The Arctic and the Blue Potential

Bodø, 26 May 2016

State Secretary Tore Hattrem's statement at the High North Dialogue in Bodø 26 May 2016.

(Check against delivery)

Ambassador
Ladies and gentlemen

Norwegian welfare depends on the ocean and ocean-based activities. More than two thirds of our export revenues come from economic activity and resources from the sea. Norway has vast sea areas under its jurisdiction, most of which are in the Arctic.

Our sea areas border those of other countries, as well as international waters. This means that most of the fish stocks we harvest are shared with other countries. At the same time, pollution and the impacts of climate change do not respect national borders. So the environmental status of our sea areas and their productivity are strongly affected by other countries' policies and actions.

Our dependence on the oceans shapes our national interests, and is thus a key element of Norway's foreign policy.

In the decades ahead, the oceans will become even more important. As a source of food, value creation, innovation and employment, but also because of their important role in the global climate system, and as a provider of a range of key ecosystem services.

The Norwegian Government has clearly demonstrated that ocean-based activities have high priority. Last year saw the launch of our maritime strategy and a white paper on a competitive seafood industry. And two weeks ago, the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy awarded ten new production licences in the Barents Sea. Three of them are in the previously disputed part of the Barents Sea where the maritime boundary between Norway and Russia was clarified with the adoption of the delimitation agreement in 2010.

The Government's approach is clear: we are laying the basis for future value creation and employment. And a great deal of this will take place in the ocean, in the blue economy. We stand on the brink of a new chapter in the history of Norway and the sea, and the Government is determined to develop the necessary policies and tools to write that new chapter.

I have already mentioned the clear link between our dependence on the ocean and our foreign policy. This link has three crucial aspects:

  • The importance of clear and predictable international rules for determining issues of ocean jurisdiction. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea provides this legal framework, in the Arctic region, just as it does elsewhere.
  • Close cooperation with our neighbouring countries on the harvesting of common resources, such as commercially important fish stocks.
  • And, as an overarching concern, ensuring that the oceans remain healthy and productive.

In Norway, we have always recognised the crucial importance of the oceans. But this extends far beyond the needs and considerations of individual countries. Internationally there is growing awareness that the oceans – if managed sensibly – represent immense resource wealth and offer great potential for economic growth, employment, innovation, and food security. Not only for coastal nations, but for the world as a whole.

In September last year, world leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, one of which – number 14 – is dedicated to the oceans and marine resources.

In the US, Secretary Kerry has launched Our Ocean, an important initiative aimed at protecting the world's oceans. The next conference will take place in Washington D.C. in September.

Much good work is being done, but we have to recognise that there are serious problems in many ocean areas. Take the Arctic for example, which is undergoing major changes due to global warming. Higher temperatures and the melting of snow and ice pose a threat to traditional livelihoods and many Arctic species.

Cold-climate species are being pushed further north, and species that were previously found in southern waters are moving into new areas. There are now colonies of blue mussels in the fjords of Svalbard, much further north than ever before. The trend is clear: we have to prepare for further warming in the Arctic region.

Today much of the Arctic is white, but in the future it will become increasingly blue as the ice melts and there is more open water.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The oceans are a vital source of resources and wealth, but we make much less use of them than you might expect from their size. While 70 % of the world's surface is covered by oceans, seafood accounts for only a few per cent of total food consumption.

In the future, interest in the oceans will certainly grow, and all ocean areas, including in the Arctic, can be expected to feel the effects of this.

Human pressure will most likely increase as more of the Arctic sea areas become ice-free. How can we make sure that increasing activity does not damage these vulnerable ecosystems?

Part of the answer is that the Arctic countries must invest in knowledge generation and plan for the future.

This is why the Arctic Council, under its US chairmanship, established the Task Force on Future Marine Cooperation last year. The objective is to understand whether we are doing the right things when it comes to monitoring and managing Arctic ocean areas now and in the future, and find appropriate forms of cooperation. Another important step in this respect was the signing, in July last year in Oslo, of the Declaration Concerning the Prevention of Unregulated High Seas Fishing in the Central Arctic Ocean. The five signatory states were Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the US.

New initiatives are important. But when we prepare for the future, we should not be afraid to apply the knowledge we have already acquired. On the contrary, there are many examples of planning processes, management regimes and best practices that have proven their worth over the years, and that can serve as inspiration for the future.

Take the cod stock in the Barents Sea as an example. Decades of Norwegian–Russian cooperation on marine science and natural resource management have resulted in a healthy stock and large fishing quotas today.

Another example is the successful coexistence of the petroleum industry and the fishing and seafood sector, all the way from the North Sea to the Barents Sea.

Does this mean that we should drill for oil all over the Arctic? No. But experience has taught us that it is fully possible to combine extractive industries in a challenging climate with sound environmental management and the harvesting of living marine resources. The important and difficult task is to strike the right balance between industrial development on the one hand, and environmental and risk management concerns on the other.

New terms are being coined to help us chart the way ahead. Some people speak of the blue economy; others speak of blue growth or the blue dimension. But what does this really mean?

I believe it means improving natural resource management, finding new ways of using the resources we already harvest, and – not least – finding ways of tapping into the vast resources that we do not yet utilise.

And it means committing ourselves to international cooperation, developing new technology, and finding innovative ways of ensuring environmental sustainability. The oceans, including the Arctic seas, offer a huge range of opportunities. We must use these opportunities wisely.

Thank you.