UK government must stop enouraging arctic oil and gas exploration, MPs say

The British government is failing to commit to ending oil and gas exploration in the Arctic region, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has said.

Last November the House of Commons committee released a report criticising the UK’s Arctic Strategy, noting its failure to discourage businesses from raiding the Arctic’s oil and gas reserves.

The EAC argues that the government’s stance is incompatible with its international commitments such as the Paris Agreement and UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), urging it to reconsider.

The committee has now ramped up the pressure on Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan after the government responded to the report last week, rejecting the EAC’s view that it encourages oil and gas exploration despite implicitly doing so in its Arctic Strategy.

Mary Creagh MP, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, said: ‘The thawing of Arctic ice is leading to ocean acidification, pollution and is derailing global climate goals. The UN’s report that Arctic winter temperatures will rise 3-5°C by 2050, even if the Paris climate commitments are met, is a shocking wakeup call for government.

‘Despite this, ministers continue to tacitly encourage highly damaging oil and gas exploration in the Arctic. UK support for Arctic research post-2020 is in doubt and there is no clarity on what measures the government is taking to tackle plastic pollution.

‘Action cannot wait. We need reassurances from the minister that we will protect the fragile Arctic environment.’

In its 27-page response last week to the EAC’s report, the government said that it was ‘wholly inaccurate’ for the EAC to say it encourages Arctic oil and gas exploration, describing its view as ‘untrue and baseless’.

However, it admitted that the Arctic’s ‘significant hydrocarbon reserves’ may be explored in order to meet the world’s energy demands, and said it ‘does not seek to direct where UK businesses invest’, saying this is down to companies’ commercial judgments.

‘Even as it moves to decarbonise its economy, projections show the world will continue to rely on oil and gas for decades to come,’ the government’s response read.

‘Supplying this demand will require exploration of new potential resources, with the Arctic, with its significant hydrocarbon reserves, potentially playing a major role.’

The EAC has now written back to the government asking it to explain what action it plans to take to end Arctic oil and gas exploration.

The committee has also asked for clarification whether Arctic research will be supported post-2020, how it plans to address plastic pollution in the region specifically, and what it will do to promote the SDGs in the Arctic in the short term.

The government is expected to provide a response to the EAC’s latest questions by the end of this month.


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