James Gray, MP for North Wiltshire and Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Polar Regions was interviewed for the new geopolitical thinktank The Council on Geostrategy’s GeoStrategy360º podcast, discussing security and development in the polar regions.
A member of The Council on Geostrategy’s own Advisory Council, Mr Gray shared his view on the UK’s Arctic policy in light of the 2021 Integrated Review, defence and security in the Arctic, climate change in the polar regions and why the Arctic and Antarctic are relevant to the UK.
He emphasised the geopolitical frictions caused by climate change-related migration, as well as potential dangers posed by the new commercial opportunities in the Arctic. Mr Gray warned:
“The melting ice has produced all kinds of commercial, touristic, fisheries and mineral opportunities. All of those are huge opportunities for the world, but the moment you have wealth, you have a strategic threat.”
Mr Gray said that the UK has historically taken a hands-off approach to Arctic affairs, focusing instead on Britain’s very active participation in the Antarctic Treaty. However, that also might be changing:
“I sense that [the UK’s hands-off approach] is about to change as the withdrawal of the ice brings about commercial changes that once again give Britain a great opportunity.”
Asked what the UK can do to ensure the Arctic remains secure and stable, Mr Gray said that there needs to be less military focus on hot and dusty places and more focus on the cold regions.
Discussing the key priorities to emerge from COP26 this year, Mr Gray emphasised the need to meet Britain’s net zero carbon target without damaging its economy. He described the changes he’s witnessed visiting the Arctic over the past 20 years as “absolutely astonishing”:
“We have to balance up the need to do something with the need to maintain our economies and our business interests. For that reason I think we should use the Arctic for fisheries and tourism…making commercial use of the resources in the Arctic is very important. Preserving it as a wilderness ignores the fact that 5 million people live there and that if we don’t make use of the resources, the Russians, Chinese and others will. I think it’s important to preserve the Arctic and achieve the aims of COP26, but also maintain a sensible approach to commercial exploitation.”
With the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic and the looming climate crisis, he said that people will one day look back at 2021 and 2022 as a turning point in history:
“We must now do all that we can to make sure that everything that happens in these two years is what our descendants will thank us for, rather than curse us for.”
To listen to the complete interview, search for GeoStrategy360º on your chosen podcast provider, or visit https://www.geostrategy.org.uk/podcasts/e6-interview-with-james-gray-mp/