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By the time you read this, I will be on the island of Spitzbergen (Svalbard) – at 80 degrees the most northerly inhabited place on Earth – leading a small delegation from the Environmental Audit Select Committee. 600 miles from the North Pole it has a human population of 2,000 in the Summer, but 8,000 Polar Bears. Philip Pullman sets his wonderful novels here as home of the Armoured Bears and it was where Wiltshire boy Horatio Chapple was tragically killed. The daytime temperature will be Minus 20 to 30 Celsius, but perhaps feel colder through wind chill. What a way to spend the first few days of the Easter Recess!I am chairing the Select Committee enquiry into the Arctic (and Antarctic later in the year), a crucial part of which is this investigation comprising 8 MPs plus staff travelling via Oslo, Tromso (to meet the Arctic Council and Norwegian Polar Institute), Longyearbyen, and finally to Ny Alesund where an abandoned coal mine has been turned into an International Research Station. The work they do is incredibly important to our understanding of climate change and what to do about it.As recently as 5 years ago you could walk across the Konigsfjord beside which we are camping (in huts), but the ice has gone. We will take small boats up the fjord to visit one particular glacier whose disastrous retreat has been monitored by the same French (female) scientist for 40 years! She knows every inch of it, every one of the fascinating botanical species which have been uncovered by the retreating ice.The British Antarctic Survey have a research station, as do the Swiss, French, Chinese and others. It is where the World’s Atomic clock is kept (accurate to within a billionth of a second every century); there’s a cable car up a mountainside to what is acknowledged to be the purest air on earth; and not far away disused mine workings store examples of every seed and plant in the world as a safeguard against Global catastrophe. We hope to go out (by skidoo, perhaps even dog sled) to some of the more remote scientific experiments to see some of the science for ourselves; and the extreme conditions which some hardy scientists endure for their research.The Committee’s enquiry will cover what is actually happening in the Arctic (climate, glaciers, biodiversity, methane, carbon, melting permafrost and so much more); what is causing it (human intervention or merely cyclical as some climate change deniers would have you believe); what we in Britain can do about it (plastics, oil and minerals, fishing, tourism, the military are all contributors- how can they be made sustainable); and finally what British science can do to mitigate it. Britain is the second or third largest contributor to Arctic science (the research vessel Sir David Attenborough is world-beating; British Antarctic Survey, Scott Polar Research Institute and 78 Universities are on the case)- our committee will assess what greater contribution we can make.The Arctic Ocean is warming 4 times faster than anywhere else in the World with catastrophic consequences for indigenous peoples, for wildlife and fish; and nowhere can you see the realities of climate change more dramatically. The ice round Svalbard has disappeared, the glaciers are in sharp retreat; the Polar Bears are changing their ways of life (they usually hunt seals off the ice- but can be found today rooting in dustbins rather like urban foxes in London.) Our Committee will report on Climate change in the Arctic, and crucially will come up with perhaps radical suggestions as to what more the UK Government could and should be doing about it.I am very lucky to have the opportunity to travel to this wonderful area and take a small group of colleagues to inform opinion and action in Parliament which may then mean we can make some difference to future generations.

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James Gray
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March 29, 2023