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UK support for oil and gas drilling in Arctic incompatible with climate change goals, warn MPs

The government must call its support for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic if it is serious about its international commitments to protect the planet, MPs have warned.

Human activity is already pushing the polar region to the brink, as the melting sea ice allows heavily polluting ships to enter pristine habitats and nations eye up its precious natural resources.

The Arctic is warming at the time of the planet, and the resulting unusual weather patterns are already being felt in the UK – for example during this year's "Beast from the East".

Despite these problems, the government has outlined the importance of fossil fuel companies' continued exploration of the Arctic "for decades to come.

As the UN urges nations to take a drastically more ambitious approach to cutting emissions, the Environmental Audit Committee has warned that Britain's position is incompatible with its obligations under the Paris climate agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

While not technically an Arctic state, the UK's proximity has earned it a place as an observer on the Arctic Council.

In their report, the MPs urged the government to use its influence on the council, which also includes the US and Russia, to protect Arctic wildlife and human inhabitants.

"If there is anywhere in the world that the sustainable development should be applied, it is the Arctic," said the committee chair Mary Creagh.

"The government must 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 with the Sustainable Development Goals. "

Current trends suggest the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free during summer as soon as the 2050s. This is opening up commercial opportunities both for resource and cruise vessels.

Oil spills and damage to sea ice are among the immediate threats from an increased human presence, and the continuous burning of Arctic's long-buried oil and gas deposits will only add to the Earth's warming.

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Nevertheless, changing conditions are attracting extensive foreign interest in the region. The MPs urged the government to leverage the country's long tradition of Arctic research to discourage harmful operations there.

"With interest in the Arctic from countries as far as China and Singapore, the UK must ensure it remains a key player in its defense," said Ms Creagh.

"We're calling for increased funding for research and strengthening of UK emissions targets."

Sustainable development researcher Dr Alexandra Middleton from the University of Oulu, who was consulted for the report, emphasized: "We must stop looking at the Arctic as just a land of natural resources and minerals."

Rod Downie, chief polar adviser at WW F, said: "This is a stark reminder that what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic.

"The UK government and businesses need to focus on sustainable development in the Arctic and a net-zero target at home – which our 'Keeping it Cool' report this month proved can be accomplished by 2045.

"The time has come to draw a line on the oil and gas companies exploiting Arctic once and for all."

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."

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