Manifesto report: What do the UK political parties say about protecting the Arctic?


Doug Parr

The Arctic has “iconic status and a sensitive environment”, according to the Royal Institute of International Affairs — the “consequences of disasters in the Arctic are likely to be worse than in other regions”.

But after a years-long push for Arctic oil and gas exploration, has the topic penetrated mainstream political discourse?

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In case you hadn’t noticed, the UK is in the midst of a general election. So we’ve analysed the manifestos of the major political parties to see if and where the Arctic ranks as an issue.

Liberal Democrats come out strong

The clearest statement of intent came from the Liberal Democrats, who said in their manifesto that they would:

  • “Push for the creation of a marine nature reserve in the Arctic Ocean”
  • “Promote the highest possible environmental standards for UK companies operating in the region”
  • “Press for a ban on EU-flagged vessels undertaking industrial fishing in the previously unfished areas of the Arctic”

Greens namecheck but don’t elaborate

In its principal policy document, the Green Party committed to “champion internationally the protection of the Arctic” — but didn’t specify against which threats, or how they’d go about it.

Conservatives say they’re worried about the polar bears

The Conservative Party have said they would “press for full endangered species status for polar bears and a ban on the international trade in polar bear skins, as well as for greater attention to be paid to the impact of climate change on wildlife and habitats in Polar Regions in the Arctic Council and other international fora”.

This has the merit of recognising the threat and identifying relevant places for international pressure, but it doesn’t actually say anything about countering the threats.  Nor does it have any language in other relevant manifesto sections about containing or regulating fossil fuel or fishing developments that may have a bearing on this issue.

Everyone else is silent

The Arctic wasn’t mentioned at all in the manifestos of Labour, Ukip or Plaid Cymru.

The SNP did reference it, but only in relation to defence policy.

To conclude

Aside from the Lib Dems, who have developed lines on Arctic protection, and the Greens, who have made vague commitments, none of the other major parties – including the two likely to lead the next government – view protecting the Arctic as any sort of priority.

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