Humans in the Arctic

Arctic Frontiers in Tromsø, 21 January 2014

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Ladies and gentlemen,

Prime Minister Hammond, Foreign Minister Tuomioja, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

The global perception of “the Arctic” is often of a vast, desolate, ice-clad region populated almost exclusively by polar bears.

That is indeed one Arctic reality. But as all of you know, it is not the whole picture. Right now we are in a different Arctic. In Tromsø, a cosmopolitan, thriving city, situated at 70 degrees north, complete with coffee bars and boutiques, research institutions and international companies.

The Arctic is also changing rapidly. The climate is warming faster here than in any other part of the world. The melting of the Arctic sea ice and rising demand for commodities such as energy and minerals are creating new economic opportunities, but also new environmental, social and safety challenges.

International cooperation is needed to address this situation. For this reason, the Arctic will continue to be our most important foreign policy area.

Norway is not the only country that is facing opportunities and challenges in the north. Participants from some 25 countries are gathered here today, a clear illustration of the increased international interest in the Arctic.

The University of Tromsø – Norway’s Arctic university – is a fitting venue for this conference in many ways. Every year, thousands of Norwegian students study abroad, and thousands of exchange students come to Norway. Universities are, after all, truly international places of learning.

The University of Tromsø is also a fitting venue in terms of my Government’s priorities:

A society based on knowledge is one of our most important political goals.

I am therefore delighted to have the opportunity to share with you my Government’s perspectives on the main theme of this conference: “Humans in the Arctic”.

This is a welcome shift of focus. There have been many conferences on the natural resources of the Arctic: oil and gas, marine resources, minerals.

But we must not forget that the most important resource is the people who inhabit the Arctic and the knowledge and skills they possess.

Politics, even so-called “high politics”, is ultimately about improving citizens’ living conditions and ensuring their safety and security.

There is broad agreement on the importance of Arctic policy across political parties in Norway.

Many wise decisions have been made about the Arctic by former governments, in dialogue with our international partners.

We will use this consensus to further develop North Norway and our participation in international cooperation in the Arctic. 

Peace, security, and stability are essential for ensuring a good quality of life for the people living in the Arctic. As Minister of Fisheries Elisabeth Aspaker pointed out yesterday, the Arctic is now a peaceful region, characterised by cooperation within a recognised legal and political framework.

This provides a firm basis for achieving the Government’s aim of making North Norway one of Norway’s most innovative and sustainable regions.

Two features shared by all countries with territory in the Arctic are a scattered population and a harsh climate. These factors make it even more important to invest in high-tech industries and solutions to develop the region. We must work together across borders to create new opportunities.

If we achieve our aim of making North Norway an innovative and stable region, this will, of course,  improve conditions for people living in the region, who will benefit from high quality education, interesting employment opportunities, improved infrastructure, a healthy environment and better maritime safety. Improved conditions will also make the north a more attractive place to live.

But achieving our aim is also important in an international context. By building competence at home, we will gain a stronger voice on the world stage and be able to play a leading role on issues of regional and global common concern, such as addressing the root causes of global warming, managing the effects of melting ice, strengthening oil spill preparedness and response, and improving health conditions across the circumpolar Arctic.

And just as importantly, international cooperation is needed if we are to fully develop the potential of our own Arctic region.

Thus, domestic policy and foreign policy relating to the Arctic are closely intertwined.

All countries with territory north of the Arctic Circle need to improve living conditions and create prosperity in these areas. Let me now move on to some of the policies that will strengthen North Norway and make a difference to people living here, and thus enhance our contribution to the Arctic region as a whole.

Further investments in education and research are essential to ensure employment opportunities, a competitive business sector, sustainable development and increased knowledge of the causes and effects of climate change.

Knowledge is also the key to adaptation and to improving our predictive capability.

This is of huge strategic importance, not only for dealing with climate change, but also for building a society that is able both to seize new opportunities and to meet new challenges in a rapidly changing Arctic. 

For this reason we have allocated 15 million kroner to an exciting international research project headed by the Norwegian Polar Institute. The project involves allowing the research vessel Lance to freeze into the Arctic ice to the north east of Svalbard and letting it drift with the ice for the next five to seven months.  Measurements will be taken along the way that will help to improve climate and meteorological models. As an Arctic coastal state, we take seriously our obligation to help find solutions to pressing challenges facing the Arctic region, and indeed the global community.

One of my Government’s key aims is to strengthen the links between research and business. In this year’s budget we have increased funding to programmes designed to promote innovation and research in Norwegian companies.

The aim is to increase the global competitiveness of local industry. Norwegian industry will never be able to offer the cheapest solutions. But in certain areas, areas where we have built up extensive experience and expertise, Norwegian industry can offer the best solutions.

A research-intensive local industry will also create more interesting employment opportunities for the local population. And this will also benefit the growing number of major international companies that are now setting up offices in North Norway.

The oil services company Aker Solutions has established a large office in Tromsø employing hundreds of people.

The Kongsberg Group, a high-tech industrial giant, provides ground station and earth observation services for polar orbiting satellites, from Tromsø.

These are just two examples of the many forward-looking employers. The main challenge for further developing North Norway is the lack of qualified labour, particularly engineers and other skilled workers. Solving this issue is a key priority for my Government. We need both to increase the number of students within relevant fields and to cooperate with our neighbours in the north to create a well-functioning labour market in the region.

Again, knowledge is one of our top priorities and is at the heart of our policy in the Arctic.

The oil and gas industry and the supply industry are important areas for future development.

The Barents Sea has many potentially lucrative oil and gas fields. The first LNG plant in Europe, Snøhvit, was built at 70 degrees north. There are many new opportunities for the energy sector in the north.

This is also true of the fisheries and aquaculture industry, the maritime industry, the tourism sector and the mineral sector. All these industries can generate new, secure jobs.

Climate change is putting the environment of the north under increasing pressure. It is therefore all the more important that we manage our commercial activities responsibly and seek to limit their overall impact on the environment. The Government views its policies in a generational perspective. We intend to ensure that the planet we leave to future generations in a better state than it was when we inherited it from past generations.

In Norway’s view, it is important to strike a balance between old and new industries, and to develop a predictable regulatory framework that   takes into account the need both to stimulate economic activity and to protect the environment. Our model for integrated ocean management strives to do just this and has been met with much interest abroad.

We enjoy close cooperation with Russia in this area, and the aim is to develop integrated management plans for the whole of the Barents Sea.

Increasing levels of activity in the north make it even more important to enhance knowledge of how to ensure sustainability in a region that is undergoing rapid growth.

I am therefore pleased to announce that the Government is establishing a new research programme at the Fram Centre here in Tromsø, and it is allocating seven million kroner for this purpose in 2014. The centre will build up expertise and new knowledge on the environmental consequences of industrial development in the Arctic.

Such knowledge is needed in order to ensure environmentally responsible development, based on the best environmental solutions that will not have negative impact on ecosystems, cultural heritage or society.

The research programme will also seek to promote international cooperation and exchange on these issues.

Improving infrastructure to address the geographical challenges of the region – scattered population, long distances between communities and economic centres and the harsh climate– is a one of my Government’s main aims. We want to improve our ability to connect people in the Arctic. 

The Ministry of Transport and Communications now has responsibility for all modes of transport – sea, rail, air, road– as well as for electronic communication. This will enable a holistic approach and it indicates the importance attached to infrastructure by my Government.

In the period up to 2018, North Norway will benefit from comprehensive investments in the national road network and from large investments in the rail network. These investments will make it easier for people to travel in the region, between work, kindergarten and home, for example, and will also make it easier to transport goods.

It is equally important to improve connections with neighbouring countries in the Barents region. A draft joint Barents Transport Plan drawn up by representatives of the transport authorities in Sweden, Finland, Russia and Norway is currently being assessed by the relevant ministries and is being given high priority by my Government.

Increased activity in the Arctic also makes it necessary to improve maritime safety, emergency preparedness and response. This is crucial to ensure the safety and security of the population.

More than 80 per cent of shipping in the Arctic passes through Norwegian waters.

We therefore have a major responsibility for maintaining a presence in our sea areas and for developing effective maritime surveillance and emergency preparedness and response systems.

This is why maritime safety figures prominently in the Government’s Arctic priorities.

In this year’s budget, we have increased the allocation to the Norwegian Coast Guard by nearly 9 million kroner.

It is also important to strengthen our search and rescue capacity. We share a joint responsibility for ensuring a safe working environment for those who live and work in the Arctic, and indeed for visitors to the region.

We are therefore investing in new rescue helicopters and strengthening our search and rescue capacity in Svalbard.

As some of you may know, I myself have participated in a rescue exercise organised by the Air Force’s 330-squadron and our civil rescue service. I was dropped out of a boat in a survival suit and hoisted up into the helicopter and brought to safety.

I warmly welcome the initiative taken by the maritime industry in North Norway to strengthen cooperation between the various actors involved in search and rescue operations and to improve the methods used.

The Government has allocated 8 million kroner to a project on search and rescue in the High North (SARiNOR) over a three year period.

All these initiatives have a clear purpose and that is to increase and enhance international cooperation on maritime safety.

This is why we have also allocated 7 million kroner to a project led by the High North Center at the University of Nordland, which will strengthen the organisation of preparedness systems and assess how joint cross-border operations can best be conducted.

International regulations to improve the safety and environmental standards of vessels operating in polar waters are crucial. Thus, the development of a strong Polar Code is a top priority. In addition, we need to further develop existing bilateral, regional and circumpolar cooperation on search and rescue.

This is an area where no one country can act in isolation and make an impact.

In 2011, we therefore signed an agreement on search and rescue with the other Arctic Council member states. The harsh climate and long distances in the north make this one of the areas where we are most dependent on close cooperation.

Russian icebreakers are helping to ensure safe passage for ships that are making use of the new sailing routes in the Arctic. Cold climate technology from Finland is used in vessels to enable them to withstand the harsh Arctic climate. Korean shipyards build state-of-the-art ice-class vessels.

And a Chinese icebreaker recently came to the assistance of a Russian research vessel in the Antarctic – as good an example as any of the necessity – and the actual reality of – cooperation in polar areas. 

I would like to conclude by emphasising once again the importance of cooperation.

All Arctic countries have experience and knowledge to share with each other that could help to ensure a sustainable development in the region.

Thus, I can say in all certainty that we are fully aware of the need for international cooperation. 

We need each other to ensure a good quality of life for the people of the Arctic, and to protect the environment in a region that is undergoing rapid change.

And we need conferences like this one, which create meeting places for politicians, business people, researchers and representatives of civil society. I wish you every success with the rest of the conference.

Thank you.