By Martin Banks - 15th April 2013
It is possible to think outside the climate change box
A parliamentary hearing heard that draft legislation "fails to address current gaps" in EU rules on offshore exploration.
The meeting was told that the draft law "also falls short in terms of provisions on liability" in the case of avoiding accidents such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
The event, organised by parliament's Greens/EFA group, comes as MEPs are to vote on a future EU directive on offshore drilling.
The Greens have expressed regret about the outcome of the deal on this agreed by parliament, council and commission during informal first reading trilogues.
EU energy commissioner Günther Oettinger had previously promised that the aim of the draft legislation was to ensure that an accident such as Deepwater would never happen in EU territory.
The Greens used the 'Arctic melt' hearing to launch a new campaign warning about the situation in what is regarded as one the most vulnerable regions in the world.
The group also renewed its demand for a moratorium on drilling in the arctic.
The hearing was told that the EU has three Arctic council states among its members and maintains close relations with Iceland and Norway through the European economic area.
Delphine Chalençon, climate change campaigner for the Greens, pointed out that group has pressed the EU institutions to "ensure that the EU is equipped with the most robust rules to deal with the risks of offshore drilling".
She added, "But once again, decision makers are favouring the short-term solutions over the long-term ones, such as the rush for more business opportunities, hydrocarbons and raw materials instead of the safety for all."
She says, "The changes to the climate in the arctic or any possible accident happening in the area will have a direct and major impact on coastal regions in Europe and on its climate-dependent sectors, such as agriculture, fisheries, renewable energy, tourism and transport.
"The EU has a responsibility to protect this area and to encourage its other arctic partners to jointly safeguard such a fragile region. Arctic ice is melting at an unprecedented rate.
"The disappearance of so much ice should be seen as a serious wake up call for concrete action to protect our climate. It should not be seen as an opportunity for developing more exploitative businesses, which are - very ironically - the direct reason why global warming is intensifying and thus the arctic sea ice is melting."
Her concerns were shared by several speakers at the hearing, including Peter Wadhams, professor of ocean physics at the UK's university of Cambridge, who said, "Man-induced global warming does not involve a steady change over the whole planet.
"The arctic is warming at three times the rate of lower latitudes, and this is already having serious impacts.
"The sea ice cover is diminishing both in area (measured by satellite) and thickness (measured by submarines), and in summer now has less than 30 per cent of the volume of 30 years ago.
"At this rate, the arctic ocean will be ice-free in the month of September by 2015/6. It is changing into a seasonal ice cover, like the Antarctic, rather than a permanent one."
He added, "The immediate commercial impacts seem positive - a stimulus for trans-arctic shipping and oil exploration. But the planetary impacts are wholly negative and extremely dangerous.
"The retreating sea ice uncovers continental shelf areas where warming of the sea causes offshore permafrost to melt, releasing large plumes of methane which is a powerful greenhouse gas whose level in the atmosphere is rising.
"More methane is released from permafrost melt on land, and the retreat of ice and of the snowline give an albedo feedback which also acts as a global warming accelerator.
"The warmer air and sea around Greenland are increasing the melt rate of the Greenland ice sheet, which has become the largest single contributor to global sea level rise. So far, most people have viewed the arctic as a bellwether, an indicator of global change to come, but in fact arctic change is one of the most powerful drivers acting to accelerate change over the entire planet, with serious consequences for our survival."
John Crump, senior advisor at the GRID-Arendal polar centre, said, "The increasing focus on climate change in the circumpolar region demonstrates that what happens in the arctic doesn't stay in the Arctic. The changes now taking place have regional and global implications.
"They also present an opportunity for a new way of making decisions in a region which, despite the pressure it is under, has not suffered from the same kinds of mistakes as the rest of the world.
"Land rights settlements, co-management regimes and the role indigenous peoples have played at the Arctic council offer guidance. And an alliance between the Arctic and 'small island developing states' shows that it is possible to think outside the climate change box."
Another keynote speaker, Nils Andreas Masvie, of Det Norske Veritas, said, "The authorities' duty is to regulate the Arctic responsibly and the industry must operate safely. It is a joint responsibility for people and the environment."