Submission by the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG) to the Environment Audit Committee’s Inquiry on Arctic Sustainability - Call for evidence
The call for evidence
The call of evidence asks for answers to a number of points. These two in particular are addressed in our submission:
- Has the UK’s policy framework on the Arctic helped it achieve its vision of ensuing ‘policies are developed on the basis of sound science with full regard to the environment, and where only responsible development takes place’? Is the framework still fit for purpose in light of environmental and geopolitical changes?
- What are the most significant environmental changes taking place in the Arctic, what is changing and what does it mean for the Arctic and the UK?
Previous warnings ignored
Unfortunately the government chose to largely ignore key points of evidence about the rapidity of sea ice retreat and attendant consequences provided by Peter Wadhams and AMEG for the predecessor committee, meeting in spring 2012. Instead they chose to act on the basis that the sea ice would last this century, following the projections of climate models provided by the Met Office Hadley Centre. These models have been thoroughly discredited since the projections diverge from observed trends far more than could be allowed by natural variability. The dramatic record retreat of sea ice in September 2012 apparently came as a complete surprise to the Met Office, despite the minimum volume being precisely on the data point predicted according to an exponential downward trend. Most climate scientists now accept that the Arctic Ocean could be seasonally “free” of sea ice (i.e. with extent less than one million square kilometres at the end of summer) within a decade or two.
The government also chose to ignore the mounting emissions of methane gas from the Arctic seabed, preferring to believe models suggesting that such emissions could not possibly grow to dangerous levels. Unfortunately the models were based on unsound assumptions about the source of the methane. Recent research suggests that Arctic methane emissions could rise to the gigaton level, at which methane starts to dominate over CO2 as the main greenhouse gas climate forcing agent.
Thus the government rejected our urgent calls for intervention to save the situation. Instead the government proposed that the Met Office should be responsible for overseeing intervention, when the Met Office had just claimed that intervention was not needed! Far from adopting the precautionary principle, the government chose to believe the comforting view that all was well in the Arctic, and that it was ripe for exploitation.