UK support for oil and gas exploration in the Arctic is incompatible with climate change commitments.
That’s the verdict from the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), which says such activity could hinder the UK achieving the Paris Agreement objectives and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Following an eight-month inquiry, MPs have called on the government to reconsider its encouragement to UK businesses to explore oil and gas opportunities in the region, which it says is undergoing profound environmental change from warming surface and ocean temperatures.
Data shows ice is now at its lowest level since records began – the EAC warns as it melts, it releases trapped carbon dioxide emissions and plastic particles.
It said government must strengthen its emissions targets, set a net-zero target by 2050, increase funding to UK scientists and set out a clear timeline to phase out plastic pollution.
The group noted research into the Arctic is ‘modest’ compared to Antarctica and needs to be better supported, adding the UK should seek to maintain the current level of collaboration and coordination with the EU in this area when negotiating its future relationship.
The EAC highlighted as more ice melts, the opportunities for shipping will increase, bringing with them the threats of oil spills, higher carbon emissions and plastic pollution.
It said the government should press the International Maritime Organisation to ban heavy fuel oils and designate the Arctic as a special sensitive area.
Chair of the EAC, Mary Creagh MP, said: “If there is anywhere in the world that the principles of sustainable development should apply, it is the Arctic.
“The government should start by acknowledging the incompatibility of its support for oil and gas exploitation with its climate change commitments.”
A Government spokesperson said: “Any suggestion that we are not committed to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement is nonsense. We do not actively encourage oil and gas exploration in the Arctic.
“We have decarbonised our economy faster than any other G20 nation and were the first in the world to put in place legally binding targets to reduce our emissions. We are clear that all countries must set ambitious targets for reducing emissions, including Arctic States and we continue to push for this at the highest levels.
“The UK is a world leader on tackling climate change but we must do more and will study this report carefully.”