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


1.  Data from the Cryosat-2 satellite mission show an alarming rate of decline in the volume of Arctic sea ice in summer. Taking account of that new data, the Met Office continues to forecast ice-free summers in the Arctic by 2025-2030. (Paragraph 12)

2.  The Government has failed to provide a coherent argument to support its view that exploring for oil and gas in the Arctic is compatible with avoiding dangerous climate change. We disagree with the Minister's view that there is a choice between economic growth and using production limits to tackle climate change. As we pointed out in our 2012 Green Economy report, moving away from fossil fuels could create substantial employment, stimulate exports, encourage inward investment, help secure energy supplies and protect the UK from potentially volatile fossil fuel prices. 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. (Paragraph 17)

3.  Continuing regulatory investigations in the US of Shell's operations in the Arctic make it difficult at this stage to establish whether those operations constitute a particular environmental risk, beyond the generic risks of operating in the region which we highlighted in our 2012 report. There remain important questions about Shell's 2012 operations, which we will put to the company once the continuing US investigations are complete. This case nevertheless shows that oil companies and regulators are not yet in a position to demonstrate that they can ensure that oil and gas operations will be undertaken in the safest possible way in the Arctic. That reinforces the case for the moratorium on new Arctic oil and gas that we called for last year. (Paragraph 25)

4.  There is a growing awareness of the benefits of more inclusive governance arrangements for the Arctic. We welcome the Arctic Council opening its doors to allow a wider group of countries to observe its work. It is too early to see how effective the new Arctic Circle group might be, but it appears to provide an opportunity for further dialogue on Arctic matters and might complement the role of the Arctic Council. (Paragraph 31)

5.  The Government's commitment to publish an Arctic Policy Framework is a welcome development, but we are disappointed that it will not contain any new policies to address the risks that we identified in our 2012 report, or be subject to a public consultation. (Paragraph 35)

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Prepared 27 July 2013