Environmental Audit Committee launches inquiry into protecting the Arctic

08 January 2012

MPs have launched a new inquiry into what the UK Government can do to help protect the Arctic as the retreating ice opens the region up to oil drilling, new shipping routes and new fishing grounds. Its inquiry will examine what more needs to be done - through dialogue, treaties, regulations and incentives - to ensure that any development of the region is sustainable and takes full account of its impacts on climate change and the environment

Comment from the Chair 

Joan Walley MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, said:

"Rising global temperatures - caused by the burning of fossil fuels - ironically look set to clear the way for a new oil and gas gold rush in the Arctic.

We will be looking at what the UK Government can do to ensure that the Arctic is protected and whether it is even possible to drill for oil and gas safely in such remote regions.

Concerns over climate change should be recognised internationally as a limiting factor on any new oil and gas drilling in the Arctic." 


Sea-ice in the Arctic region is retreating and the rate of reduction is expected to increase as global temperatures rise. This will open up new commercial opportunities in the region including  previously impassable shipping routes, fossil fuel deposits and fishing grounds.

Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) the five states surrounding the North Pole (Russia, the United States, Canada, Norway and Denmark (via Greenland)), are able to submit bids for Arctic territory. This process is set to begin in Spring 2012 and ends in 2014 and will result in successful applicants gaining resource rights.

Although the UK has no jurisdiction over the Arctic, it does have strong commercial and scientific interests in the region and it sits on the Arctic Council. The Environmental Audit Committee will examine how the UK Government could use its influence - through regulation, incentives, dialogue and treaties - to ensure that any development of the region is sustainable and takes full account of its impacts on climate change and the environment.

Joan Walley MP added:

"How the world deals with its remaining wildernesses will be a crucial test of our civilisation's stewardship of the planet in the twenty first century.

Will we allow a free-for-all in the polar regions of our planet or can we work together to protect, share and manage these areas responsibly?"

The inquiry

The inquiry will examine:

  • How the effects of global warming might open up the region to commercial opportunities, and how the UK in taking advantage of these might ensure that the region's environment is protected
  • What the consequences will be of unrestricted development in the Arctic
  • How Arctic energy reserves might impact on UK energy security and policy
  • How new Arctic shipping routes and fishing grounds might affect UK maritime and fisheries policy
  • What other UK domestic and foreign policies may potentially impact on the Arctic
  • How the Government might use its place on the Arctic Council to influence resource exploitation and steer development in the region a more sustainable path. And what other opportunities exist for the UK to influence politics in the region to ensure sustainable development of the region

The committee invites organisations and members of the public to submit written evidence, setting out their views on these issues. More wide ranging responses are also welcome. Submissions should ideally be sent to the committee by Friday 10 February, although later submissions may be accepted. Guidance on preparing submissions is set out below.

Note: The Arctic Council comprises Canada, Denmark (covering Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russian Federation, Sweden, and the US. These are the Arctic States which have territory in the region. A number of Arctic indigenous peoples have Permanent Participant status  to the Arctic Council. The Council also includes a number of observer states; UK, France, Germany, Netherlands, Poland and Spain ( the EU is currently trying to gain observer status).

Submitting evidence 

For written submissions to the committee, please note:

Each submission should ideally:

  • Begin with a short summary in bullet point form
  • Have numbered paragraphs; and
  • Be in Word format with as little use of colour or logos as possible.

A copy of the submission should be sent by e-mail to and marked 'Arctic'. An additional paper copy should be sent to:

Clerk of the Committee
Environmental Audit Committee
House of Commons
7 Millbank
London SW1P 3JA

It would be helpful, for Data Protection purposes, if individuals submitting written evidence send their contact details separately in a covering letter. You should be aware that there may be circumstances in which the House of Commons will be required to communicate information to third parties on request, in order to comply with its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Please supply a postal address so a copy of the committee's report can be sent to you upon publication.

A guide for written submissions to Select Committees may be found on the parliamentary website:

Please also note that:

Material published elsewhere should not form the basis of a submission, but may be referred to within a proposed memorandum, in which case a hard copy of the published work should be included.

Memoranda submitted must be kept confidential until published by the Committee, unless publication by the person or organisation submitting it is specifically authorised.

Once submitted, evidence is the property of the committee. The committee normally, though not always, chooses to make public the written evidence it receives, by publishing it on the internet (where it will be searchable), by printing it or by making it available through the Parliamentary Archives. If there is any information you believe to be sensitive you should highlight it and explain what harm you believe would result from its disclosure. The committee will take this into account in deciding whether to publish or further disclose the evidence.  

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