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Locomotives of the Arctic

State Secretary Audun Halvorsen's statement at the High North Dialogue conference in Bodø 19 April.

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Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen. Dear friends. Good afternoon,

It is an honour to be here with so many friends and leaders of the Arctic - together with such distinguished participants.

It is fitting that we are gathered here in Bodø. This pilot smart city is the perfect frame for our panel debate on "locomotives in the Arctic". Because Bodø itself is a great example of an Arctic locomotive:

As you all know, Bodø is a vibrant Arctic research and education hub.

In Bodø, these research and education resources combine forces with an innovative business community.

And, in Bodø, modern infrastructure paves the way for these united forces to foster sustainable growth.

***

First of all, allow me to say a few words about the government's ambitions in the Arctic:

The Arctic is our most important strategic area of responsibility. Identifying and developing the locomotives in this region is in our core interest.

Therefore, Prime Minister Solberg launched the Arctic Strategy right here in Bodø, one year ago (21 April 2017) together with the foreign minister, the minister for local governments and modernization and the minister for EU and EEA affairs.

The strategy outlines how this part of Norway shall become one of our most innovative, creative and sustainable regions.

The Five priority areas for realising this ambition are:

  • international cooperation;
  • business development;
  • knowledge development;
  • infrastructure;
  • and environmental protection and emergency preparedness.

These priorities inform and guide our policies, budgets and investments.

One example of the government's strategic investments in the future of the North is improved broadband coverage. I will come back to this shortly.

Increased military presence and activity, on land, in the air and at sea - to secure sovereignity and increase situational awareness is also being felt throughout the region, including through major investments and infrastructure projects.

Let me also mention that within this parliamentary period, we will launch a White Paper, both to report on what has been achieved and to outline the way forward.

***

Let me now turn to some of the concrete, underlying drivers for developments - the locomotives, as you have named them:

The locomotives of the Arctic are many, and I will touch upon three of them. However, I encourage you to bring other drivers into our debate as well.

Infrastructure is, in my opinion, the most important factor for growth.

The fishermen in Lofoten depend on efficient transport connections in order to communicate and ship their goods to international markets. The same is true for numerous other businesses.

This is a major driver for the 40 billion NOK transport investment projects in Nordland, Troms and Finnmark, planned for and allocated in the National Transport Plan for the period towards 2029.

Together with Finland, Russia and Sweden we are now revising the joint transport plan for the Barents Region.

And, we will study further our railway cooperation with Finland, including the possible railway connection between Kirkenes and Rovaniemi.

The ongoing project regarding the new airport and the transformation of the city here in Bodø, will be a massive infrastructure lift for the region in a generational perspective.

I mentioned broadband earlier. Improving the broadband coverage in the Arctic is of crucial importance to people and businesses, as well as to research, logistics, fisheries, search and rescue, and the defence sector and the armed forces. It will contribute to sustainable growth in the Arctic overall.

Therefore, the government will ensure that Norwegian-owned satellites will improve the broadband coverage above the 65th Latitude. We are proposing a conditional pledge to the company Space Norway AS of about NOK 1 billion in equity capital to realise this project. The satellite launches are planned for 2022.

***

So what are the Resources and potentials we want to boost?

Sustainable, science-based and smart use of the ocean is an indispensable locomotive of the Arctic.

To meet the needs of a growing global population, we need to look to the oceans as a source for food, energy and other resources. Norway is now taking a leading role internationally to secure a future where our oceans can provide more of the resources that the world needs - in a sustainable way.

Our vast experience from the Arctic waters will be essential to this end. Prime Minister Erna Solberg intends to utilise the leading Norwegian ocean expertise to follow up on the global oceans agenda and the sustainable development goals.

In 2019, the Prime Minister will bring together the UN and heads of government from coastal nations across the world and host a High-level Panel on Sustainable Ocean Economy. Norway will also host the Our Ocean conference in 2019. Know-how and experience from the North is a key factor for success.

***

Knowledge is another strong locomotive in and of the Arctic. Adequate and relevant competence is key to sustainable value creation in the Arctic region.

The government acknowledges this. We will allocate up to 137 million NOK (over 14 million Euro) to Arctic research the next three years. Out of this, a substantial amount will go directly to innovation research, often in partnership with the business communities.

The Foreign Ministry also supports Arctic projects at this university through the Arctic 2030 grant scheme. Some examples are the search and rescue projects Sarinor (Search and Rescue in the High North) and Marpart (Maritime Preparedness and International Partnership in the High North), as well as the Business Index North, and the High North Business Knowledge, which strengthens networks between young leaders in the Arctic and elsewhere.

***

Stability is another key aspect of the Arctic.

Stability serves as oil in the engines of the Arctic locomotives - the tracks upon which they can move forward at the speed we want. Stability is simply a prerequisite for sustainable growth in our region.

We are now facing a more unpredictable international situation. Together we must ensure that the Arctic remains a peaceful and stable region where predictability, cooperation and respect for international law prevails.

The Arctic Council is our key international body for discussing Arctic issues. We need a strong Arctic Council.

We also need the constructive international cooperation to continue in other regional institutions like the Barents Euro Arctic Council and the Northern Dimension.

At the same time, the strategic security dimension of the region remains, and is increasing. Norway is Nato's eyes and ears in the north. Our armed forces contribute significantly to the Alliance's situational awareness and presence in the north. We are investing in strategic capabilities that also enhance our collective defense and deterrence posture.

A constructive working relationship with our neighbour Russia is crucial for the stability in the north and works to our mutual benefit. The contemporary relationship in the north stretches back through the decades, with roots going back centuries, and serves us all well.

We are therefore pursuing continued constructive cooperation on issues of common interest, such as:

Management of shared fish stocks, environmental protection, nuclear safety and maritime safety, including search and rescue at sea, and maintaining the important people-to-people contact.

Today, we enjoy the world's most abundant cod stock in the Barents Sea. This development would not have been possible without the close and constructive fisheries cooperation between Russia and Norway.

Let me also say that we welcome the constructive role China plays as an observer in the Arctic Council, and Norway and China have an increasingly broad collaboration on Arctic issues.

The close cooperation between the Arctic coastal states on search and rescue preparedness contributes further to Arctic stability.

The search and rescue cluster here in Bodø has wide-ranging cooperation with other Arctic countries. Part of this cooperation is coordinated from Nord Universitet and supported by the Foreign Ministry.

***

The drivers I have outlined are all prerequisites for increased value creation and sustainable economic activity in the Arctic. This includes oil and gas exploration, fisheries, tourism, sustainable resource management, appropriate search and rescue preparedness, shipping etc.

However, the most important factor are the locomotive engineers:

The people of the Arctic.

One example is the people of the island Lovund in Nordland county, that traded salmon for 2.6 billion NOK in 2017 (the company Nova Sea).

The people of Lovund and their businesses illustrate well how the locomotive engineers of the Arctic utilise infrastructure, the ocean, and scientific based knowledge to create sustainable economic growth. They serve as one great example - among many.

***

Therefore, I am looking forward to our discussion and I am excited to hear your views on the road ahead.

Thank you.

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