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Arctic Yearbook 2012
The United Kingdom and the Arctic in the 21
presence) in this part of the world (FCO, 2012). The FCO’s Polar Regions Unit represents the UK’s
‘Arctic face’ internationally, helping to coordinate the UK’s contribution to Arctic Council working
groups. As the working groups are generally recognised as the workhorses of the Arctic Council, this
is where the UK expects to have its greatest impact on Arctic assessments and policy, particularly
when it comes to environmental protection. Contributing to these groups is also crucial for justifying
the UK’s continued presence as a permanent observer to the Arctic Council. In evidence submitted
to the British parliament by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Polar Regions Unit (PRU),
specific British interest in the Arctic was discussed in terms of this permanent observership status at
the Arctic Council, energy and climate change research, international climate negotiations, protection
of biodiversity, the potential of new shipping routes, the implications for bilateral relations (with
Denmark and Norway in particular), and the country’s contribution to fisheries management
(Parliament, 2012b). While these interests may appear marginal to some observers, the UK-Norway
fisheries dispute, which the UK referred to the International Court of Justice in 1951 (Evensen,
1952); the UK-Iceland ‘Cod Wars’ (Jónsson, 1982); and the UK’s on-going disagreement with
Norway over the application of the Svalbard Treaty (Pederson, 2006) have demonstrated the UK’s
willingness to defend them.
Responsibility for different UK interest areas is spread out among a diffuse set of government actors.
For example, responsibility for climate change and energy exploration and exploitation issues lies
with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). The Department for Transport (DfT)
and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) respond to developments in shipping. The
Department for Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) leads on question of biodiversity, the
environment and fisheries, and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is
responsible for overseeing the Arctic Research Programme run by the Natural Environment
Research Council (NERC). Defence rests with the Ministry of Defence (MOD). The FCO, aside
from the work of the PRU at the Arctic Council, also manages bilateral relations with the so-called
Arctic states through country-specific posts and its network of British Embassies and High
Commissions (Parliament, 2012b). What this means in practice is that bilateral relations have an
Arctic dimension quite apart from the work of the PRU as evidenced in the UK’s Memoranda of
Understanding (MOU) with Norway and Canada (AANDC, 2009; FCO, 2011). Similarly, DECC’s
attention to climate change and energy, or DEFRA’s responsibility for fisheries, treats the Arctic as
part of a much broader policy agenda.