An active High North policy – growth and innovation in the north

University of Tromsø, 28 October 2013

Foreign Minister Børge Brendes speech at the University of Tromsø on 28 October 2013.

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 Dear friends of the High North,  


  • This feels like a homecoming to me. 


  • Nothing could be more appropriate than for me to hold my first major speech here in Tromsø, the capital of the Arctic. 


In the High North, foreign policy and domestic policy converge.


  • The High North is at the very top of Norway’s international agenda.


Our perspective on the High North has changed dramatically in the 25 years that I have been involved in Norwegian politics.


Twenty-five years ago, the general view was that those in the north looked to the south.


  • That is no longer the case.


  • Now those in the south – including those of us working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – look to the north.


  • Because developments there are important for North Norway, for Norway as a whole and for Norway’s position in the world.


Fish, oil, gas, minerals, tourist destinations and centres of knowledge are all to be found in the north. 


  • North Norway accounts for around 30 % of the Norwegian seafood industry’s value creation, and since 2004 the industry has experienced an annual growth rate of over 20 %.


  • The world’s northernmost LNG plant is in Hammerfest. New discoveries and increased exploration activities in the Barents Sea make this one of the world’s most exciting new petroleum regions. 


  • In our northernmost county, Finnmark, the offshore supplier industry achieved an annual growth rate of  37 % between 2004 and 2011.


  • Norway has valuable mineral resources that are estimated to be worth around NOK 1 400 billion, and most of these are in the north.  


  • North Norway is steadily attracting more tourists. Between 2000 and 2012 the number of foreign guest nights in North Norway rose by as much as 19 % – more than double the increase in the rest of the country.


  • These are just a few examples of the many opportunities that exist in the north.


The task of the Government is to ensure that we are able to grasp these important opportunities.


  • We can pride ourselves on the good results achieved.


  • But now, more than ever, it is crucial that we turn good results into lasting progress.


  • Our aim must be that the High North becomes one of the most innovative and knowledge-based regions of growth in the world. 


  • And this is possible. Space technology and research is an example of an area in which the region is already a world leader. The space research cluster in Svalbard, Tromsø, Narvik and on Andøya is Norway’s answer to Silicon Valley.



My aim is a results-oriented High North policy that fosters more “Silicon Valleys” with more knowledge-based enterprises in the north.


  • I am not talking about words and strategies.


  • I am talking about concrete measures and results.


  • I am talking about how we can translate words into action in the High North.


As I have already mentioned, foreign policy and domestic policy converge in the High North.


  • In no other country in the world is such a large proportion of the population living north of the Arctic Circle.


  • 1/3 of Norway’s total land area, and


  • 80 % of Norway’s sea areas are north of the Arctic Circle.


  • Close cooperation with our neighbours in the north is good foreign policy. And this forms the basis for good domestic policy too.


The key to grasping the opportunities in the north is knowledge.


  • Knowledge about the north.


  • Knowledge for the north.


  • Knowledge in the north.


And the education and research communities in the north are partners in our efforts to realise our great ambitions for the High North.


  • The University of Tromsø – the Arctic University of Norway – naturally has a key role to play.
    • Home to the Norwegian Polar Institute, the Institute of Marine Research, the recently established Fram Centre, and the secretariat of the Arctic Council, Tromsø stands out as the knowledge capital of the Arctic.


  • But the University of Nordland, the university colleges in Nordland, Troms and Finnmark are also important. And there are many other groups involved in efforts in this area.


  • Education and research institutions in the north have national responsibility for developing knowledge about the High North and value creation in the region.


Norway is ranked third in the world, behind the US and Canada, in terms of the number of scientific publications about the Arctic produced.


  • This year alone, the Research Council of Norway will spend more than half a billion kroner on research relating to the High North.


  • And this area will only increase in importance in the years to come.


Knowledge is one of the Government’s main tools for strengthening Norway’s competitiveness.


  • We have a great need for skilled workers, and vocational training must be strengthened appropriately.


  • We will continue to support the Fram Centre and the High North Center at the University of Nordland.


  • We will develop research capabilities in the north.


  • We will continue to support Gründercamp, a programme designed to foster innovation among young people, and Barents Innovation Week.


  • Research groups in North Norway will be heavily involved in projects funded under the Barents 2020 scheme.


Today North Norway is a region characterised by belief in the future, optimism and a high level of employment.


  • The business sector in North Norway is growing.


We see that the business sector in North Norway is competitive at the global level.


  • We have rich natural resources in the north.


  • And our knowledge, technology and innovation compensate for the high level of costs we have in Norway.


36 million meals featuring Norwegian seafood are eaten around the world every day.


  • The sea has been the workplace of generations of Norwegians.


  • And fisheries and aquaculture will continue to be growth industries.


  • The award of more licences together with sound resource management will provide a basis for greater value creation and growth.


  • Sound resource management produces results: for two years in a row we have had record high cod quotas.


  • Research and knowledge can lead to new breakthroughs in the farming of white fish and new marine species.


The oil and gas industry is moving northwards – and this will have implications for onshore activities.


  • The petroleum industry has made major discoveries in the north in recent years, and there is more drilling activity in the Barents Sea than ever before.


  • By gradually opening up new areas, we can facilitate increased value creation in what is Norway’s largest industry – also in the north.


The Geological Survey of Norway has started a major survey of minerals in Norway. Three-quarters of North Norway is to have been surveyed by the end of 2014.


  • It is a well-known fact that planning processes often take such a long time that by the time the process is completed, the project in question may no longer be profitable. These processes must therefore be simplified.


  • Planning processes must be included in the general modernisation and regional development effort. Responsibility for this has been transferred from the Ministry of the Environment to what will be a new ministry of local government and modernisation.


North Norway’s outstanding natural beauty serves as a basis for the tourism industry.


  • And innovation leads to value creation, and will help to make this a year-round industry.


  • We are receiving increasing numbers of visitors from Russia, South Korea and China, who come to Norway to experience beautiful landscapes, winter activities and the northern lights.


There are considerable gains to be made from establishing better framework conditions for the business sector in North Norway.


Access to capital is vital for the establishment of start-up companies in North Norway.


  • More risk capital is needed in the north. It would be good to see a new seed money fund in North Norway.


Success in the north will not be possible without improvements to infrastructure.


  • We need a change of gear.


  • And the Government has announced that it will deliver.


This is also an area where it is natural to cooperate with our neighbouring countries.


  • A draft Joint Barents Transport Plan was submitted at the meeting of the ministers of transport of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council in September.


  • We look forward to following up this plan in close cooperation with our neighbouring countries.


A comprehensive approach to the development of roads, railways, ports and airports is needed.


  • High priority must be given to upgrading the whole stretch of the E6 trunk road that passes through the region, and priority also needs to be given to improving ports and port infrastructure in order to facilitate business development.


More economic activity will mean more transport.


  • There have already been some commercial transits of the Northeast Passage, which may in the future become an important transport route for certain products.


  • The greatest increase in traffic is expected to be in connection with the petroleum industry.


  • Goods and personnel will have to be transported to and from the offshore installations.


  • Oil and gas will have to be transported out of the region.


Almost all the maritime traffic in the Arctic today is in Norwegian waters – 80 % in the summer and 90 % in the winter.


  • Norway is an Arctic flag state and coastal state.


  • We have jurisdiction over large sea areas.


We therefore have a major responsibility for ensuring pollution preparedness and response and maritime safety in the High North.


  • We will be at the forefront of these efforts both nationally and internationally.


  • Norway is actively promoting the development of a mandatory international code of safety for ships operating in polar waters (the Polar Code).


The Government also intends to strengthen efforts in this area at national level.


  • Pollution preparedness and response, as well as search and rescue, are to be strengthened.


  • I am therefore pleased to announce that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has recently decided to support an innovative project on search and rescue in the High North – SARiNOR.


  • The fact that Maritimt Forum Nord is working with other key stakeholders to reduce the risk of accidents and enhance rescue capacity in the maritime industry is very positive.


  • The Government will support this collaborative effort with up to NOK 8 million over a three-year period.


The Government will also support the development of a masters degree programme in aviation at the University of Tromsø.


  • Greater activity in the areas of shipping, energy, tourism and transport will increase the need for search and rescue services, emergency response, environmental monitoring and logistics.  


  • Extensive air transport will be needed to carry out these tasks and ensure rapid assistance in the north. However, aviation in the Arctic is challenging and requires specialist skills.


  • I hope therefore that the Ministry’s seed money fund can help to make the masters programme a reality.


During the course of a couple of decades, the High North has gone from being an area of tension, where the focus was on security policy, to a hub of enterprise, where the focus is on energy policy and business development.


  • Rich natural resources and growing geopolitical significance are making the region attractive. 


  • Countries such as China, India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore are showing increasing interest in the Arctic.


  • The Government also wants to engage in dialogue with the EU on Arctic issues as part of an active European policy.


  • We will meet the many countries that want to take part in the developments in the north with openness and interest. The Government will encourage the involvement of the new observers to the Arctic Council in its working groups.


  • But I would like to emphasise that their involvement will be on the Arctic countries’ terms.


  • The Law of the Sea and respect for indigenous peoples and the environment must lie at the core of this work.


Norway is a polar nation and an Arctic coastal state with jurisdiction over extensive natural resources.


  • And in the High North we act as a steward of species and ecosystems that are of international importance.


  • As a maritime nation, we have a great responsibility for maintaining a presence in our sea areas and for developing maritime surveillance and emergency response capacity.


  • The increase in both shipping and petroleum activities will heighten the need for pollution preparedness and response.


  • In order to enhance emergency preparedness in vulnerable areas along the coast, the Government intends to establish an oil spill preparedness and response base on the islands of Lofoten and Vesterålen.


  • And we must ensure that the Armed Forces have in-depth knowledge of the High North, and the ability and capacity to take action.


Russia is the most important Arctic state in terms of territory, resources and activities.


  • For example, the Russian part of the Arctic is home to seven million people, whereas the three northernmost counties of Norway have 468 000 inhabitants.


  • Russia has jurisdiction over half the Arctic coastline.


Russia is our neighbour in the north.


  • We are addressing many of the opportunities and challenges in the north together with Russia.


  • We have been doing so through our broad bilateral relationship with Russia and through two decades of Barents cooperation.


  • We enjoy close cooperation with Russia, and we also have an open dialogue on issues where we disagree.


  • Until 25 years ago, the border was a barrier. We want to turn it into a bridge – to continue and intensify our cross-border cooperation.


  • The Government intends to extend the opening hours and increase capacity at the border station at Storskog.


Knowledge is key in our relations with Russia.


  • We must recognise that the High North and the Arctic are not a uniform area.


  • In our part of the region, we have been able to build up expertise in business development and resource management over a longer period of time than has been the case in most other parts of the region.


  • Due to the Gulf Stream, our Arctic areas have been accessible for petroleum activities, for example, since the 1980s.


  • Our expertise in High North issues makes Norway a leading actor and an important partner in the region.


In the US too, there is clearly a growing interest in the Arctic, and not just in Alaska.


  • Secretary of State Kerry launched the US Arctic strategy in May this year.


  • In 2015, the US will take over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council from Canada.


  • Secretary of State Kerry has already indicated that he will give priority to climate issues and the environment during the US chairmanship.


  • What is common to all the Arctic states is that we share a fundamental interest – namely in ensuring that the Law of the Sea provides the legal framework for developments in the north.


The Government intends to strengthen cooperation with the Arctic states in the areas of environmental protection and sustainable development, emergency preparedness and response, and business development.


  • And the Government welcomes the initiative of the Canadian chairmanship of the Arctic Council to create a business forum with links to the Council.


We know that climate change is taking place at an alarming rate.


  • Several research institutions have reported that the thickness of ice in the Arctic has been reduced by 50 % more than previously forecast. It is now at a record low.


  • The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that the sea ice in the Arctic is “very likely” to have been retreating at a rate of around 4 % every ten years over the last 30 years (11 % in the summer).


  • According to the IPCC, it is very likely that human activity has contributed to this development and that the ice cover will continue to shrink in both extent and thickness.


  • The IPCC also considers it likely that by the middle of this century, the Arctic Ocean will be nearly ice-free in September (when the ice cover is at its lowest) if emissions continue to increase at the present rate.


The Arctic is the key to understanding climate change.


  • It is not here that the greatest number of people will be affected by the impacts of climate change.


  • But it is here that we will see the physical changes first, changes that will have serious consequences for the whole world.


  • This is why research institutions from 11 countries in addition to Norway have established research stations in Svalbard. 


Our High North policy is broad in scope.


  • It covers a wide range of issues from climate change and high politics to fisheries management and the opening hours at border stations.


  • It is a question of balance.


  • Balance between opportunities and responsibilities.


  • Between old and new industries.


  • And it is also a question of putting in place the necessary frameworks.


  • Frameworks that ensure sustainable business development and environmental protection.


  • Our emergency preparedness and response systems must be scaled up in line with increased levels of activity.


As Minister of Foreign Affairs, I appreciate the increasing geopolitical and foreign policy importance of the High North.


  • And I consider it important that – in cooperation with like-minded countries – we continue to develop a framework that ensures balanced development in the north.


  • The starting point for the further development of our part of the High North is what you might consider the domestic policy dimension of our High North policy: activity and settlement; the day-to-day lives of people living in the north.



But the Government cannot do all this alone.


  • In order to protect the full range of interests, and achieve progress in the various areas, we need new knowledge, research and technology development.


  • We need you.


  • Thank you.