14 April 2023
Arctic EAC Visit

As Parliament went into recess over Easter, I joined members of the Environmental Audit Committee in Norway to learn about climate change's impact on the Arctic.

We were in Tromsö on the north coast meeting scientists from the Norwegian Polar Institute. We also met administrators from the Arctic Council which governs key activities which take place within the Arctic. The past year of Russia's two year term as President of the Arctic Council has stalled various initiatives, which Norway hopes to resume when it takes over the presidency next month to relaunch more active dialogue with member states and observers, of which the UK is a long-standing observer.

We also visited the British Research station at Ny-Ålesund, the northernmost inhabited place on the planet. This was a fascinating opportunity to learn first-hand from scientists engaged in a wide range of research into the impact of climate change on one of the most remote but environmentally significant areas of the earth.

I do not often talk about the weather in this column, but I have not experienced -29.8°C (with windchill) before. But despite this distinctly chilly day, there is no doubt that average temperatures in the Arctic are rising at a rapid rate.

We saw remarkable research being undertaken on global warming and its impact on glaciers, sea ice, snow melt, marine life, changes to seaweed growth patterns, atmospheric research and pollution of the air and sea. 

We heard evidence of global warming raising temperatures more rapidly - some 3 to 4 times, with emerging studies suggesting even higher rates - than the rest of the planet. The consequences are wide ranging and will form part of our Committee's report later this year.

We did not see any of the estimated 3,000 polar bears on Svalbard, but we did learn about the impact of rising temperatures on their feeding habits and lifestye. Nor did we see a walrus, but there were seals along the coast.

We also saw some of the 10,000 reindeer grazing near to the base. I had not appreciated that it is only female reindeer which retain their antlers at this time of the year, to help them forage for food while carrying young; and I was told to help fend off unwanted advances from random males.

I was pleased to be able to report on this trip to members of the South Shropshire Climate Action Group earlier this week. They are making good progress in bringing together interested groups across Shropshire to identify practical steps that individuals and businesses can take here in Shropshire to help adapt and mitigate, as well as  reduce, the impact we make in our daily lives to climate change.