Ministers' support for Arctic oil and gas exploration ‘incompatible’ with climate change rules, warn MPs

Posted On: 
29th November 2018

Ministers should end their support for exploitation of oil and gas reserves in the Arctic as it is “incompatible” with the UK’s global climate change commitments, MPs have said.

A polar bear with mirroring in the Arctic
Credit: 
PA Images

The Government was warned that the policy falls short on both UN Sustainable Development Goals and the principles of the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement.

It comes despite an official document on the UK's Arctic policy earlier this year stating that the region’s “significant hydrocarbon reserves” could play “a major role” in providing oil and gas for decades to come.

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“While decisions on how to regulate oil and gas activities are matters for relevant national authorities to determine, the UK Government supports the use of the highest possible standards,” it said.

But the Commons Environmental Audit committee’s report said the Government, which “remains a key player in its protection”, should “acknowledge the incompatibility” of its stance.

They call on ministers to “bolster” commitments to protecting the region in line with international agreements, including creating sustainable communities and to set a net-zero target on emissions “by 2050 at the very latest."

The MPs say while rapidly melting ice allows increased shipping and mining opportunities, ministers should press for an international ban on heavy fuel oils as soon as is "technologically feasible" given they risk leading to a “dire” situation through oil spills and pollution.

And they say while tourism prompted by rising temperatures can “bring benefits”, large cruise ships, sometimes of more than 6,000 people, can “overwhelm” small Arctic communities.

They add that such vessels heighten the risk of plastic pollution and rights to wildlife and have called on ministers to work with the Arctic Council towards a ban on those carrying more than 500 passengers - as is the case in the Antarctic.

Elsewhere the committee ramped up calls for the Government to appoint a special representative, ambassador, or envoy to the Arctic to play a co-ordinating role on itspolicy.

Chair of the Committee, Mary Creagh, said: “The Arctic is changing rapidly and warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet.

“This brings potentially catastrophic consequences for the global climate as well as commercial opportunities and risks.

"The Government should start by acknowledging the incompatibility of its support for oil and gas exploitation with its climate change commitments. It can do this by setting targets in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

“If there is anywhere in the world that the principles of sustainable development should apply, it is the Arctic.

“With interest in the Arctic from countries as far away as China and Singapore, the UK must ensure it remains a key player in its protection. We’re calling for increased funding for research and strengthening of UK emissions targets. Failing to act now would be a dereliction of a global duty.”