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

1  Introduction

1. We published our report on Protecting the Arctic in September 2012.[1] The Government's response to our report, published in January 2013, did not accept the majority of our recommendations.[2] We had called for a moratorium on further Arctic oil and gas drilling and for the UK Government to set out its strategy for the Arctic. The Government told us that it did not intend to adopt an enhanced role in Arctic matters, either on environmental protection or oil and gas activities. Our previous NGO witnesses were "underwhelmed" by the Government response, which they considered demonstrated a "certain level of complacency", with "warm words" not backed up with specific actions. It was evident, they told us, that the Government "was seeking a business-as-usual scenario".[3]

2. The Government did agree, however, to make its Arctic policies more accessible by publishing an 'Arctic Policy Framework' in Summer 2013.[4] This report is our contribution to the development of that framework. As well as looking at how the Government has gone about developing that framework document, in this follow up inquiry we have examined the Government's response to our 2012 report and assessed developments in the intervening period. In our earlier report we signalled our intention to hold further evidence sessions on two outstanding matters: the results of the first set of ice-volume data from the Cryosat-2 satellite, and Shell's postponed Arctic drilling programme in 2012. We wanted to take oral evidence from Shell on its Alaska programme during this follow-up inquiry, including on the grounding of its Kulluk rig in December 2012, but the company felt unable to accept our invitation because of continuing regulatory investigations by US authorities (paragraphs 18-25). We will take further oral evidence from the company in the Autumn, once the US reviews into its Arctic drilling programme are complete. In the meantime Shell provided us with written evidence.[5]

3. In this follow up inquiry, we took evidence from the NGO witnesses to our previous inquiry, as well as from Professor Andrew Shepherd of University of Leeds[6] who has been analysing recent Cryosat-2 satellite measurements of sea-ice volume loss, the Met Office,[7] and Mark Simmonds MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and Jane Rumble, Head of the Polar Regions Unit in the FCO.

1   Environmental Audit Committee, Second Report of Session 2012-13, Protecting the Arctic, HC 171, []. Back

2   Environmental Audit Committee, Third Special Report of Session 2012-13, Protecting the Arctic: Government Response to the Committee's Second Report of Session 2012-13, HC 858, []. Back

3   Q 1 [Ruth Davis, Greenpeace; Rod Downie, WWF-UK; Liz Gallagher, E3G] Back

4   Protecting the Arctic: Government Response to the Committee's Second Report of Session 2012-13, op cit. Back

5   Ev 21 Back

6   Oral evidence taken in our Progress on Carbon Budgets inquiry (HC (2013-14) 60-ii) Back

7   ibid Back

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Prepared 27 July 2013