House of Lords Releases Its Report on the Arctic

The House of Lords has released its report on the Arctic. The report is encyclopedic in its coverage of issues dealing with the Arctic and has a detailed coverage of governance issues.

CRE respectfully disagrees with one of the conclusions in the report:

The European Union’s case for permanent observer status at the Arctic Council is overwhelming.”

A major flaw in the report is that the aforementioned statement is inconsistent with the following statement in the report:

“We feel that any observer coming into the Arctic Council has to be able to show that it can make decisions that are intelligent and based on scientific fact, as well as to be inclusive with respect to the traditional knowledge of the indigenous people who live in the Arctic.”

How can anyone argue that an organization which lives by the precautionary principle—the antithesis of sound science—can possibly “make decisions that are…based on scientific fact”?

A representative of  indigenous populations shared CRE’s concern when they testified before the committee and stated:

If you were to look at all the bans around the world, starting with the 1972 ban by the United States, that ban was ill informed and again based on morals.”

It is unfortunate that the House of Lords Committee on the Arctic did not address the precautionary principle with the same detachment as did a similar UK committee studying specifically the EU regulation of GMO foods in which it just concluded that:

“Continued application of the precautionary principle in relation to all genetically modified crops is therefore no longer appropriate and is acting as barrier to progress in this field.”

It is clear that national governmental officials of virtually any country have a basic instinct to expand their power base by “UNifying” issues under review.

We expect the views of the UK on granting EU observer status will be supported by most of their counterparts in other countries. In the long run these governmental officials will probably seek to convert the Arctic Council into a treaty organization which will give them even more standing but a lessened ability to find and implement real solutions to real problems.

Arctic stakeholders should consider whether we are on the slippery slope to creating an unworkable institution to address the important problems of the Arctic.

2 comments. Leave a Reply

  1. Gunnar Sander

    It is strange to read that the precautionary principle is “the antithesis of sound science”. I would say that is an unscientific statement. There will usually be different views on the level of precaution that is necessary in each case, or the risks people are willing to accept to the enironment, their health and to society. That is a fair political debate that must be taken – case by case whether about GMOs, oil drilling in the Arctic or whatever may be under discussion. Abandoning the precautionary principle, on the other hand, would be irratonal and unresponsible.

    • Jim Tozzi

      The use of the precautionary principle can occur in two instances, (1) risk assessment : determining the risks inherent in a product, or (2) risk management: a statement on the level of risk a regulator is willing to accept.

      The use of the precautionary principle in the risk management context is not the concern of CRE; it is the use of the principle in the risk assessment stage. We stand by our statement: that the precautionary principle is: “the antithesis of sound science” because opponents of GMO foods have historically invoked it in that capacity.

      The bottom line is that after these many years of controversy the UK government has discredited the precautionary principle with respect to GMO products and it is a stigma that the precautionary principle advocates will live with for decades.

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