COMMONS

The Changing Arctic inquiry launched

08 March 2018

The Environmental Audit Committee launches an inquiry into the rapid changes in the Arctic. The Arctic is undergoing profound changes as a result of climate change. It is warming almost twice as fast as the global average. Recent research also suggests microplastic and plastic pollution is an increasing problem.

Mary Creagh, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee said:

"The Arctic is warming rapidly as a result of climate change. The consequences of a shifting Arctic environment will be felt throughout the world. Only last week, we saw how increased winter temperatures in the Arctic can lead to extreme weather conditions in the UK.

“The UK is a proud champion of environmental science and has historically been committed to promoting responsible development in the Arctic. Our inquiry will assess the Government’s Arctic policy, and whether the UK, as one of the Arctic’s nearest neighbours, should be doing more to protect this vulnerable region.”

Governance of the Arctic

Governance of the Arctic is managed through the Arctic Council (made up of eight Arctic States and Arctic Indigenous Peoples) and defined in a series of international laws and agreements. The UK is the most northern country outside of these Arctic States and is a permanent Observer on the Council. The European Union does not currently have Observer status but in 2016, it produced an integrated EU Policy for the Arctic. The UK has a history of involvement in scientific projects funded or part-funded by the EU.

Government's policy framework

In 2012, our predecessor Committee recommended that the Government develop an arctic strategy to bring together the UK's diverse interests in the Arctic. In 2013, the Government published a policy framework which set out its vision for a safe, secure and well governed Arctic. Specific policy areas highlighted in the framework included the continued funding of UK-led Arctic research and promoting good governance and business standards in the region. The Government said that it would keep its policy framework under review.

Since its publication in 2013, the rate of environmental change in the Arctic has increased, resulting in the decline in sea ice coverage. Funding of US research agencies who have a long history in the Arctic, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), may also have been put in doubt following political developments in the US.

This inquiry will assess how the Arctic is changing, what this means for the UK and what the Government has achieved through its policy framework. It will determine whether the framework is still fit for purpose in light of recent developments.

Submit written evidence

The Committee welcomes submissions on the following points by 5 pm, Wednesday, 16th May. Evidence taken as part of the previous Committee’s inquiry into Sustainability and the Arctic, which was cut short by the 2017 election, will be considered as part of this inquiry.

Submissions should made using the Changing Arctic inquiry page.

Terms of reference

How is the Arctic changing?

  1. What are the most significant environmental changes taking place in the Arctic? What might they mean for the UK, for example in terms of sea level rise or changes to climate? How well prepared is the UK Government for these impacts?
  2. What is the extent of plastic and microplastic pollution in the Arctic? Where does this come from? What could the UK Government do to reduce it?

UK policy

  1. Has the UK’s policy framework on the Arctic helped it achieve its vision of ensuring ‘policies are developed on the basis of sound science with full regard to the environment, and where only responsible development takes place’? Is the framework still fit for purpose in light of environmental and geopolitical changes?
  2. What role did the UK play in developing the integrated European Union policy for the Arctic and in encouraging the sustainable use of Arctic resources? Will the UK’s relationship to the Arctic change after leaving the European Union in respect of policy, trade or regulation?

UK-led scientific research

  1. How active has Government been in supporting UK research in the Arctic? What impact has the Natural Environmental Research Council’s (NERC’s) recent 5-year research programme had so far? Are there any gaps in the current research programme that the NERC should address in future programmes?
  2. What are the implications of leaving the EU for the UK's scientific research in the Arctic? What have the impacts been to date? How are agreements on international cooperation, joint research projects and access to funding streams like Horizon 2020 likely to be impacted?
  3. Have actual or proposed changes in policy or funding towards Arctic research by other major players, such as the United States, had an impact on UK research capacity in the Arctic? How might the UK need to adapt its approach?

Promoting good governance and business standards

  1. To what extent has the UK promoted business standards, best practice and responsible development in the Arctic and thereby reduced environmental impact of commercial activities (including fossil fuel extraction, mining, shipping and tourism)? How successful has it been? What more could it do?

Deadline for submissions

Written evidence should be submitted through the inquiry page by 5pm Wednesday 16 May 2018. The word limit is 3,000 words. Later submissions will be accepted, but may be too late to inform the first oral evidence hearing. Please send written submissions using the form on the inquiry page.

Diversity

The Committee values diversity and seek to ensure this where possible. We encourage members of underrepresented groups to submit written evidence. We aim to have diverse panels of Select Committee witnesses and ask organisations to bear this in mind if asked to appear. 

Further information

Image: iStockphoto

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