Report publication | Arctic Committee | House of Lords

Report publication | Arctic Committee | House of Lords


Lord Teverson, your committee has published
its report and your report is entitled ‘Responding to the change in the Arctic’, how is the
Arctic changing and how do we need to respond? Well the absolutely obvious thing first of
all is that with the temperatures going up there at twice the rate of the rest of the
world the thing that everybody is seeing there is the reduction in sea ice, which has reduced
quite substantially over recent years, and also, of course, a lot of the Arctic is land
and we have the melting ice on Greenland particularly which is causing sea level rises in the rest
of the world, so those big climate change things are happening with particularly ice
and that means there’s a lot more interest in the area, particularly from industrial
companies in terms of potential mineral exploration, in terms of shipping companies, could there
be a shorter route for the world’s marine industry and of course just working out how
the governance is going to work in territorial claims. That whole area is opening because
of these changes that are happening there right now. And one of the main things the committee recommend
is that the government should appoint an ‘Arctic ambassador’, why do we need a UK ambassador
for the Arctic, and what do you think would be the immediate priorities on taking that
role? Well I think first of all one of the things
we sometimes forget is that although we’re not one of the eight Arctic states that are
members of the Arctic Council, we’re the next nearest neighbour, and so we have an
important role there geographically, we have a strong history of both exploration but more
importantly scientific research in the area, and so the Arctic is important to us. Not
just that, particularly in Asia, China, Japan, Singapore, Korea, India, they’re all taking
a real interest in the Arctic now as observer states to the Arctic Council, and the committee
feels there’s a great risk that the UK could be left behind, one of the ways that we could
do that is to, and we’re recommending very strongly is for a United Kingdom ambassador
for the Arctic. This is not a novel concept, many other of our, we could call them, competitor
nations there have already appointed them, but what that would allow is a much higher
profile for us, and for the UK to be able to coordinate its policy towards the Arctic,
whether it be governmental, commercial, all the scientific research, enable that to be
coordinated far more effectively, make the spend better, but also get that higher profile
and make the Arctic one of our priority areas in terms of high north policy. One of the things the report highlights is
that the melting of sea ice will make the Arctic Ocean much more accessible in the future,
what are the challenges or opportunities that that will provoke? Well there’s a lot more interest in the
Arctic because of it, commercially so there’s all sorts of challenges there about the environment
and making sure the commercial and environmental opportunites are balanced. The sea routes
will change, perhaps in the long term, the Northwest Passage and Northern Passages will,
but mainly destination shipping in the area, but one of the areas we were particularly
concerned about was search and rescue, making sure that the vessels that are there, including
tourist ships that are already in much of the area are able to be helped when they’re
in trouble, but the other area was particularly fishing, where we’re recommending a moratorium
on fishing until there is an international organisation set up for that international
area of sea outside the economic zones and we understand a lot lot more about how ecosystems
work in the high north and in that central part of the Arctic Ocean, once the sea ice
continues to melt away and those opportunities become real. So, the committee have now reported, what
happens next? Well first of all we report to the government,
we send the report to the government for a response from them, particularly, obviously,
the Foreign Office. That will happen, I hope, after the next election in May, so one of
the first things on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s desk when they come back after
the election, whoever’s there, is the question about Arctic and what British policy should
be there for the future. It’s then debated in the House, the House of Lords, again, in
the new parliament I suspect, and then we will be following up, I and my colleagues,
although the committee is dissolved we will be making sure that action and pressure continues
to make sure that the UK does become one of the prime partners of the Arctic states for
the future.

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