Arctic melting has to be understood amid new sea rise threat

The UK has been warned it can no longer take an “out of sight out of mind” approach to the melting Arctic amid warnings that well over 1 million homes are at risk from rising sea levels.

The UK parliament’s powerful Environmental Audit Committee has published the results of new research which has found rising sea levels, contributed to by Arctic ice melting, could risk 1.5 million UK properties flooding, with growing evidence suggesting that changes in the Arctic could make weather events in the UK more extreme.

The Committee highlighted research that the Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the globe. It has called on the Government to move the Arctic up the political agenda, be more ambitious in reducing domestic emissions, and lead efforts to champion Arctic science globally.

“The evidence is clear: we have less sea ice in every single month now compared to 40 years ago,” the report warned. “Ecosystems and habitats are being transformed and enormous disruption is being caused to the 4 million people who live in the Arctic. In the UK, rising sea levels could risk up to 1.5 million properties flooding by 2080, according to the Climate Change Committee, with the Government likely having to choose which areas to protect with flood defences and management, and which can be allowed to flood.”

The committee said  efforts to understand the threat were being hampered by significant gaps in knowledge from Arctic science and research.

“The UK punches above its weight and produces 10% of the world’s Arctic research papers, but there is the opportunity to do more: from examining the under-researched polar winter to having a stronger operational presence in the Arctic throughout the year,” It added.

Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research chair, James Gray MP, explained: “For too long the effects of a changing Arctic have been ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Before melting glaciers and ice sheets contribute to widespread flooding and irreversible weather patterns in the UK, we must throw our full toolbox at understanding changes in the Arctic better.

“We must prioritise and put more funding behind scientific and multi-disciplinary research. At the moment, Arctic science is concentrated on its summer, with the Arctic winter – which could tell us an enormous amount about the weather – being under studied. More collaboration is needed among UK universities to avoid repetition of scientific endeavours seeking out the same information, and with our international partners to learn and share resource. The RRS Sir David Attenborough, with her ice-breaking ability, needs to spend more time in the Arctic.

“Russia has been frozen out of Western Arctic science following its invasion of Ukraine. The Arctic Council, built with the purpose of boosting collaboration with Arctic nations, is becoming less influential and much of its important work has stalled. Our loss of access to Russian data is concerning, and 50% of the Arctic is now inaccessible to Western scientists. We must look into alternative international fora to champion and collaborate on Arctic research.

“Whitehall has not been paying enough attention to the Arctic. Four Ministers jotted around different departments with no oversight on Arctic policy is a missed opportunity. The fact the Ministers are yet to meet indicates a lack of enthusiasm on Arctic matters at the heart of Government: they must meet quarterly given the drastic changes we are witnessing in our changing Arctic. The Government should now appoint a polar envoy.”