The UK government needs to get with the programme over the protection of the Arctic, campaigners have said. This follows the European parliament’s vote in favour of a number of measures, including the creation of a sanctuary in the high seas of the far north.
MEPs on Wednesday also called for greater restrictions on industrial fishing and a binding agreement on pollution prevention for ships and rigs in the region.
The European Council’s vote on the issue is due in May.
Greenpeace, the environmental charity with a long record of championing Arctic protection, has called the vote “a positive move”.
Policy director Ruth Davis said it “reflects the growing global demand to protect the Arctic from exploitation”.
Last year, a Greenpeace campaign made international headlines, and saw millions express support, after 28 activists and two journalists were jailed by Russian authorities for 100 days.
Following a protest at the Prirazlomnaya oil rig in September, Greenpeace’s vessel the Arctic Sunrise was raided by armed men in balaclavas who abseiled down from helicopters.
A campaign backing the so-called ‘Arctic 30’ saw protestors unite in 46 countries, as over 2.6 million people wrote to Russian embassies calling for their release. Supporters included famous faces such as Jude Law and Vivienne Westwood, and Nobel peace prize laureates such as Desmond Tutu.
Greenpeace continues to demand that the Arctic is given a special sanctuary status.
“What happens in the Arctic matters to us all”, said Phil Ball, a member of the Arctic 30.
“I’m delighted by this news because it will spark a new conversation that we need to have together. By calling for a sanctuary around the North Pole, MEPs have responded to the millions of people who want to protect the Arctic for future generations.”
Neil Hamilton, senior political adviser at Greenpeace Norway, added, “There is one dark cloud.
“The document asks for a ‘precautionary approach’ to energy exploitation in the Arctic, but from where we’re sitting that should mean only one thing: no drilling at all.”
He added that if governments are serious about protecting the “fragile, vulnerable” Arctic region, it would be “madness” to give the green light to more oil platforms and drilling ships.
The British government angered campaigners last year when a Foreign Office document announced plans to make the UK “a global centre of expertise” in opening up the Arctic to exploitation by oil and gas companies.
Commenting after Wednesday’s vote, Davis added, “David Cameron and his government are being left out in the cold by their refusal to back even the most limited measures to protect the Arctic.”