The polar ends of our world are incredibly special places – cold, wild and remote, little known by most of and yet with an amazing pull on our consciousnesses. Whilst Antarctica is protected by its UN Treaty, the Arctic is open to territorial claims from several countries and commercial interests. As its natural resources become more economically viable, helped both by shrinking ice and dwindling resources elsewhere, the pressure on the Arctic is increasing. So much so that we stand to lose one of the world's last great wildernesses in yet another rush for riches. So the launch of Greenpeace’s Arctic campaign is timely and welcome: http://www.savethearctic.org/
The RSPB shares deep concerns about the potential for a resources grab in the Arctic. Quite apart from the risks of extracting oil and gas, and the difficulties of tackling a spill in remote and harsh places, we should actually not even be considering their extraction and use: it’s incompatible with addressing climate change. The IEA world energy outlook report warns that we’re on the path to dangerous levels of climate change and that we will be locked into this path by 2017 unless new investment is substantially redirected into low carbon technologies. We need the massive investment being considered for the Arctic to be directed to new renewables, not to new fossil fuels.
And the irony of this desire for Arctic fossil fuel exploitation is that the Arctic is especially vulnerable to the climate change they will help cause. Already, warming there is roughly twice what we have in Europe and this will continue. It’s still one of the largest remaining ecologically intact regions on Earth, home to indigenous people and a unique and diverse ecosystem. Yet changes are already starting to show – from polar bears stranded on fragments of ice floes to ships starting to use the northerly channels across the top of the world.
So, we believe the UK should apply a clear set of principles in its dealings with the Arctic, to help protect the region from the ongoing effects of climate change, and ensure that its natural wealth is not exploited at the expense of its people, environmental security, ecosystems or wildlife. And some of that wildlife of course we also see here – many birds that breed in the Arctic spend their winter in the UK or use the UK as a stopover on longer migrations.
Remote, wild, and intimately connected with us. Of course we are beholden to protect the Arctic.