Lancaster University Professor advises Parliament on Arctic geopolitics and its impacts on polar research

A polar bear in the Arctic

The increasing geopolitical tensions in the Arctic resulting from Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine have weakened Arctic governance and compromised climate science and polar research, according to a Lancaster University professor.

Basil Germond, Professor of International Security at Lancaster University, gave oral evidence to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research this week on questions of Arctic geopolitics and its impacts on polar research. He says the UK can play a positive role in driving innovation, research and security governance in the High North.

The Sub-Committee on Polar Research was appointed by the Environmental Audit Committee in January 2023 to consider the contribution of UK science to understanding climate and environmental change in the polar regions. Earlier this year, the Committee launched an inquiry into The UK and the Arctic Environment to examine the UK’s role in Arctic science and sustainability.

Professor Germond explained: “Polar research is still a priority of the UK and our allies, but it is now subordinated to defence and security considerations, interests, and objectives.

“In the current confrontational context, science cooperation with institutions supporting or supported by Putin’s regime ceases being politically (or even morally) acceptable.”

Professor Germond told the sub-committee that Western nations must intensify scientific cooperation to compensate for the lack of data from Russia and adopt an ambitious funding strategy for Arctic climate science.

He said: “We have to proceed with a cost-benefit analysis: Arctic governance without Russia is compromised, but what political and diplomatic costs are we ready to pay?

“The UK has a comparative advantage due to its combined scientific and maritime power that grants HM Government the ability to influence both security and scientific stakeholders. This is a key aspect since sustainability and security in the Arctic require science and innovation but also the commitment of shipping companies, maritime insurances, regulators, and enforcement agencies.”

The Committee also inquired about the military threats posed by Russia in the Arctic. Professor Germond suggested that “the UK should take the lead and make the necessary investments to become a net provider of security in the high North”.

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