The UK's approach to the Arctic: an overview
To understand the Arctic it is not useful to see the area as one totally covered with ice and snow. The extent of winter sea ice and summer sea ice vary dramatically.
It is diverse in terms of geographic, climatic and human dimensions. Other areas of this website will have shown how indigenous people have lived across the Arctic lands with their own identities, cultures, languages and traditions for thousands of years. Other sections show how the Arctic has been connected to the wider world for just as long through trade and pollution finding its way into Arctic ice.
Exploration and exploitation of the natural resources of the Arctic have been undertaken since the 1960s and some areas have been popular with tourists for decades. But where is the Arctic? There are many different definitions.
Activity: Which of these definitions do you think is the right one?
The Arctic is changing
The two graphs below show how the surface air temperature anomaly over land from 1900 – 2012 and the average monthly sea-ice extent from 1979-2012 have been changing.
This is important because the Arctic is linked to global processes and vice versa. It is now thought that decreasing sea-ice or increasing freshwater entering the Arctic Ocean may have the potential to affect the UK's weather and climate and migratory birds and marine species. Arctic sea routes are becoming increasingly ice-free for more days of the year and mineral resources are becoming more accessible. Resources would end up on the world markets and be potentially traded or consumed in the UK. The links between the Arctic and global processes means that non-Arctic states such as the UK have legitimate interests and roles to play in finding solutions to many of the most pressing issues facing the Arctic.
So the UK will work towards an Arctic that is safe and secure, well governed is conjunction with indigenous peoples and in line with international law; where polices are developed on the basis of sound science with full regard to the environment; and where only responsible development takes place.
Activity: Look at the other sections of this site. How many links can you find between the UK at the Arctic? For example look at the sections on migratory birds, Arctic science and pollutants.
Respect, Leadership and Co-operation
Polices need to be found and developed which recognise and respect the differences between different parts of the Arctic. That is why the UK's approach to the Arctic is based on respect:
- Respect for the sovereign rights of the Arctic States to exercise jurisdiction over their territory;
- Respect for the views and interests of people who live and work in the Arctic and call it home;
- Respect for the environment, its fragility and its central importance to the global climate.
The leadership for Arctic stewardship rests with the eight Arctic Sates and the peoples within those States as these are the peoples with the most interest in ensuring a peaceful Arctic with a well-governed Arctic with a sustainable future. However climate change is the greatest challenge facing the Arctic and the UK is a global leader on both pushing for the reduced emissions of greenhouse gases and understanding its global effects. The UK's scientific community, industry and non-governmental organisations are leading on understanding the causes of the rapid changes affecting the Arctic.
Because there are so many people involved in the development and implementation of Arctic policy dialogue and co-operation should be at the heart of Arctic policy. The UK's long-standing aim of working closely and co-operatively with the Arctic States, indigenous peoples and others on the issues facing the Arctic therefore remains central to the Government's approach.
By its nature science contributes directly to diplomacy, policy and our understanding of the Arctic and high quality independent science is the main way of delivering many of the UK's objectives. Highly regarded UK science is present in most areas of Arctic research and also helps to underpin good policy, stable governance and responsible commerce. UK industry offers professional, high value and responsible products and services covering a range of industries and their supply chains. UK non-governmental organisations are active in promoting awareness and understanding of the Arctic environment and its intrinsic value
UK funded Arctic Research
The UK has a large, active and growing Arctic science community, with at least 77 UK institutions involved in Arctic research, including 46 universities and 20 research institutes. In 2011 alone more the 500 individual UK scientists with registered Arctic interests produced over 500 Arctic-related publications four times as many as in 2000.
Funding for UK Arctic environmental research activities has steadily risen over the past decade with over £50m awarded to 138 individual research projects, including the new £15m of thematic funding provided for the Arctic Research Programme by NERC.
UK assets in the Arctic
The UK research station at Ny-Alesund, northwest Svalbard provides a summer research facility in the High Arctic with 95 Arctic research projects supported in the last ten years alone, 14 of which were led by non-UK scientists.
The UK has two ice-capable research vessels operated by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). One of these, the RRS James Clark Ross, with its advanced facilities for oceanographic research, now operates two to three research cruises every year in the western Arctic. In recent years it has been facilitating research on topics such as ocean circulation, ocean acidification, sea-ice processes, aerosols, marine plankton and methane hydrates. They have also worked with a fleet of research capable aircraft to study the atmospheric changes in the Arctic.
Activity: Look elsewhere on this site to find examples of scientific activities in the Arctic undertaken to understand rapid change and promote awareness of the Arctic environment and its intrinsic value.