to contribute to this debate.

As far as our interests are concerned, we are obviously not an Arctic Council Member but we are the Arctic’s closest neighbour and we have, I would suggest, a significant stake in the sustainable future of the Arctic, not least around the speed of climate change, and the associated impacts, but looking also at things like energy supply, shipping and fishing. That is why we will continue to put forward a joined-up, proportionate and evidence-based policy response to these challenges.

On governance, as the Committee has already heard, the overwhelmingly majority of the Arctic region falls within the territory of the Arctic States, and we recognise and respect their sovereign jurisdiction but, on the other hand, there is a role for us to play as an Observer State with observer status. We also work within other organisations as well, like the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and other bodies. Our aim has always been to work closely, and in a thoroughly co-operative fashion, with the Arctic States on all the key issues. We have engaged and supported the Arctic Council and its precursor, the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy. We have put a great deal of effort, time and resource into every senior Arctic Council meeting and across the different Government Departments, across academia, we have experts who can contribute and they certainly have done exactly that. That obviously is very relevant to the scientific agenda because I want to reinforce the points made by others in the earlier evidence, that science is a really important lever for influencing the development of Arctic policies. Promoting UK science, in a forum like the Arctic Council, has been essential to our strategy for appropriately influencing Arctic decisions. As I mentioned, we have a very large, active, well-respected Arctic science community and we will continue to contribute to the different Arctic Council working groups. I am very happy to come on to that in more detail in questions in a moment.

As far as NERC is concerned-the Natural Environmental Research Council-they have made a £15 million, five-year Arctic research programme commitment. It is the largest thematic programme ever undertaken by NERC, and the establishment of the NERC Arctic Office, to support polar researchers, is testimony to the importance the UK places on Arctic science. We are not an Arctic State, but our environmental, scientific and economic interests are closely bound up in the region, and we believe that it is through collaborative action with the sovereign States that the UK can maximise our interests. We want to see an Arctic whose resources are sustainably managed, with rigorous environmental protections, and that is governed peacefully and in accordance with the international frameworks.

Q406 Chair: Indeed. That sets out the many cross-cutting issues that we need to address. Hopefully we will be doing that in this evidence session, and we will come back in detail to the issues of the Arctic Council and governance. But to return to my initial point, the evidence we had from Greenpeace was that resource extraction seems to be more important than other issues. Indeed, I think that was borne out by Freedom of Information requests. How does the whole environmental protection agenda fit within the active priorities that you and colleagues are working on?

Mr Bellingham: Certainly, it is not the UK Government’s position that any one of these key areas is more important than others; they are all important. In terms of our ambitions, I would outline five key priority areas. I have mentioned scientific research. As an Observer State, I think where we can really add value is through our world-class reputation and excellence in scientific research. That links in very closely to the climate change agenda, because-as you have heard and as you well know-the impact of climate change on the Arctic is more significant and is more marked than in any part of the globe, so understanding about climate change and being able to make a contribution to the debate is incredibly important. To some extent, the Arctic is almost the first part of the world that is likely to be seriously affected. It is the barometer that matters most.

I would also add to that the management of the environment and making sure that it is sustainably managed. Obviously resource management would come into that but, as a non-sovereign State, we do not issue those licences; it is the sovereign States that do. I would also mention that shipping is important because, with the climate change that is taking place and with the significant increase in the amount of ships that are making the passage through the two routes across the Arctic, that is going to be more important, and then the role we can play in governance on the Arctic Council.

Q407 Chair: Sure. We will come onto those in detail, and indeed shipping is something that was raised with us at our previous session by colleagues of yours from the Department for Transport. We want to try to get an understanding of what, in the everyday work that you and your officials are doing, has specifically been done on this issue of environmental protection. As I said, the indications we have had is that it is the resource extraction that is often seen as the be-all and end-all. In the everyday workings and in your dealings with the Arctic Council, what is being done to protect and make sure that there is that protection?

Mr Bellingham: In terms of priorities, this is one of our absolute key priorities. There is no question about that. We have to work out how we can add value as an Observer State, and I would certainly suggest to you that-given the Arctic is one of the world’s most pristine and biologically rich environments, and given our geographical location-we have a serious common interest in marine and avian biodiversity. In terms of the role we play at the international level, there are various multilateral and environmental agreements, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention on Migratory Species and we have been very active in our role and the part we played in that particular convention. We have looked at other key issues as well. For example, you and some of your Committee members will know the passion that this Government has for marine protection areas, and what we have done in those parts of the world where we have direct influence, such as the Overseas Territories. We have been working with organisations such as OSPRAG, and with the various Regional Seas Conventions, and we were also very much engaged on this in the debates at the recent Rio Summit, so I believe that is an area in which the UK has a role to play.

Q408 Chair: Can I just cut you short for a moment, if I may, Minister? We just want to understand how you are actually taking these issues of environmental protection forward. Perhaps it might be helpful if you or your officials could give us an example of the last meeting that they attended and what specifically was on that agenda that related to environmental protection issues, so that we have some idea of how they have been taken up in practice. I think that would be helpful.

Mr Bellingham: Yes. What I can say clearly, from a ministerial level across the Departments, is that we take environmental protection and the environmental agenda incredibly seriously. We attend every single Arctic Council we can, and there are many working groups that we are deeply involved with. You asked a specific question about when this was raised as an issue most recently, and what we did and what role we played. Perhaps I could ask Jane to give you an example of what her involvement has been, and then perhaps Chris could add his comments as well.

Jane Rumble: Our main role in the Polar Regions Unit is to represent the UK in the Arctic Council. The Arctic Council itself is very much based on environmental and science assessments; that is the kind of glue that it does its work on. It does not actually look at issues around hydrocarbon extractions, although it takes an interest in the environmental consequences of them-the management of hydrocarbons. Chris can talk a bit more about the State jurisdictions of each of the Arctic States.

The last meeting we attended was the most recent Deputy Ministerial of the Arctic Council, which took place in May in Stockholm. Most of that meeting was agreeing the new Secretariat for the Arctic Council, which is going to be based up in Tromsø in Norway, but they also took updates from the working groups. The working groups predominantly have an environmental focus, so they are on flora and fauna protection, on climate change, and they are doing some work at the moment on oil spill response, in emergency preparedness, so they were taking updates of those.

Q409 Chair: Greenpeace expressed the concern that the main issue is all about resource extraction. Can you give us some idea of how that played through at meetings that you attend?

Jane Rumble: I would dispute that, in terms of the Arctic Council, in that they are not looking explicitly at resource extraction. That is what is getting the Arctic up in the media spotlight at the moment, but a lot of what the Arctic Council is doing is around sustainable development. There is an awareness of the increasing interest in hydrocarbon extraction, but a lot of what the Arctic Council is looking at is: what would the impact be on indigenous populations? How can we protect the Arctic environment? What would the impact be of any emergency arising from that? It is not in itself in any way promoting greater hydrocarbon activity in the Arctic, but Chris might want to add to that.

Chris Barton: Thank you. Yes, if I may, I have a couple of comments from the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s perspective. The first is to say that, in terms of the Arctic, the most significant role that DECC can play is through its actions on international climate change. That is far and away the most significant thing that we can do to protect the Arctic environment. All the work that we do within the UNFCCC on a legally binding treaty to reduce emissions and, in parallel, the work that we do to encourage low-carbon deployment in individual countries more generally-both directly and through important measures, such as reducing fossil fuel subsidies-is the prime way in which we can have an impact on the Arctic.

At the same time we also recognise that, even if we hit our two degrees target-which we certainly hope that we will do-or the trajectory for that, we will still need more and new oil and gas production, and the likelihood is that some of that will come from the Arctic. We do not expressly promote it coming from any particular area in that way. We think the key thing is to ensure that any extraction is done in an environmentally sustainable way, rather than delineating particular areas of the world that should or should not have that. That is something we see as primarily for the jurisdictions involved to ensure that the proper regulations are in place.

Q410 Caroline Lucas: I am sorry, but I would love to know how the extraction of a finite resource, which we know is leading to climate change, can ever be environmentally sustainable. You might be able to reduce the damage associated with it, but one thing that we need to get clear is some of our language and I would love to know how you think the extraction of fossil fuels is environmentally sustainable?

Chris Barton: In terms of oil, ultimately we are going to need to reduce-if not very largely eliminate-our use of oil but it is not going to happen overnight.

Q411 Caroline Lucas: But it is not sustainable, though?

Chris Barton: In the long term, no. When I say "environmentally sustainable", what I mean is that, for the period of time when we need to continue to have oil and gas extraction, which we will do for many decades, we must ensure that we do that in an environmentally responsible way.

Q412 Caroline Lucas: Can I ask-and it is specific on that-what analysis has the UK Government done on the impacts of extensive hydrocarbon extraction from the Arctic region on the global climate and, in particular, on our chances of keeping below two degrees, if you are talking about fossil fuel extraction from the Arctic going on for the next few decades, which frankly strikes fear into my heart?

Chris Barton: I am talking about extraction overall, in terms of globally. I am not aware of particular studies that we have done specifically with relation to the Arctic, but a prime source of analysis, in terms of the overall likely share of oil and gas in the energy mix, on which we put a lot of weight is what comes from the International Energy Agency, and that has a number of scenarios under different degrees in environmental ambition.

Caroline Lucas: You have not done anything specifically on the Arctic?

Chris Barton: Not that I am aware of.

Chair: All right. We want to move on to regulatory regimes if we can, so I will turn to Zac Goldsmith.

Q413 Zac Goldsmith: Thank you, Chair; thank you, Minister. The memorandum that you submitted says, "Wherever possible the Government is playing an active role in advocating for a well-governed process of mineral exploitation". Can you tell us what the Government has done on this debate and what has been achieved?

Mr Bellingham: Yes, indeed. Thank you very much indeed, Mr Goldsmith. What I would say is that, in terms of the governance of the Arctic Council, we have been proactive. We have tried to lead by example, and what you cannot do as a non-sovereign State is basically throw your weight around, you have to win people’s confidence, you have to win their trust. I think by showing where we have areas of excellence, particularly around the scientific community, we have been able to add a great deal to the working of the Council and the different working groups.

We certainly have had the opportunity, on a number of occasions, to explain the examples that we have set elsewhere, and also to bring to the deliberations the work of different academic organisations. Just to give you three examples, Mr Goldsmith. For example, on pollutants, the University of Leeds offered parts of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme’s report on Persistent Organic Pollutants. For example, on marine issues, the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, which is one of the best in the world, participated in the Ocean Acidification Expert Group’s assessment. There are a number of other universities as well that have been deeply involved. The third example I would give would be on climate change. Bangor and Sheffield Universities were recently involved in scoping of the Council’s next major Arctic climate assessment.

You ask about governance, which is really about how the Arctic Council is managed and how it is run. As an Observer State we are not in the driving seat, but what we can do is to supply people of great experience, and with impeccable CVs, onto these groups. They are welcomed with open arms. At the same time, because of the effort we are putting into this agenda across Government, we are able to make sure that we have people in attendance at every single meeting of the Council and indeed many of the working groups.

Chair: Minister, we will come on to governance in a little while, if that is helpful to you.

Q414 Zac Goldsmith: Just following on from that point with the specific example of Russia. Russia has almost no experience of onshore drilling so far, and there were reports recently of the sinking of an allegedly illegally operated oil platform. There are widespread concerns-and we have heard them from a number of people who have given us evidence-that the Russian regulatory regime is "challenging" at best. Can you give us the Government’s assessment of the Russian regulatory regime, please?

Mr Bellingham: Yes, indeed. The Russians have an Arctic strategy. Just looking at the strategies provided by the sovereign Arctic countries-and I had an in-depth look at those strategies-I would say the ones that have been put forward by Sweden, by Norway and by Canada are full and extremely elaborate. I would say that, as far as it goes, the Russian one certainly requires further work. There is no doubt about that. It is not as comprehensive as the other ones. I would just say to you, Mr Goldsmith, my attitude towards Russian involvement is that there are areas where they have been extremely responsible. As you probably know, we helped the Russians with the decommissioning of the nuclear submarines and the MoD put a substantial amount of money into the nuclear submarine decommissioning programme. We have engaged with them on their formal Arctic strategy, but I think that you understand that if we start trying to lecture the Russian Government, and tell them what to do, that is not the way to go. We need to lead by example. I would say that if you look back to the early stages of the strategy, it has come on quite a long way and they are putting a great deal of effort and resource into it.

Before Jane comments on this, I would also add that certainly we find on climate change that they are more ambitious now than they were in the past: they are talking to us about climate change; they are talking in the Arctic Council about climate change issues; and again, on UNCLOS, we are working with them on various areas of concern there. I would say that, in terms of dealing with the Russians, it is a constructive, positive relationship and we need to remain fully engaged. Jane, do you want to comment on how your relationship with the Russians has been in the different Council meetings?

Jane Rumble: Yes, sure. In respect of the Arctic Council, there are obviously quite a lot of legacy issues from previous years before it was formed. But having the eight Arctic States now recognise that whatever happens in one of those States is likely to have some implications for the others. It is generally looking at driving up the standards across all of those eight jurisdictions. But, as the Minister said, it is done in quite a softly, softly approach. The Arctic Council itself has only recently been setting legally binding agreements. They just did one on search and rescue. They now want to do one on oil-spill response and emergency preparedness and so on. So it is mainly a role of advocacy and a demonstration of the good practice of our companies. Chris might want to comment, particularly, on your hydrocarbon question.

Chris Barton: Sure. Thank you. I would just make three points on things that I think we do significantly to help. The first is to make sure that we practise what we preach in our own backyard, which we do by having what I think is recognised by a large number of people as one of the most robust and effective oversight regimes on the UK Continental Shelf, ensuring that we actually have our own best practice.

Secondly, through the G20 exercise, the Global and Marine Environment Protection Initiative, we have been co-operating with that. That is focused on sharing best practice and knowledge between G20 members and we have been supporting that activity.

Third, within the context of the Arctic Council, we again have offered to share some of our experience.

I should also add, though, what we do not have is experience of regulating in an Arctic environment. We can share what experience we have, but we do not have the experience to advocate particular approaches in an Arctic environment because we do not do that.

Q415 Zac Goldsmith: Thank you. Charles Hendry, the Deputy Minister, has said the British Government is interested in working on the Oil Spill Response Protocol being developed by the Arctic Council. Is that an area where the British Government has already had some involvement and, if so, what? What would our ambitions be for that protocol?

Chris Barton: My understanding is that the position is that we have offered to share expertise. As far as I am aware, that offer has not yet been taken up, but we have offered it.

Q416 Zac Goldsmith: Was that a recent offer?

Chris Barton: It is recent. I do not know the exact date, but yes.

Q417 Zac Goldsmith: Just a final question. It has been suggested to us that as a rule financial liability for offshore oil spills should be unlimited across the region, as a means of motivating companies to implement all the safety measures that would be necessary. Is that something the British Government would support?

Chris Barton: Again, individual jurisdictions must make their own rules on this. It would not be for us to dictate the approach that different countries should have.

Q418 Zac Goldsmith: Is it likely, though, that at some point a uniform policy would emerge in relation to liability covering all the various regions?

Chris Barton: I am not aware that there is a particular drive for that at the moment, except to the extent that the more we share best practice and work together on this I guess there is a gradual move to a greater similarity of approach. But there is no push at the moment to have a single unified approach to regulation across the world.

Q419 Zac Goldsmith: If we are to take part in discussions around the issue of liability, are you able to say whether or not the British Government would support the principle that liability should be unlimited? Is there a British Government position on this?

Chris Barton: I think there probably is a Government position. I am afraid I do not know what the Government position is but we can come back to you on that.

Zac Goldsmith: It would be useful to hear later on, thank you.

Mr Bellingham: We will certainly write to you about that, Mr Goldsmith.

Zac Goldsmith: Thank you very much.

Q420 Chair: I just want to go back to the point that Zac Goldsmith is making. Can I confirm that you have not made any assessment of the Russian regulatory regime, irrespective of whether or not it is right for the UK to be commenting on it or not? You have made no assessment of the adequacy of the regulatory regime, given what you said about the Arctic?

Mr Bellingham: We have looked in some detail at the Russian strategy, and of course within that strategy at climate change, to the environment, to shipping, to natural resource extraction and so on. Jane, do you want to comment on that?

Jane Rumble: I think you are asking about minerals, are you?

Mr Bellingham: You were asking about the Russian strategy generally.

Q421 Chair: About ways in which we would regulate oil and gas.

Jane Rumble: All right, then I must defer to Chris.

Chris Barton: Yes. I am not aware that we have done any work on it.

Q422 Caroline Lucas: Again, this is about assessment of risk; whether the Government has made an assessment of whether or not there are indeed increased risks of drilling for oil and gas, specifically, in the Arctic region because of the conditions in that region.

Mr Bellingham: The answer is of course we have, and there is already a great deal of extraction of hydrocarbons going on in the Arctic region but most of that is onshore. As opportunities open up offshore, obviously what we are very interested in is we have to make sure that every attention is paid to looking at technical standards-for example, looking at ISO 19906 on offshore structures, which was adopted only last year-and just making sure that, even if our companies are not going to be involved in this, we understand what the possible dangers are and the challenges; also, just making sure that the regulatory framework is in place.

As you will know, Caroline, it is a complex issue. Some of this will be governed by sovereign State law. The situation is complicated further because, while the sovereign States have control of their territorial waters, there will be issues around the continental shelf, going into the High Seas area, and then you are looking at international regulations as well. Getting those regulatory frameworks in place at the earliest possible stage, to provide a high level of safety and environmental standards, is incredibly important. Chris, do you want to comment on some of the technicalities of this?

Chris Barton: Sure. Again from a DECC perspective, all I can say is we have not undertaken a specific risk assessment on the Arctic, because it is not something that is within our jurisdiction and nor indeed do we have the experience on which to make that judgement. So, from the DECC side, we have not done such an assessment.

Q423 Caroline Lucas: To the extent that there will be discussions on the Arctic Council, and in the working groups of it and so forth, about what kind of risk reduction regime is appropriate, we took some interesting evidence earlier this week from Professor Richard Steiner, who was saying that he believed the risk reduction should go beyond the standard that is usually used by industry; in other words, as low as reasonably practical. He was advocating an approach that literally said that the risks should be as low as possible, rather than the reasonably possible, which normally means that you balance lots of cost equations into it. He was basically saying that the risks are such in the Arctic that we need to take a much more fundamental approach, and simply say that risk should be as low as possible. Would it be right to draw the conclusion from the Minister, from what he has said so far about the particular dangers and difficulties in that area, that the Government would support an approach that was based on reducing risk to the lowest possible level?

Mr Bellingham: Yes. From a ministerial point of view, we want to minimise risk to the lowest possible level. But I think, as Chris pointed out, we have not yet done a detailed risk assessment. Our expertise lies in the North Sea, and obviously our experience of the regulatory licensing regime is based on that particular sea. Given at the moment there are three UK companies that are either operating, or likely to operate in the Arctic-Shell, BP and Cairn-then these are companies that we want to follow the highest possible standards, so that is certainly something that we will look at.

Q424 Caroline Lucas: Exactly on that, would you see that the Government has a role in regulating British companies’ operations in the Arctic to ensure that they follow the same standards that they would if they had been applicable in the UK waters, for example? If a British company would have to meet certain conditions in UK waters, would you agree that, at the very least, that should be what they also have to do in the Arctic?

Mr Bellingham: In terms of regulation, what I would say is we would not regulate them as such in terms of the minutiae of the detail. But we would take a very close interest in the standards they set, not just in their corporate social responsibility towards indigenous people but their environmental responsibility, looking at the environmental audit they would have in place. The larger the company, the more resources any company has to devote to these areas of corporate responsibility, the more we would expect of them. Chris, did you want to comment specifically on those three companies?

Chris Barton: I would just say two things. Again we don’t see it is for us to regulate the specifics in areas that are not our sovereign jurisdiction, so the regulation in those areas is a matter for the relevant country and not for us.

Q425 Caroline Lucas: Even if it is a British company operating?

Chris Barton: Yes. The regulation in an area is for the relevant country.

Q426 Caroline Lucas: You do not think there is a moral case that, if a British company would be subject to particular safety standards in British waters, at the very least they should be subject to the same standards if they are operating in what you have referred to yourself as potentially a more risky situation?

Chris Barton: First of all, I would say, in terms of the relative risk of different places-

Q427 Caroline Lucas: On that point, we have had enormous quantities of evidence suggesting that, because of the difficulty of access in the Arctic, because of the weather conditions, because of the temperature of the sea, there are so many reasons why drilling in the Arctic is far more risky than in UK waters. Are you saying that DECC does not have a view on that?

Chris Barton: What I am saying is that we do not have the experience of that. It sounds very plausible but I do not think it would be appropriate-without experience of the Arctic environment or regulating there- for us to be setting out what rules are appropriate for other countries that do have experience in that.

Q428 Caroline Lucas: It is not about other countries, it is about British companies. There is a basic issue, which is very familiar in lots of discussions around corporate and social responsibility, that if you demand certain safety standards in one country-Britain-you would expect companies to meet the same standards in other parts of the world.

Chris Barton: The key companies that are operating do have extremely high environmental standards, and I think it is absolutely in their interests and they have demonstrated that they take the environmental considerations extremely seriously.

Q429 Caroline Lucas: Just to have it on the record, therefore, are you saying that you agree that they ought to follow the same standards that are applicable in UK waters when they are operating in the Arctic?

Chris Barton: I would not say it in those terms, because I do not know whether those same standards are appropriate. It is a different environment. I am not in a position to judge what standards are appropriate in other waters, and it is not-

Q430 Chair: That then begs the question as to who should be in that position to determine how that should be done, and who would that be?

Chris Barton: The relevant countries who have jurisdiction over that area. It is for them to judge what the appropriate environmental regulation is.

Q431 Caroline Lucas: There is a very strange sort of blind spot here, though, because in so many other areas, if we were talking about child labour or if we were talking about dangerous chemicals, a principle has been more or less established that European companies and British companies should abide by the same safety standards when they operate in those countries as they do in Britain. It is a basic issue. But it seems that when we talk about oil and gas, there seems to be a failure to follow through that same logic.

Chris Barton: As I say again, first of all, we are not aware of any concerns that any of these companies are not operating to the highest standard. But, as I said, there are different rules and regulations that will be appropriate in different places and, therefore, I am not in a position to say exactly that the rules that are appropriate in the North Sea are appropriate in the Arctic. I do not know-it may well be they need to be tighter. That needs to be for the people who know about those things, which I do not.

Caroline Lucas: I have consistently said that they should be at least as high as they are in the North Sea.

Chris Barton: Yes.

Mr Bellingham: I have something very quickly, Caroline, as well. HMG would certainly expect companies that are resident in this country, quoted on the London Stock Exchange-in the case of BP, Shell and Cairn, FTSE companies; I think Cairn is now in the FTSE-to set the highest possible standards. After all, they benefit from having their quote and their headquarters in the UK. In the case of Cairn, I think Edinburgh is their headquarters. They are quoted on the London Stock Exchange. They work closely with the UK Government in many different fora and benefit from the role the UK Government plays as their partner, and of course vice versa. We are proud of our oil sector, but we do expect them to set the highest possible standards.

I will have a look at whether there are any international treaties, or maybe different agreements or arrangements, that we could have a look at ensuring our companies sign up to or join. As the Minister with responsibility for Africa, I certainly know that there are certain standards and informal rules around companies operating in harsh environments in Africa, and, for example, we expect our companies to sign up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

Q432 Caroline Lucas: When you say "expect", what happens if they do not? When you expect them to sign up to them; when you expect them to follow the best practice, what happens if they do not?

Mr Bellingham: In the case of EITI, the UK has signed up, and that situation hasn’t arisen in which a company has not signed up to that.

Q433 Caroline Lucas: I am sorry, but having an expectation that companies will do something is one thing. Having an actual regulation to ensure that they do and sanctions if they do not is something else.

Mr Bellingham: First of all, let’s find out what they might be able to sign up to that would help. Your priorities are obviously very similar to ours, in making sure that we have absolute best practice and that UK companies set the best possible standards. If there are international agreements that they should be signing up to, or have not signed up to, we can certainly have a look at that and we can see what we can do to make sure that they comply with that.

Chris Barton: May I just add what I do think is a really important point? The companies we are talking about here do have extremely high standards. It is absolutely in both their moral interest and in their business commercial interest to ensure they absolutely follow the highest standards.

Q434 Caroline Lucas: Of course, but BP would have said the same thing before Deepwater Horizon. Everyone has the best possible standards until there is a disaster and then they do not, and presumably the role of Government is to make sure that there are regulations to try to ensure that when the worst happens we have some positives in place.

Let me move on because there is a further issue: we have had some evidence from people who have suggested that oil and gas exploration in the Arctic should cease until oil companies are better prepared for dealing with oil spills there, because there is a very real concern that the infrastructure just does not exist to properly deal with oil spills in the Arctic. What is the Government’s view on that?

Mr Bellingham: Chris, do you want to comment on that?

Chris Barton: Sure. I am afraid I am going to sound a little bit like a stuck record. In terms of what regulations are in place, and whether there is adequate environmental protection, in the first instance that is for the relevant jurisdictions to judge and, indeed-coming back to our last discussion-for the companies themselves to judge, and I think they would not want to operate in a way that they did not feel was safe and robust. Again, the prime way that we can help protect the Arctic is through our action on climate change. That is the most significant thing we can do. In terms of what and how oil extraction can happen in the Arctic, that is not a matter for the UK Government in the first instance. It is for the countries of the jurisdiction. We can help them to the extent we can, bearing in mind, as I said, that we do not have expertise or experience of Arctic issues.

Mr Bellingham: I would just add to that that we certainly welcome the decision by the Council to develop binding rules on oil spill preparedness and response. That will sit alongside the Council’s work on producing best practice around possible oil spills. I would also stress that, as a State Observer, we have not been allowed to participate in the taskforce on oil spillage problems. It is the current Arctic Council policy to exclude observers from contributing to work on legally binding agreements, so that may be something we can look at in the future. The UK obviously wants to go with the grain, in terms of our work on the Council, but this is one area they do guard quite jealously, don’t they, Jane?

Jane Rumble: Yes. Basically what we are talking about is these eight Arctic States that have complete jurisdiction over activities within their sovereign territory, which includes their 200 nautical miles of sea and, therefore, the 200 nautical miles of seabed and potentially extended seabed covering probably about 80% of the Arctic Ocean. In fact, most of our role is in the advocacy area of trying to support what they are doing among themselves. Some of the countries that we are talking about have very high standards across a range of different regulatory regimes-others perhaps less so. What they are not doing is trying to negotiate a kind of commonality because the chances are that that is not going to be to the highest. The challenge is to bring the lowest up, and what the UK does is support that politically and diplomatically.

Q435 Caroline Lucas: In terms of that advocacy, you will know that Greenpeace is running a campaign at the moment suggesting that the high Arctic should be a sanctuary. In other words, it should not have drilling there at all. Is that something that the British Government would advocate to the eight Arctic States?

Mr Bellingham: What I would say on that, Caroline, is that if you have a look at the Arctic Ocean, obviously on my map the 200-mile limit is quite an odd shape, but the High Seas are in the area in the middle, around the North Pole. Of course, part of that will be subject to continental shelf claims. At the moment, we are talking about a hypothetical situation because, thank goodness, the ice hasn’t melted. But if indeed, because of climate change, the ice does start to melt, and it opens up deep-sea opportunities, then I would have thought one of the key priorities is going to be to sort out the continental shelf claims beyond the 200-mile limit.

Q436 Caroline Lucas: In terms of whether it is a good idea now to be building pressure for keeping the high Arctic as a sanctuary, where there is no further drilling, given everything that you have said about the importance of climate change as a priority to the British Government, given that more and more drilling is obviously going to lead to more and more fossil fuel extraction and, therefore, more emissions, from a climate change perspective-if for no other-would the Government consider putting its backing towards advocating the position that Greenpeace and others have taken?

Mr Bellingham: We want to work around consensus. We would want to see what allies we had for a policy of that kind. We would not want to be completely isolated. On the other hand, certainly one of the items that will be on the agenda in the future is that point of: at what stage do the sovereign States’ claims end? At what stage are you then looking at international water and the regime for that, and whether a complete moratorium on any hydrocarbon extraction would make sense? Certainly, the area I am more familiar with is the Overseas Territories, because as well as being Minister for the Polar Regions I am also Minister for the Overseas Territories. In Antarctica there is of course a treaty, and all of the signatories of that treaty have signed up to a complete suspension of any exploration and, of course, any future production, so there is a precedent at the other end of the world.

Q437 Caroline Lucas: I am sure the Chair wants to move us on, but let me simply say that a lot of the evidence that we have taken has talked about the potential for the UK Government to play a real leadership role here because of what we have done in the past on climate change. Therefore, we would hope very much that you would be able to take forward a strong advocacy role without feeling constrained by isolation. If the world feels isolation nobody does anything, so given that climate change is such a priority, as you have said, for this Government, then-

Mr Bellingham: It certainly is a key priority. There is no doubt about that.

Caroline Lucas: That is good.

Mr Bellingham: One experience we can bring to this particular Council is our experience of Antarctica. Obviously the sovereign States here are ones where some have claims in Antarctica. But there is no question that the British Antarctic Territory is the one part of Antarctica where in sovereign claim is not in too much doubt, so we play an absolutely key, pivotal lead role there as a sovereign State, in a way that we do not in the Arctic Council but we can bring that experience to bear. I do not know if you want to comment, Jane? Jane has been to these meetings more recently than Ministers have, and whether you would like to comment on the mood of the Council regarding any possible moratorium? But a moratorium implies that something has been stopped. We are talking basically about a hydrocarbon exclusion zone on the area of High Seas.

Jane Rumble: Yes. I cannot say that it has been particularly raised at the Arctic Council level for discussion. As the Minister said, because it is the area that is in the High Seas, and because the UNCLOS process of looking at who has the rights over the seabed is yet to be completed, at the moment there does not seem to be any pressure to go and try to get deep sea hydrocarbon extraction. It is sort of hypothetical into the future. But in terms of what our view would be on that particular area beyond national jurisdiction, the tendency would be to take a highly protective stance.

Chair: Given what you said, Minister, about perhaps wanting to have some kind of consensus-and obviously recognising that that is the route to go down and that is not going to happen by accident-the perspective of the Committee is about how the UK could show leadership in getting from here to there in the shortest possible time? We are very interested to know what proactive steps you are taking to try to go down that route.

Mr Bellingham: Certainly this is an emerging policy area, and it is one that we are obviously having a look at. Looking at the predictions regarding ice melt, and the predictions that there may well be a complete melting of the ice between 2030 and 2050, we are talking about an opportunity for potential deep sea hydrocarbon exploration within the next generation. Whereas, in the past, it was considered quite impractical and something that would maybe never happen, we are now looking at a reality. I can certainly assure you that HMG will be looking at this and what we can do in the future.

Chair: Okay. We must move on.

Q438 Mark Lazarowicz: Minister, the question I have very much follows on from the point we have just been discussing. Given the growing importance of the Arctic internationally, but also in terms of our own priorities, is there a case for the UK’s various actions and approaches to be drawn together into a specific Arctic strategy of some sort, so that we have a clear set of policy objectives and strategic actions?

Mr Bellingham: Yes. We have been asked this on a number of occasions in the past: is there a strategy as such? We do not have, "an Arctic strategy". What we have is a clear policy, and within that policy are the initiatives and the priorities that I mentioned. Certainly we have a strategy for Antarctica, obviously, because there is a treaty-we are a sovereign State. Other countries-obviously, the eight sovereign States-have strategies. We have a very clear policy: we are looking at how these different initiatives and different priorities relate to each other, but as yet we have not formulated or announced a clear UK Arctic strategy. That is certainly something that Ministers keep in mind. It is not something that we have decided upon, but it certainly is something that we have not ruled out.

We have to be a little bit careful here. Obviously there would be issues around sovereignty if other countries decide they wanted to have a strategy for, say, the North Sea or the English Channel. But because the Arctic is of such crucial world importance, and because we are a highly respected observer State, that is something that we will be looking at in the future. Certainly, it is Ministers’ judgement, and it would be the Foreign Secretary’s view that, in terms of any influence, we have not lost out by not having an Arctic strategy. But as the number of different initiatives increase, as the number of different international organisations and different fora take an interest in the Arctic, as a key player would it help us to have an Arctic strategy in the future? Yes, it might do.

Jane Rumble: To an extent, this is slightly playing semantics in our view. We do have a clear Arctic policy, we clearly represent the UK at the Arctic Council, and we have a whole range of policies that have Arctic resonance. Going to an announced strategy is potentially welcomed by some of the Arctic States, but others of them feel that for another observer country to have a strategy, basically, over their national jurisdiction and their territory, is a bit sensitive. We have walked a bit of a fine line, in terms of not saying it is a strategy but making sure that we are clear on what we want to get out of the Arctic, why we are engaged in it and what our priority areas are that the Minister outlined at the beginning.

Q439 Mark Lazarowicz: I can see that obviously we do not want to play semantics here, but if people keep asking you what the strategy is, there is certainly merit in trying to pull it together in some way that makes it slightly clearer as a comprehensive policy. I do not want to push that point, but in terms of those policies-if we want to call it a policy approach-what do you regard as the key policy areas that you are developing at the moment, as far as our approach to the Arctic? What are the top policy priorities at the moment?

Mr Bellingham: Yes. I have touched on this already, but what I would say, Mr Lazarowicz, is that climate change is absolutely there at the top. We are at the ambitious end of the spectrum, in terms of the climate change debate. We have been recognised by the world community, and particularly in UNFCCC, for the work we have done. We have a very clear climate change diplomacy policy. We have climate change envoys in many countries. We have a climate change team at the Foreign Office. We have a special climate change envoy to the Foreign Secretary. I look at it this way, we provide the diplomacy and we understand the power politics of different countries, and it is DECC who do the detailed negotiations. But the Arctic is so incredibly important in that agenda.

Looking at what has happened in the Arctic, anyone who has any doubt about climate change only needs to look at the Arctic to see what is happening there. Obviously, linked into that is management of scarce resources and management of the environment more generally, resource management. I would also include, perhaps as an equal No. 1 priority, understanding why this is happening and putting money into scientific research. We have that world-class base at UK universities and in other establishments, and I think combining the two is incredibly important. That is why, with working parties, we have been able to achieve so much.

Moving down the list, I think making the Arctic Council work really well-good governance-is a priority. Shipping is something we may come on to in a moment. Security is something that we should not take our eye off. We are now in a post-Cold War era, but one should not forget that activities in the Arctic during the Cold War were at times quite tense and challenging.

Q440 Mark Lazarowicz: I think the security issue is one we are going to come back to. But just briefly on the issue of shipping because this relates to an area where-although clearly we cannot take decisions effecting the sovereignty of the various Arctic States-we do have a role in decisions that are decided by the IMO, which may then be signed up to by the Arctic States as applying internationally: for example, rules on standards for shipping and so on in the Arctic area, which obviously is an IMO issue. I was interested, but you did not actually mention that until the end of your list of priorities, so can you say something about what approach the Government is taking in relation to the IMO work on trying to improve or set down standards for Arctic shipping?

Mr Bellingham: Yes. It is the Maritime and Coastguard agency that leads on engagement with the IMO. As someone from the Department for Transport said, although the IMO may not be the fastest international organisation to get things done, I have had experiences with the UN Minister in dealing with the IMO. The professionalism of their work is incredibly clear. But, like any UN organisation, it moves at the speed of the slowest in the convoy, so they have to bear that very much in mind. The development of a Polar Code is something that they are working on, which we thoroughly support. What I would say, Mr Lazarowicz, is that because access across the pole is opening up, and I think last year there were 34 ships that made the crossing-is that the right figure, Jane?-

Jane Rumble: That is right, yes.

Mr Bellingham: -through the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route. Obviously there is going to-

Chair: Just for the record, we had the figure of 34 at our previous meeting.

Mr Bellingham: Yes, 34. The implications of that, in terms of the role of the IMO, the role that UNCLOS have as well, are going to be ever more important because we are going to have to find ways of making sure that the shipping is properly controlled and properly regulated, and so moving ahead with that Polar Code is something that is very important. As a major flag State, that is an area where we will be listened to carefully and of course we are the host nation for the IMO as well.

Q441 Mark Lazarowicz: I think the suggestion is that that 34 number is expected to increase quite dramatically, year after year, or something like that. Just briefly on the FCO, how much resource, in terms of staff and of money, is directed at Arctic area policy in that Committee within the FCO as compared to, say, other parts, or how many people are on Ms Rumble’s team, for example?

Mr Bellingham: Jane, if you could answer that. Certainly, from the point of view of my core responsibilities, the Polar Regions are important. I am the Minister for the Polar Regions, but there is obviously a big overlap with Overseas Territories, and the British Antarctic Territory, and there is a big overlap with our work in the EU. Of course, as we are the nearest neighbour to the Arctic, as a non-sovereign country I think of all the Observer States we are the one that is taken the most seriously. Therefore we put a lot of effort and work into it, not just in Jane’s unit but also in the different embassies we have in the sovereign States. Jane, do you want to elaborate on that?

Jane Rumble: Just in terms of facts and figures. There are seven others in the Polar Regions Unit, but that does not tell the whole story in respect of the Arctic. We are probably the whole story, broadly, in respect of the Antarctic, as we lead on all matters of Antarctic relevance to the Government and provide advice on Antarctica. In respect of the Arctic, we are basically co-ordinating a huge, vast, cross-Government network, and that is where all the resource is. That is particularly with the eight Arctic posts in the Foreign Office, but also in the subject related Departments-particularly in DECC, with Defra and with MoD, and we have a cross-Whitehall network that we co-ordinate and liaise with. So there are many more people involved in Arctic than specifically Antarctic.

Q442 Mark Lazarowicz: If I could go back to a couple of points about the relationship with the Arctic Council, relating to what we have just said. The Arctic Council, from what we understand, appears to be moving towards a more decision-making role where binding agreements are decided among its member States. How far is the UK able to play a role in that kind of process as an observer?

Mr Bellingham: Jane, do you want to comment about that? In danger of repeating myself, I would say that we have to lead by example. We have to win respect and command people’s confidence, and I think we do that through the action we take, through the world- class Scientific Research Group, the experts that we second to different working groups and through the leadership that we have given. We cannot demand to lead a working group, but in practice, because of the time that we put into these groups, we are actually in the lead with some of these groups, so I think we are in a very strong position. But, Jane, do you want to answer the question specifically?

Jane Rumble: Yes. The Arctic Council has just started to look at negotiating binding agreements. As you mentioned, the first one was on search and rescue. This was done specifically just by those Arctic States, but on whom it would become binding once it was agreed. It would not have any effect on a non-Arctic State because it was just about search-and-rescue assets within the region. I think many of the States would like to continue having those binding agreements, but they will be very specifically regional. They couldn’t have an agreement just between the eight of them that had applicability beyond that without the engagement of other States, so I guess there will be a sort of parallel process. As an observer, our role would include suggesting which areas they might want to look at, offering expertise where and when it is relevant and, more specifically, trying to ensure that they do not go off into a closed room and do something that will have some impact on the UK or any other non-Arctic State.

Mr Bellingham: To give you an example of enhanced engagement with some of the sovereign States, we have recently signed an MOU on polar science co-operation, with both Canada and Norway, which is going to give us an enhanced role to play to drive that part of the agenda forward.

Q443 Mark Lazarowicz: Finally, given that there are a number of countries throughout the world who have expressed an interest in the Arctic Council and Arctic issues, and also of course-as you rightly pointed out from the map-although the majority of the Arctic area comes within the continental shelf exception area, it does not cover all of it, it could actually be a case for the Government’s arrangement for the Arctic to eventually be put on the same kind of footing as the Antarctic Treaty, in the sense that it is a much wider foundation, and indeed should be directed under UN aegis rather than under the Arctic Council. What is your view on that?

Mr Bellingham: You have to draw a distinction between the Arctic and the Antarctic. In the case of the Antarctic, there are many parts of it that are in dispute, in terms of sovereignty. In fact, I would say that the British Antarctic Territory-although the Argentinians and Chileans may disagree with what I am going to say-is one part of the Antarctic that really should not be in a great deal of dispute, from the point of view of sovereignty. All the other areas are challenged and claimed by a number of other countries, so having a treaty was absolutely essential to make the governance and environmental protection in the Antarctic work properly. In the case of the Arctic, we are in a different situation because, as I understand it, there is only one current sovereignty dispute going on in terms of the Arctic. There is very broad agreement, in terms of the sovereignty, the management and the governance.

You heard yourself that this is a part of the world where there are no security pressures, there are no pressures in terms of potential arguments between countries. In fact, it is a remarkably benign environment from that point of view. Given that we have a council that is able to get things done, that is able to work really well, that is able to provide a blend of experience from the sovereign countries and those that are observers, I would not say there was a need for an international Arctic treaty as such, and I am not sure the sovereign States would agree to that because they would see it as being unnecessary.

The only other point I would add to that is that there is a role for like-minded countries to come on to the Council. There are other countries that have applied to join as observer states, and we would not have a problem with that at all. Like-minded countries that meet the criteria, that want to add to the workings of the Council-if they meet the criteria and the sovereign States agree to them joining-would be welcomed.

Q444 Simon Wright: We have already heard today some comments on the UK’s influence in Arctic matters. Minister, you said earlier that, as far as the Arctic Council is concerned, we are clearly not in the driving seat as an observer, and you referred to UK Arctic science being well regarded in an area where the UK does have considerable influence. In what areas would you like to see future research specifically focused on to extend our influence?

Mr Bellingham: Thank you very much indeed, Mr Wright. Certainly we do have such influence, as we know so well from our experience of the life sciences in Norwich and the excellence of the academic organisations there. I did refer to the three areas of academic involvement. But where we are going to do more work, and where I think there is scope for significantly further research is on black carbon. On pollutants, I think that is very important. On biodiversity, that is something we have not mentioned. We have spoken quite a lot about climate change, about the environment. The habitats and ecosystems also contain flora and fauna, so it is about understanding that biodiversity. The committee on Arctic flora and fauna and the Circumpolar Seabird Expert Group is a very specific example. It is very important that we look very carefully at the flora and fauna and how they are being affected by climate change because, after all, we are talking about habitats that are going to change quite fundamentally. Climate change is taking place. There are going to be dramatic changes, and even saving some of the flora and fauna is going to be a huge priority. Obviously I have mentioned climate but on resilience as well, the Council’s Arctic Resilience Report is important, and NERC will be contributing to that. Those are five areas that we feel are priorities.

In terms of the FCO, we do not directly fund scientific contributions to the Arctic Council but we are very close to NERC. Obviously it is NERC that drives our scientific engagement with the Arctic Council. But we take a very close interest in what is going on.

Do you want to add to that, Jane, in terms of the scientific research? I think there are many other universities that are involved. I have only given the names of a few. But what I would say, Mr Wright, is that what I find incredibly heartening-in my dealings with NERC, with the British Antarctic Survey, which is based at Cambridge, with the other organisations within Government-there is a huge appetite among academia to get involved in this type of research. When I went to the MET office Hadley Centre down at Exeter it was an incredibly fulfilling and rewarding visit, to see the links they have with British academia spread around so many different universities. I think the hunger for further research puts UK universities and academia on a very strong footing.

Jane Rumble: I was just going to say that I think there are two strands of science. There is the one when you want to make a policy decision and you need the best science, which the Minister has gone into, but there is also all the blue-skies science. We know from the Polar Regions the areas that are telling us about climate change, and the British Antarctic Survey discovered the ozone hole while they were doing other things in Antarctica. So I guess it is not for the policy side to tell you exactly what the science should cover; it is two strands, and we want the scientists to tell us what we need to worry about next.

Q445 Simon Wright: Interesting point. In terms of the UK extending its influence potentially in the Arctic, are there any areas where perhaps Arctic States might be resistant to that-I do not mean to put it in words that someone else used-where the UK might be sticking their oar in where it is not wanted?

Mr Bellingham: Certainly, the key areas that are within the competence of the Arctic Council are around science and research, and obviously around the environment. Where the Council does not have competence is in other areas, and certainly security would be one of them, and obviously there are some sensitivities around trade. Mr Wright, what we have to do in those areas that are not immediately within the competency of the Arctic Council, where if we put it on the agenda we might be accused of going beyond the scope of the Arctic Council, we may well have to work through other organisations, like UNCLOS, the WTO, the IMO, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, and of course, very importantly, the UNFCCC, and the Montreal Protocol as well. We have to see our role in influencing the Arctic Council as one where we may be able to get items on the agenda and lead initiatives and discussions, but there are going to be other occasions when we have to use these third organisations, and our influence on them, to make sure that our policies on the Arctic Council are fulfilled.

Q446 Simon Wright: To what extent do you see the UK’s role as a broker between the Arctic Council and other countries and the European Union?

Mr Bellingham: Certainly the EU have a strategy, and they are working on that. In fact, there hasn’t yet been a decision taken about the EU’s Arctic strategy. As I understand it, there was quite a lot of sensitivity about the EU pushing the idea of a strategy, for the reasons that I alluded to a moment ago. For example, why is the EU interfering in someone else’s sovereign area? If those countries started developing strategy for maybe the North Sea or the Irish Sea we would feel maybe it was outside their areas of responsibility. But there was a progress report-this week in fact-on the EU’s developing Arctic policies. Certainly, the EU are very keen to remain engaged. It is worth remembering that there are a number of EU States who are sovereign members of the Council. There are other EU countries that are Observer States. Personally I do not see a difficulty in the EU becoming more involved. After all, the EU is an organisation that represents an area that is adjacent to the Arctic, many of its countries are very closely involved and some are sovereign members. So it could be an example of the European External Action Service and the Commission putting together a strategy-not one that is going to try to interfere with existing work by the Council, but to add value in specific areas where there might be some consensus for an organisation like the EU becoming a bit more involved.

Do you want to add to it, Jane, and also just comment on what happened on 3 July, earlier this week, when the progress report was published?

Jane Rumble: Yes. There has been a joint communication between the External Action Service and the European Commission, which was just published a couple of days ago, in fact, so it will now go out for Member State scrutiny and be discussed. It is basically a progress report since their initial publication of a strategy back in 2008, highlighting the particular areas and also how those two bodies feel that the EU is meeting its requirements of membership as a State Observer to the Arctic Council. We will be looking through that and assessing it in due course. It is a mixed bag of competence, because where the EC has exclusive competence, in respect of fishing for example, the Arctic Council is not covering fishing because it is covered by other UN processes, so most of the other areas will be mixed competence. The UK will continue to play its very active role in making sure that the competence is not extended and that it is articulated appropriately by the EU bodies.

Mr Bellingham: It is worth saying, Simon, that there are going to be areas where the EU can be harnessed to some of our wider priorities. Certainly I am seeing this with the European External Action Service. I do not want to get involved in a complete distraction here, but a lot of people said that the European External Action Service would not help our policy priorities, say, in Africa. But if you take Somalia, for example, and if you take Antarctica, for example, the European External Action Service have been very helpful in certain areas. Where we can work with them on certain priorities, where added weight from an organisation that probably will not have observer status as such but represents many of the countries that do have observer status, and some of the sovereign States as well, there could be an alignment of interest there that could be beneficial.

Q447 Simon Wright: Thank you. In terms of the possible expansion of the Arctic Council, in terms of applications that are being considered for permanent observer status, Minister, you said earlier that you have no objections. Have you identified any risks in terms of diluting the UK’s influence were that to happen?

Mr Bellingham: Mr Wright, personally, I have not seen examples of where our influence could be diluted. We are not talking about an organisation where votes are at stake, or where, for example, we might go down from having two commissioners to one commissioner, because this organisation does not work in that way. It works on the basis of building consensus. It works on the basis of the sovereign States driving the agenda, but the Observer States using their influence through, as I say, "actions speak much louder than words", and the examples that can be set. I do not look at those countries that have applied to join, and we certainly would have interests in common with quite a few of them. Many of them are, for example, significant trading countries. Many of them have large flag fleets, like Korea. Others are very interested in the climate change agenda. Others are major European countries. We certainly would not see it in terms of our influence being diluted. We would see it is an opportunity to have more friends with whom we could make a common cause. Jane, do you want to add to that?

Jane Rumble: Yes. I guess there is a complexity between the Arctic Council, in terms of what it would agree itself, and its role, in terms of discussing issues of importance of the Arctic. In terms of our influence it is very much, I guess, on the latter because where the Arctic Council is making agreements among itself they tend to be very regional. So they would not necessarily have a consequence on non-Arctic States. Being the only Arctic body, many of the other States who are interested in discussing Arctic issues see this as a useful forum to have those discussions, but the manifestation of those discussions will probably be through other global treaties, such as the UNFCCC, the IMO, the trans-boundary pollution agreements, and UNCLOS particularly. The framework is in place, but it is the rules and policies that a lot of the countries want to talk about and discuss. That is not necessarily going to be agreed by the Arctic Council, but the Arctic Council is the place to have the discussion about the Arctic. Hence we have taken the view that it is better to have lots of countries being interested in the Arctic, coming together and having that debate rather than it weakening our own influence, because there are few issues on which we specifically want to influence a decision that is ultimately only going to be binding on those eight Arctic States.

Q448 Simon Wright: In that respect, it sounds as though you are very open minded to the granting of observer status to more countries. But have you considered the extent to which this might be an opportunity to influence some of those applicants to take action? For example, in exchange for receiving observer status, perhaps to take action on climate change. An example might be China taking action on black carbon. Are there deals that could be done in exchange for granting observer status?

Mr Bellingham: We do not look at this on a transactional basis. Of course it would be the sovereign States who finally decide, but we would expect all applicant countries to meet the criteria. You mentioned those two specific areas of priority of black carbon and climate change. Certainly within the criteria that would have to be met to become an Observer State, those countries would have to sign up to certain objectives and that would certainly cover the points you mentioned.

Q449 Simon Wright: Finally then, could I ask a question about the working groups on the Arctic Council? Could you elaborate a bit on the role of the UK within those groups, where we have managed particularly to shape the agenda, and to what extent those working groups are the real levers of power and influence in the Arctic Council?

Mr Bellingham: I have mentioned briefly the role we play on that. Jane, I do not know whether you want to elaborate further because you have attended these working groups, and you have seen first-hand the influence that the UK has been able to exert?

Jane Rumble: Yes. As FCO we tend to go to the main Arctic Council meetings. The working groups tend to be attended by the experts. The UK has been involved in many of them over the years, particularly in respect of flora and fauna because of the trans-boundary birds predominantly that end up in Scotland in the Arctic winter. We also had quite a role in the original Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. There was a lot of UK expertise on that. The Minister outlined earlier some of the issues that we are now engaging on, in respect of black carbon and climate change issues and so on.

Although the UK is a standing member of some of the working groups, in reality we tend to go into those that are discussing issues in which we can offer particular expertise. The Arctic Council States themselves tend to do the same. This means that not all of them will turn up to every single working group, so where we put the most emphasis will depend on what the issue is at the time.

Q450 Dr Whitehead: There has been some evidence of increased military activity in the Arctic, particularly by littoral countries. As we have discussed the increased shipping traffic, for example with arctic ice melts, do you think that will lead to any loss of stability in the region as a result of that military activity or the changing nature of that activity as the ice melts?

Mr Bellingham: I do not believe we are going to see a sudden surge of additional shipping traffic. I think it is going to be gradual, but there are still risks obviously in transiting the two key routes across the Arctic. Indeed, there are still going to be issues around having icebreaker protection and having ships that are resilient that are able to do this. Obviously, looking to the longer term, for example, it could certainly transform shipping and greatly reduce the costs of shipping and the costs of shipping containers from Europe through to Asia.

Do we see the Arctic as a security risk? I believe that measures have been taken to put in place mitigation. For example, the Arctic Security Forces Roundtable was set up last year to enhance multilateral Arctic security and safety operations. I think that is important. Jane mentioned earlier that obviously military co-operation is not something the Arctic Council looks at as such, but it has signed a treaty on search and rescue that is important. As far as the UK is concerned, we have close relations with a number of countries, for example, the Netherlands, France and Germany, and because of our military prowess we have been involved in the Arctic Security Roundtable as one of the sub-Arctic nations.

Do you want to add anything to that, Jane? I simply repeat what you have heard before: in terms of the security, in terms of the potential tension between countries, the situation in the Arctic has been transformed since the end of the Cold War and there are no immediate tensions or stresses. There are issues that have to be addressed around the movement of ships obviously. There is only one outstanding sovereign dispute that is going on. Furthermore, although people have commented that out of the Arctic States five are NATO members-during the Cold War obviously there was a stand-off with the Soviet Union, as it then was-I would say that one thing the peace dividend has yielded to the world is an Arctic that is a great deal more stable and quieter than it would have otherwise been. Do you want to add to that at all, Jane?

Jane Rumble: Only just to pick up on the point that you have asked. It is true that because the Arctic is becoming increasingly accessible it gives the Arctic States as many issues as any other country would have, in terms of protection of its sovereign territory and its borders. A lot of the new military assets are in precisely those areas of fisheries protection, coastguard and so on. It is not because there is any evidence that they feel that their neighbours are in some way causing them problems; it is more about general protection of sovereign borders.

Q451 Dr Whitehead: I think the MoD has developed its own Arctic strategy, but does that imply any increase in UK presence or exercises or any other activity as a result of that change in the ice?

Mr Bellingham: That would be for the MoD to specifically answer, but what I would suggest is that if indeed the projections around climate change are realised, and the sovereign States are able to extend activity into the area that was previously under the ice cap, then certainly the joint training we do with, say, the Canadians and the Norwegians in particular-those opportunities would increase. Certainly the MoD do not see this as an absolute key priority, because we are not talking about UK sovereign territory. We would be talking about UK interests around shipping, for example, if the level of shipping greatly increases.

Dr Whitehead: I want to just return briefly to the shipping issue, and that is a good point to do that, I think. We have heard-

Q452 Chair: Just before we move on, going back to what you were saying about the MoD strategy, is that something that you are a party to and have seen?

Mr Bellingham: I am not personally. Certainly among the Government Departments involved in discussions I have had, the MoD has not been part of those discussions, but I mean at official level.

Q453 Chair: Who would be party to those discussions?

Mr Bellingham: At the official level, Jane, you would have had discussions with the MoD and may have been on some of the official working groups.

Jane Rumble: Yes, that is right. The MoD sits on the cross-Government Arctic network. In the past we have done some joint FCO/MoD work looking at the future of the Arctic. I am not aware of a specific MoD published Arctic strategy, but they have obviously been keeping it under review. The majority of their Arctic military activity will be under the auspices of NATO, and it is not something that we get directly involved in from the perspective of the Arctic Council and the Foreign Office.

Q454 Chair: In respect of today’s review, which we just heard before coming to this Committee, was that flagged up in terms of the ongoing commitments of the MoD to what is going on there?

Mr Bellingham: Sorry, are you referring to the announcement made by the Defence Secretary?

Chair: Yes, the one that we had in the House earlier.

Mr Bellingham: Yes, there was-

Q455 Chair: In terms of the reallocation of resources, the long-term strategic planning and the MoD strategy, I wonder how the FCO and the Arctic policy fit into it?

Mr Bellingham: Yes, certainly looking at last year’s defence and strategic review, which laid down a number of key priorities for the MoD, the Arctic was not a key area of priority. One area that the MoD did flag up in the strategic and defence review was the protection of shipping lanes. That is obviously relevant to the transiting of various oceans. As shipping increases along the Northern Sea Route, and as the number of UK flagged vessels use that route more and more in the future, then obviously the MoD interest would increase.

Q456 Chair: My interest is, given that the statement that we had today refers to the standing commitments that there are, I just find it a little odd that there has not been a detailed look at what the long-term strategic commitments will be, that there would need to be this focus of attention on as far as the MoD and FCO are concerned. That is not something that has been past your desk?

Mr Bellingham: I have close discussions with MoD Ministers around issues of joint concern, and particularly shipping and counter-piracy would be one area. Certainly the MoD are deeply involved in the Overseas Territories, their security and protection, and would be taking a close interest in the South Atlantic. As I say, their interest in the Arctic would be around shipping and around protecting UK interests, and it would be around securing future training opportunities. Is there anything you would add to that, Jane?

Jane Rumble: Just that there have been ongoing reviews by the MoD, in terms of: is the Arctic likely to be an area where they are going to need to increase their activity? The conclusion has consistently been this is unlikely in the foreseeable future. It is on their radar but it is not something that they have identified as an area in which they suddenly need to increase activity.

Q457 Chair: It would be helpful if perhaps there was an opportunity for further clarification of how this has been looked at for the medium term, and obviously that needs to be reflected in the defence review.

Mr Bellingham: Yes. What we will do, Chair, is write you a letter covering these outstanding points and that could be one of the ones that we cover.

Chair: That is excellent. I appreciate that.

Mr Bellingham: I could discuss with my MoD counterparts and get further clarification from them, in the light of today’s statement on the shape and format of, particularly, the Army going forward, of how this fits into their priorities for the Arctic.

Chair: That is helpful, thank you. Sorry, Dr Whitehead.

Dr Whitehead: On the issue of shipping, one thing we heard in earlier evidence is: first, the apparent inability of flag States even to know which of their ships are traversing either of the passages at any one stage; secondly, as a consequence of that, the likelihood is that those ships are no better prepared for that passage than if they were travelling from Cork to Roscoff. Is that a concern that you might have in terms of UK flagged vessels? Relating to that, there is also the question of whether or not the passages are open. Obviously it is still an extremely difficult and dangerous environment through which to send vessels. We heard that at the moment they are accompanied by icebreakers, but I think there are questions in terms of the adequacy of support and rescue services should those ships make that passage. Are those the sort of issues that you are thinking about concerning what might be an additional passage of UK vessels across the Arctic?

Mr Bellingham: Certainly the IMO is in the lead and we work very actively through the IMO on a lot of issues, including this one. Certainly you are right, in terms of what you say about the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route and the opportunities that all of this is opening up. But I would stress, and you underlined this, that these routes are still going to remain treacherous. Just because 34 vessels transited these routes last year does not mean to say that figure is going to go up quickly. It will go up, and obviously the increase in shipping has a number of ramifications.

We are having discussions with the IMO, and we certainly believe that, for example, it is very important that the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, known as MARPOL, applies to Arctic waters. But that needs to be updated, and it needs to be kept in good shape as a fit and proper convention that can work and do what it is meant to do.

The only other thing I would say is that as a major flag nation, the FCO have very good links with the Chamber of Shipping and they come and see us. We have a regular dialogue with them talking about a whole raft of issues. I would say that, in terms of our key priorities, the Arctic would not be one of them, but at meetings I have had with the Chamber of Shipping we talk mainly about issues around piracy, around the use of armed guards on vessels; for example, the law that applies on flagged vessels, the different rule that applies within the ports of other countries. But the Arctic is something that they are looking at and are very interested in the future opportunities. As those opportunities increase, Dr Whitehead, so the regulatory regime must be fit for purpose and it must catch up.

Q458 Dr Whitehead: That perhaps leads into the issue of whether the wider concerns about the Arctic environment are, in your view, currently fully covered. We have multilateral environmental agreements, such as the OSPAR Convention on Biodiversity. Clearly, if there is to be a greater level of shipping I would agree that the conventions relating to the environment in which shipping operates need to be upgraded. Do you think there is further work to be done in terms of getting those arrangements adequate for the protection of the Arctic under those changing circumstances?

Mr Bellingham: Dr Whitehead, what I would say is that you have your normal IMO conventions that are ones that all shipping lines would be quite okay with, but the IMO have also issued the guidelines for ships operating in polar waters and they contain various provisions over and above the normal conventions. What they are looking at is the development of these guidelines into a Polar Code. We are committed to playing an active role with them in developing those guidelines into a Polar Code. We certainly would envisage it being mandatory for most ships and we are going to work with them on that. I do not know whether you want to comment on that, Jane? This is obviously a Maritime Coastguard Agency lead with the Department for Transport, but we are offering them what we can and we are following it very closely.

Jane Rumble: In respect of shipping, we would like to think that there has been a global awareness that the standards required for shipping need to be a little bit higher in Polar Regions. Hence, there is agreement that this mandatory code needs to be negotiated. Of course, you will know that that is taking quite a bit of time in order to get those standards right. But there is general understanding that shipping operations need to be of the highest standard in Polar Regions, particularly in the Arctic where you may get more ships carrying hydrocarbons from the areas of extraction that you do not necessarily have in the south, although you have passenger ships and so on in the Antarctic. In the Arctic there are also the cargo vessels and the carriage vessels and so on.

That work is continuing in respect of the IMO. On the other multilateral agreements that were mentioned earlier, I think that the frameworks are in place for these things but obviously the rules and policies that need to be developed underneath them are continuing to emerge. As the Arctic is a very rapidly changing place, the identification of vulnerable species or areas that are requiring special protection is ongoing work and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who lead on most of these environmental agreements, are very actively engaged in those.

Q459 Dr Whitehead: You said-and this my final thought-that you do not think that an Arctic treaty similar to that brought about in the Antarctic would be appropriate. But do you think there is any scope for perhaps a less ambitious agreement that might include protected zones or persuading littoral States to provide, say, part of the continental shelf for protected zones or no shipping zones, or other such protected areas, to enhance the environmental status of the Arctic, indeed, as these changes take place?

Jane Rumble: Yes. I think there is a role in that. In respect of the marine environment, the UK would take the view that the activity in the marine environment has to be sustainable, it has to be precautionary and on the basis of best available science. If the indication was that protected areas, whether they were in the High Seas area or if they were in jurisdictional waters-I think we would want to have discussions about what the rules and policies might be around those areas. That is part of our role in terms of bilateral arrangements with those Arctic States, as well as our role as observer on the Arctic Council.

Q460 Chair: We have now reached the end. Can I go back to one of the points that you just responded to in respect of Dr Whitehead’s questioning, about the IMO and about the need for tighter regulations? You did not give any kind of a timeframe. You did say that it had been very slow. One thing that we did discuss at our previous hearing was when that should come about. Do you have an idea of when you would like that to be in place?

Mr Bellingham: We would certainly like to see the development of the guidelines in the Code as soon as soon as possible. That is why we are continuing to work with the IMO.

Q461 Chair: What would be the earliest ETA?

Mr Bellingham: I would not want to commit officials to a definite date, but certainly what I would like to do is to work with the IMO to identify who the laggards are and maybe influence them at a bilateral level.

Chair: I certainly think it would be helpful.

Mr Bellingham: This is certainly something that I would like to speak to the Secretary General about. In fact, I have been seeing the Secretary General of the IMO recently to discuss counter-piracy, and this is something we can put on the agenda. Jane, I do not know whether you have any idea whether next year is realistic?

Jane Rumble: I think the MCA’s view is it is probably 2014. But, certainly as the Minister said, what we would like to do is to try to identify those areas where there is common agreement and see whether there is any prospect of getting those squared away and then focusing on the areas where there is more of a problem. At the moment we are waiting for the whole package to be agreed before anything is agreed, so that is an area for further discussion.

Mr Bellingham: We would like to go for 2013, but I think-

Q462 Mark Lazarowicz: For what it is worth, some of our other evidence suggests 2014 might be ambitious, but is there not a danger that 34 ships last year becomes 100 this year and maybe 500 next year? The more ships that go through, the more best interests there are to try at least to amend or comment upon the regulations.

Mr Bellingham: That is absolutely right, Mr Lazarowicz. That is why I think it reinforces the point that getting this in place as soon as possible is incredibly important.

Q463 Chair: I certainly think it would helpful to our inquiry if we could have that further clarification.

Mr Bellingham: Yes. We will certainly do that.

Chair: Minister, and the civil servants with you, Mr Barton and Ms Rumble, you have been most generous with your time. We do appreciate your coming along and giving evidence this afternoon. Thank you very much indeed.

Mr Bellingham: Thank you, Chair. It has been a pleasure. We will look very carefully at the questions asked and what has been said, and we have made a commitment to write to you with further detail about a number of points. I am sure there will be additional points as well, and we will make sure that letter goes off to you shortly.

Chair: That is very constructive. Thank you very much.

Prepared 21st September 2012