Protecting the Arctic: The Government's response - Environmental Audit Committee Contents


In 2012 we published our assessment of how the UK Government could help to protect the Arctic. Climate change was opening up the possibility of future development there, particularly oil and gas exploration, putting at risk one of the world's last pristine areas. What happens in the Arctic will affect the UK, particularly our weather and biodiversity. Recent estimates that it had lost a third of its summer ice in the last decade alone underscore the urgent need to tackle climate change and put in place protections.

We are disappointed with the Government's response to our 2012 report. It failed to grasp the urgency of action needed, or to set out an enhanced role for the UK in Arctic matters. The Government failed to offer a coherent argument for its view that future Arctic oil and gas exploration is compatible with efforts to contain global warming to 2°C. The fact that the world already has more proven oil and gas reserves than can be burnt without producing dangerous climate change, together with the lack of proven oil spill response techniques, make exploring for new reserves in the pristine and harsh environment of the Arctic needlessly risky.

Shell's Arctic drilling programme suffered a number of setbacks in 2012, and as a result it has announced a pause for the 2013 season. Nevertheless, there remain important questions about Shell's 2012 operations, which we will put to the company once continuing US regulatory investigations are complete. This case shows that oil companies and regulators are not yet in a position to demonstrate that they can ensure that oil and gas activities will be undertaken in the safest possible way in the Arctic. This reinforces the case for the moratorium on new Arctic oil and gas and for an unlimited financial liability regime across the Arctic that we called for last year.

We welcome the Government explicitly setting out its policies on the Arctic in a new 'policy framework' document. Whilst this falls short of the strategy that we previously called for, it is an important first step and we urge the Government to take account in that document of the issues that we raise in this and our previous report.

In the main body of this report, conclusions are printed in bold and recommendations are printed in bold italics.

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Prepared 27 July 2013