The potential of the Ocean Economy in Arctic business development

Opening speech by Prime Minister Erna Solberg at Arctic Frontiers Business 2016 in Tromsø, 26 January 2016.

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Ladies and gentlemen,

The Arctic region is of vital importance to Norway for a number of reasons:

  • Almost 90 % of our export revenues come from sea-based economic activities and resources.
  • 80 % of our maritime areas are north of the Arctic Circle.
  • Nearly 10 % of Norway’s population live north of the Arctic Circle. This is a greater proportion than in any other country in the world.
  • We have always been a nation of seafarers and fishermen; and
  • We have explored and navigated the Arctic waters for centuries.

This is why we seek to promote robust regional development, based on knowledge and innovation.

And this is why we promote responsible resource management. The integrated management plans for our sea areas have been developed using a scientific, ecosystem-based approach.

We seek to manage vulnerable areas prudently. 

We give high priority to research on the impacts of climate change on living marine resources.

The history of the ocean economy is in many ways the economic history of Norway. It is also vital for our future.

Norway´s oceans cover a vast area, and in terms of living marine resources among the most productive in the world. The seabed of this region contains large resources of oil and gas. Our oceans provide vast opportunities for harvesting their bounty. Therefore, it is vital that we make every effort to ensure that the oceans are clean and productive.

Norway´s three most important industries – seafood, offshore and maritime – are all ocean-based. 

In many ways, we have been fortunate, but during the past half-century we also have made good decisions and created forward-looking policies.

During the past year, prices have fallen steeply in the petroleum sector - Norway's largest sector.

A few weeks ago you could read in the Norwegian news that the price of a fresh, gutted salmon weighing 4.5 kilos was higher than the price of a barrel of North Sea Oil.

The oil and gas industry has been through major slumps before, but has kept growing.  Although bad for Norway, low oil prices stimulate the global economy and the demand for oil.  

The petroleum resources on the continental shelf represent long-term opportunities, also in the North.  It is therefore rewarding to see that major efficiency improvements in the industry are under way to cut costs and adapt to challenging market realities. Statoil’s recent announcement that it plans to develop the Castberg field in the Barents Sea confirms these dynamics.

Even so, based on the current situation it would appear that the petroleum industry may have reached its peak. This means that the Norwegian economy needs other industries to increase their activities and contribute to diversifying and greening our economy.

Policies for growth
The Government has a strong focus on policies for green growth, employment and restructuring.

In North Norway, there is considerable potential in the maritime sector, the seafood industry, oil and gas, the mineral industry, tourism, and space technology, to mention some of the key sectors.

Our aim is to make the North one of the most innovative regions of Norway, promoting growth and prosperity based on knowledge and science.

The development of the Arctic must build on what people, businesses and organisations in this region consider good solutions to their challenges. The regional governments are key actors and policy makers in the High North. Norway's economy is facing a shift from a resource-based to a more sustainable knowledge-based economy. Our resources will continue to play an important role for our business development, but we need to increasingly base our economy on knowledge and advanced technology.

In order to achieve this transition, research and innovation must be part of the solution. We need new and profitable businesses, and successful entrepreneurs to lead these businesses. The Government has drawn up an ambitious long-term plan for research and higher education that stakes out a course for policy through 2024.

The Government has set out three primary objectives in this long-term plan. These are:

  • to strengthen competitiveness and innovation capacity;
  • to solve major challenges to society; and
  • to develop high-quality research groups.

I am confident that the academic institutions in North Norway will make substantial contributions towards achieving our objectives. Every time I visit this region, I am struck by the dynamism of its people and its industries.

The oceans have been important for our development so far, and I am convinced that they will be important for our future. Knowledge and expertise are critical factors for economic competitiveness, and the oceans are one of six areas given priority in the long-term plan for research.

The resources found in the oceans are increasingly viewed as indispensable in addressing the multiple challenges our planet is facing. By the middle of this century, more food, jobs, energy, raw materials and economic growth will be required to sustain a growing global population. Enhancing our capacity to harvest and manage a wider range of ocean resources is critical if we are to meet these global challenges.

Ocean-based industries are likely to play an increasingly important role in the future. Growing markets for new ocean-based industries such as aquaculture, offshore renewable energy and new marine resources may represent new opportunities and solutions.

Knowledge and Technology
History shows how we have increased our knowledge of the sea. Gradually we have refined the design and engineering of our ships and improved our methods of fishing.

Based on our knowledge of the sea, and our investments in research and development, we have created new technologies and innovations – and we have developed the petroleum and aquaculture industries.

In the future, innovations in technology, research and development will make it possible to launch new initiatives and further develop existing ocean-based activities - which will also benefit the northernmost regions.

Further development in the Arctic must take into account the multiple environmental challenges resulting from increased economic activity and global warming. Protecting the vulnerable Arctic environment is a key challenge.

The next generation of marine, maritime and offshore technologies must be tailored to all environments and situations.

Cross-sectoral technological cooperation is the key to solving future challenges. Broad cooperation is needed to exploit biological and mineral resources, but also to protect the marine environment so that we can continue harvesting resources in a sustainable manner in the future and facilitate the transition to other ocean-related businesses.

We are currently looking into how we can use technologies and relevant expertise from the offshore sectors in other ocean-based industries.

For instance, there is potential for the fisheries and aquaculture industries to draw on expertise and technological advances in the maritime and offshore sectors.

Offshore drilling platform technologies are now being applied to make offshore fish farming possible. Fish farming operations in more exposed waters require using platform concepts borrowed from oil and gas production. Anchoring and logistics are also being adapted, and offshore suppliers are already adjusting to the new market.

Offshore windmills draw heavily on offshore technology, and environmental technologies are being developed for use across the marine, maritime and offshore sectors so that these industries can take part in the green shift.

Access to modern maritime research infrastructure is important, so that we can conduct world-leading maritime research in Europe and realise the vast potential that is in our oceans.

We are also planning to develop a new centre for maritime technology research and education – an Ocean Space Centre – in Trondheim. The Centre will conduct cross-cutting marine and maritime research and development. It will be an international knowledge hub for maritime construction and ocean technology, and ensure that Norwegian businesses and research institutions continue to utilise and create wealth from the bounty of the oceans. This centre is one of two major infrastructure projects that we have committed ourselves to in our long-term plan for research and higher education. 

We are now reaping the benefits of the broad technology and knowledge base developed in Norway over many decades.

Our knowledge of the seas paves the way for new industries and opportunities.

The oceans are the key to our future. We must do our utmost to unlock their potential.

At the same time, we must bear in mind that the oceans are vulnerable. They must be managed and used in a sustainable way that will allow coming generations to benefit from what they have to offer. We need to increase our knowledge and strengthen our expertise to achieve this.

Thank you