Adapting to change – UK policy towards the ArcticArctic tourism

The commercial dimension

Decisions to invest in commercial projects are dependent on a combination of complex factors, including political will, economic viability, legal regimes and patterns of investment. However, the changes being seen in the Arctic and the reduction in summer sea-ice coverage in particular have led to growing commercial interest in the Arctic, both from a growing number of industries and a growing number of countries from across the world.

People in the Arctic, like anywhere else, have a right to pursue economic prosperity. The UK supports that right. However, extreme care has to be taken to ensure that in the pursuit of commercial opportunities, long-term or irreparable damage is not done to the natural environment or ecosystems of the Arctic, which themselves underpin the economic prosperity of many Arctic communities.

Energy security

The UK's energy security must be delivered alongside achievement of legally binding targets on reducing carbon emissions and promoting renewable energy. However, as the UK transitions to a low carbon economy, and with a decline in domestic oil and gas production, the UK will become increasingly reliant on imported energy. The UK believes that natural gas will continue to play an important role in the UK energy mix for many decades to come.


Maritime transport and shipping in particular is an international, global industry in which the UK has a prominent role. It is the UK view that regulation of the industry should, therefore, take place on a global basis and be regulated universally without prejudice and be fair to everyone. The forum in which this is and should be carried out is the the International Marine Organisation (IMO,) where the UK plays, and will continue to play, a leading role. The IMO is an effective body with a substantial record of achievement.

The UK considers the existing international regulatory bodies to be effective. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) remains most important and in the fields of maritime safety and prevention of pollution respectively the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), both of which were developed in the forum of the IMO, will continue to be authoritative. The UK does not believe that it will be necessary or appropriate to make fundamental changes to existing international regimes for regulating Arctic, or other, shipping. The Arctic is an area of increasing importance for maritime transport. One of the principal effects of climate change on the Arctic will be to make the region more accessible to shipping.

Activity: Look at the section about Polar Patrols. Make a list of the changes that increased access to the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route will cause.

The UK considers that the development of the mandatory Polar Code within the IMO must produce a clear direction on the design, equipment and, where appropriate, operational methods of shipping which will transit or be employed within this fragile environment. The UK welcomes the positive steps taken by the Arctic Council regarding Arctic shipping, particularly the Council's 2011 Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement and focus on safe Arctic shipping under the Canadian Chairmanship.

The UK, through the UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO), has considerable experience and expertise in surveying in the Arctic. UKHO maintains a comprehensive portfolio of charts and publications covering the region, from Norway to the Bering Strait, and around the USA and Canada, which make a significant contribution to navigational safety in the Arctic.


The Arctic is an increasingly popular destination for British travellers, primarily as passengers on cruise ships but also for those undertaking on-shore activities such as adventure tourism. However, the isolation of certain parts of the Arctic combined with the harsh environment and modest capacity of search and rescue infrastructure poses unique challenges to safe tourism. The challenges are likely to rise as the opportunities for Arctic tourism continue to increase.

Activity: Look at the section Postcard from the Edge to see the different kinds of tourism that take place in the Arctic


Commercial fishing activity in the Arctic should take place fully taking into account the possible impacts on the wider marine ecosystem. Negative impacts on other species and vulnerable marine ecosystems should be avoided. Basing fisheries on the best available science is therefore vitally important. The UK supports the work of Regional Fisheries

Management Organisations (RFMOs) in managing fish stocks and marine ecosystems, including in the waters of the Arctic. RFMOs fulfil some of the requirements of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement in bringing together interested nations to cooperate in the management of fish stocks.

Activity: Look at the fishing described in Resources from the Edge, Under the water. How might large scale commercial fishing affect the peoples who live in the Arctic?


The UK is a signatory to the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing, which allows fair access to genetic resources in return for a share of the benefits for their use, potentially paving the way for exciting new medicinal and genetic innovations. The UK is in the process of putting in place measures to implement the Nagoya Protocol. These measures will seek to ensure that UK users respect any access and benefit sharing regulatory requirements of Arctic States that are Parties to the Nagoya Protocol.

Activity: Find out more about the Nagoya Protocol and the Convention on Biological Diversity.

UK commercial expertise

UK companies have substantial expertise in a broad range of sectors operating or supporting activity in the Arctic, including insurance and risk management, maritime, hydrocarbons and mineral extraction. These companies are well placed to contribute bespoke products and services to the many industries that are growing in the Arctic.

Download the UK's policy towards the Commercial Dimension.


Home | 1: Climate change | 2: Living on the edge | 3: Arctic science | 4: Hunter or hunted? | 5: Postcard from the edge | 6: Troubled waters | 7: Resources from the edge | 8: Arctic Circumpolar Governance | 9: Snow, water, ice, permafrost | 10: Adapting to change

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