The Committee, which has been appointed to look at recent and expected changes in the Arctic and their implications for the UK and its international relations, will also continue to gather a large quantity of expert oral evidence through to the end of November, before reporting in February 2015.
Over the last fifty years access to the Arctic Ocean has become much easier as the average extent of summer sea ice has declined. The melting of the ice – along with other physical changes – presents a set of unique and rapidly evolving risks and opportunities. These have led to an intensification of international interest in the region. The UK, the Arctic’s ‘nearest neighbour’ and an observer state in the Arctic Council, published an ‘Arctic Policy Framework’ in October 2013 but UK interests in the changing Arctic stretch far beyond Government, to encompass commercial actors, researchers, those concerned with preserving Arctic ecosystems and livelihoods, and many others.
The Committee will consider in detail the opportunities and risks that changes in the Arctic will bring, including their impact on UK interests and the UK’s international relations.
Some of the questions the Committee poses in its call for evidence include:
- What are the main issues arising from recent and expected changes in the Arctic, and how will these impact on the Arctic and on the UK?
- Will changes in the Arctic lead to new economic and commercial opportunities?
- How should economic development be balanced with environmental protection in the Arctic? What should the UK’s role be?
- What is the potential impact of the changes for local populations?
- Are current international governance and security arrangements appropriate for dealing with anticipated challenges in the Arctic? How should the UK support the Arctic states in their stewardship of the region?
- How effectively does the UK interact with Arctic governance structures? Is the UK Government’s approach the right one?
“The Arctic is clearly undergoing massive change as temperatures rise there at twice the rate of the rest of the world, and as the ice declines more quickly than previously expected. That is leading to huge changes that will present both serious threats and significant opportunities.
“We know that rising Arctic temperatures are impacting on local wildlife and the way of life for Arctic communities. At the same time, the decline in summer sea ice has the potential to open up new shipping routes between Europe and Asia, while resources are becoming accessible that have previously been out of reach.
“Our inquiry will look at all these issues and more. We want to get a better understanding of the changes in the Arctic and what role the UK can and should play. The UK is the Arctic’s ‘nearest neighbour’ and an observer to the Arctic Council, and has many interests in the region, so we are certainly a part of the picture.
“We will explore what balance should be struck between protecting the Arctic and taking up the economic opportunities being presented, and how the UK should be involved in finding that balance. We are also interested in what the changes in the Arctic will mean for local populations, and for international relations.
“This is a big issue and we know lots of people, organisations and businesses, both in the UK and abroad, will have views and knowledge to share with us. I would encourage them to submit written evidence to us by 29 September via the Committee’s webpage in order to get their voice heard.”
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