Polar Notes

Apr 2018

Beyond the Ice: UK Arctic Policy Framework revised

In April, the UK Government published a new policy paper setting out its approach to the Arctic and providing a much-needed update to its 2013 Arctic Policy Framework.  

With the publication of the Arctic Policy Framework five years ago, the UK became the first non-Arctic state to communicate its Arctic interests in a white paper. In it, the Government set out how, based upon the principles of respect, leadership, and cooperation, the UK would work towards an Arctic that is secure and prosperous, where sound science underpins policy development, and the rights of indigenous peoples, international law and environmental protections are upheld.

The Arctic Policy Framework was always intended to be a ‘living document’, subject to regular review, and able to adapt to the rapidity and unpredictability of the changes underway in the Arctic. Indeed, much has happened since 2013 to impinge on the UK’s interests in the region, including the drastic deterioration of UK-Russia relations, the collapse of the global oil price (and, at the time of writing, its apparent recovery), unprecedented and alarming observations of Arctic ice melt, and the public’s sudden awareness of the need for emergency action to address plastic pollution.  

Meanwhile, ‘Brexit’ is forcing a reconsideration of the UK’s role in the world and how it pursues influence overseas, and Parliament’s interest in all matters ‘polar’ is the highest it has ever been (in addition to the work of the APPG for the Polar Regions, there have been four select committee inquiries relating to Arctic affairs since the first Arctic Policy Framework was published).  

The new Arctic Policy Framework responds to these developments by offering a more explicit account of how the Arctic fits into the UK Government’s broader foreign policy goals of projecting global influence, protecting people and the environment, and promoting prosperity. As the Rt Hon Sir Alan Duncan MP, Minister of State for the Polar Regions explains in the Foreword, “the UK’s role in the Arctic reflects the very best of what Global Britain has to offer, from world-leading science, and business investment, to our commitment to environment protection, international cooperation, and the rules-based system.”

The new paper also makes clear that the UK wishes to remain a “significant player in Arctic affairs”, particularly at a time of growing global interest in the Arctic. Using UK science and innovation to advance global understanding of how changes in the Arctic have global consequences remains at the forefront of the Government’s approach. The revised Arctic Policy Framework rightly makes much of how the UK continues to make a world-leading contribution to Arctic science through investment in infrastructure, research, and scientific partnerships with Arctic states.