Meld. St. 22 (2008-2009)

Svalbard

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1 Summary

1.1 Svalbard policy entering a new era

The previous report on Svalbard, Report No. 9 (1999 – 2000) to the Storting, Svalbard, was submitted about ten years ago. Since then there have been substantial changes in Svalbard, where there has been growth in many areas just like on the mainland. An increase in both the population and activities has helped to transform Longyearbyen into a modern family community, with a well-developed infrastructure and a generally good array of services.

The overriding objectives of the Svalbard policy are:

  • Consistent and firm enforcement of sovereignty.

  • Proper observance of the Svalbard Treaty and control to ensure compliance with the Treaty

  • Maintenance of peace and stability in the area.

  • Preservation of the area’s distinctive natural wilderness.

  • Maintenance of Norwegian communities in the archipelago.

There is broad political agreement on these objectives, which have remained unchanged for a long time. History has shown that administering the archipelago according to these objectives has been a success.

However, various intersecting considerations with regard to economic and preservation interests – in Svalbard as well as in the rest of Norway – will manifest themselves in ongoing administration and management. Svalbard has a unique natural and cultural heritage that the Norwegian authorities have special responsibility to preserve. For that reason, protection of the natural environment is one of the key aspects of Norway’s Svalbard policy, and all industrial activity, resource exploitation and research are to take place within the parameters of preserving Svalbard’s natural environment and cultural monuments. At the same time, since a goal is to maintain Norwegian communities in the archipelago, activity to ensure this must be provided for. Overarching Svalbard policy is sufficiently flexible and robust with regard to weighing various interests and to development in the archipelago in other respects.

Climate change will present new challenges. Temperatures in the Arctic are expected to rise twice as fast as the global mean. This may lead to big changes in physical environmental conditions and have serious consequences for species and ecosystems in Svalbard. Expected shrinkage of sea-ice will also impact the environment by making vulnerable areas more easily accessible to traffic and other activity. Climate changes in the Arctic and their significance for the global climate also mean that in the coming years, Svalbard will be a more important source of knowledge regarding climate processes and impacts of climate change.

At the same time, climate change is creating opportunities for and expectation of an increase in activities in the north. A warmer Arctic Ocean will mean that fisheries activities will move north. Less ice may also open up new routes for international shipping between east and west. Longyearbyen may become increasingly important as a base for search and rescue and pollution clean-up operations in the Arctic seas.

This Report to the Storting primarily addresses activity within the territorial limit of 12 nautical miles, which is the territory covered by the Svalbard Treaty. Even so, particularly in Chap. 2 Background – purpose of the report, there will be a discussion of opportunities and challenges in a broader context.

The report will provide guidelines for Svalbard policy for a number of years going forward. They envisage a continued stable and predictable exercise of authority and favourable social developments in the archipelago. At the same time it is important to maintain necessary manoeuvring room in the coming years in order to meet new challenges and employ the best instruments at any given time in administering the archipelago.

The overriding objectives will be signposts that in the view of the Government will ensure integrated and harmonious administration. This will help to make Svalbard policy robust in the years to come.

1.2 Instruments in Svalbard policy

Chap. 4 contains a discussion of instruments in Norwegian policy towards Svalbard. Legislation and its enforcement are fundamental instruments in any society under the rule of law. The Government attaches importance to the legal framework for Svalbard being as similar to the framework on the mainland as possible. Several factors, especially the fact that Longyearbyen is developing in the direction of similar local communities on the mainland, make this desirable. Other trends, too, such as an expansion of obligations under international law, mean there will eventually be a greater need for new laws and regulations.

The Government has considered whether it may be appropriate to amend the Svalbard Act, so that all statutory provisions apply to Svalbard unless otherwise stated, that is, the reverse of current principles concerning the application of acts of law. However, on the whole, case-by-case assessments of relations to Svalbard will be needed when public law legislation is introduced. Key issues in such assessments include the Svalbard Treaty’s establishment of equal liberty of access and entry to the archipelago, social welfare and entitlements legislation and the fact that Longyearbyen is not intended to be a “cradle-to-grave” community. These issues are discussed in Chap. 5 Legislation. The Svalbard Treaty is discussed in Chap. 3 Framework under international law.

The organisation and structure of the central administrative apparatus for Svalbard remain unchanged. Developments, however, indicate that ongoing adjustments may be necessary. For example, the instructions for the Interministerial Committee on Polar Affairs were revised since the previous report on Svalbard. The aim was to ensure better coordination of Svalbard policy. There will continue to be a need for a greater degree of coordination. For that reason the Government emphasises cross-sectoral cooperation in formulating Norway’s policy towards Svalbard and the administration of the archipelago.

The Governor of Svalbard is the government’s highest representative in Svalbard and the most important player in the local administration and in protecting the central government’s interests in the archipelago. In view of the increase in activity that has taken place, the establishment of local self-government and the fact that more acts of law have been applied, the Government sees the importance of enhancing the Governor’s role in step with general developments.

A boost to local administration was the establishment in 2002 of the Longyearbyen Community Council. The Council exercises authority within the land-use area in certain fields and is responsible for the provision of public services and development tasks. The establishment of the Longyearbyen Community Council has resulted in an exercise of authority at local level better tailored to circumstances and an administration similar to municipal government administration on the mainland with regard to both authority and responsibility.

1.3 Challenges in particular sectors

In the work on this Report to the Storting, three issues were designated as main topics and, for that reason are discussed in greater detail in the report. They are discussed in various places.

1.3.1 Visible presence in Svalbard – coal mining and other industrial activity

One of the main objectives of Svalbard policy is the maintenance of Norwegian communities in the archipelago. This objective is met through the family community in Longyearbyen. Over the years there has been a conscious effort to facilitate three fields of activity in particular. Throughout history, coal mining has formed the basis for Longyearbyen and other communities in the archipelago. There has also been a focus on research, education and tourism. These efforts have all helped to make Longyearbyen the modern community it is today.

The Government wishes for Longyearbyen to continue to be a high-quality family community. Coal mining continues to be the mainstay of this community. It is the Government’s view that coal mining should continue within the framework set by environmental laws, commercial profitability and the safety regulations and in a manner that supports the objective of Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani to contribute to a robust community in Longyearbyen. Existing infrastructure for coal mining operations should be used as much as possible.

It is also important to promote other, varied activity in Longyearbyen, not least activity at the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS), further development of Svalbard as a platform for research and education and of tourism and space-related activity. Developments in the various areas must be viewed in context and assessed in view of the overriding objectives of Svalbard policy, including the ambitious environmental goals for the archipelago.

As a result of targeted policy, especially in the past decade, Svalbard has developed into an important platform for Norwegian and international research and education. Norway is currently the host nation to research institutions from 20 countries that have a more or less permanent presence in Svalbard. Moreover, in Longyearbyen the world’s northernmost university programmes, UNIS, has been established as a key player and part of the research platform. UNIS’s expansion has also had the effect that the organisation, through its students and staff, accounts for an increasingly important part of the Longyearbyen community.

The focus on tourism has helped this industry to be an important basis for settlement and activity in Longyearbyen. At the same time, it is a goal for Svalbard to be one of the best managed wilderness areas and the best preserved High Arctic tourist destination in the world. Tourism also helps to spread awareness of the vulnerable environment and environmental challenges in the Arctic. The Government wishes to provide for the further development of tourism as a basic industry in Svalbard.

Since seasonal fluctuations in tourism are a challenge for year-round jobs in Longyearbyen, a targeted effort must be made to develop a tourism product that provides a basis for year-round employment in Longyearbyen.

1.3.2 Svalbard is to be one of the world’s best managed wilderness areas – tourism and other traffic

Preservation of Svalbard’s unique natural wilderness is one of the main objectives of Norway’s policy towards Svalbard. Since the previous Report to the Storting, this has been translated into practice through new, modern environmental regulations and the creation of a number of new protected areas. In 2002 the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act entered into force, and in the period 2002 – 2005, the area under protection was substantially enlarged. Today, 65 per cent of Svalbard’s land area and 87 per cent of its territorial waters are protected as nature reserves and national parks.

As activities have increased during the past decade, total traffic has also grown. The growth has been greatest in tourism and research. The interest in using Svalbard as a meeting place for decision makers has also been rising. To limit the stress on Svalbard’s natural environment and cultural heritage, it is necessary to control traffic in compliance with the value and vulnerability of the various areas and the purpose of protecting them. In view of Svalbard’s increasingly vital role as a source of knowledge regarding consequences of climate change, it is particularly important to ensure the value of protected areas as reference areas for climate and environmental research.

Increased traffic also poses challenges with regard to safety. During the past decade several measures have been implemented in this area. To limit the potential for damage from acute discharges, in 2007 a fuel quality requirement was introduced for ships calling in at nature reserves in East Svalbard. At the same time, a cap was set at 200 passengers per cruise ship in these areas. After the Harbour Act entered into force for Svalbard in 2008, the legal framework for regulating and facilitating safe maritime traffic in Svalbard is well on the way to being at the same level as the rest of Norway. Efforts to improve maritime safety will be a central task of the Government in the years to come as well.

The challenge will be to manage traffic in a manner that meets the ambitious environmental objectives for Svalbard. Various policy instruments will be necessary. In order to implement effective measures, efforts to bolster our knowledge of how traffic impacts the environment in Svalbard need to continue. Undertaking detailed surveys and monitoring the situation are key elements in this regard. At the same time, various user interests need to be balanced within the framework of the objectives set for managing the various areas. Preparing management plans and amending the Protection Regulations are essential measures for controlling various forms of traffic in protected areas, and for limiting the overall strain on the environment in keeping with the aim of environmental protection. Amendments to the Protection Regulations have been drafted to address this issue.

1.3.3 Svalbard’s role as a platform for Norwegian and international research, knowledge and education

Svalbard has become a key area for gathering knowledge about the effects of Arctic temperature rise and how a warmer Arctic may impact global climate. This underscores the importance of making full use of the opportunities Svalbard offers as a platform for Norwegian and international climate and environmental research.

The proximity to the North Pole provides unique opportunities for atmospheric studies, while data from satellites in polar orbit can be downloaded by the Svalbard Satellite Station in Longyearbyen at each pass. In Longyearbyen the establishment of UNIS has also helped bolster research and education, in addition to such institutions as Kings Bay AS in Ny-Ålesund and the Norwegian Polar Institute. In all, combined with substantial investment in infrastructure, this has made Svalbard a platform for Norwegian and international research, higher education and environmental monitoring.

An objective is for Norway to be at the forefront of international knowledge production in and about polar regions as well as benefiting those areas. Knowledge is also the key to good stewardship. Established infrastructure ought to be utilised better than it is today, by Norwegian as well as foreign scientists and students.

Norway has a special responsibility to develop knowledge about polar areas. The Government’s commitment to the International Polar Year (IPY 2007 – 2009), to which it appropriated NOK 320 million in support, has strengthened the effort to develop Svalbard further as a research platform. Managing the legacy of IPY in the best possible manner is an important challenge.

The stepped-up research activity and its internationalisation makes it necessary to bolster Norwegian scientific leadership and presence, as well as coordination and collaboration. The plan is for the Research Council of Norway to be given a special responsibility in this effort. This may help ensure that established infrastructure is more extensively used than today, by Norwegian as well as foreign scientists and students.

1.4 Environmental protection

Preserving Svalbard’s unique natural wilderness is one of the main objectives of Norway’s Svalbard policy, and the Norwegian government has set ambitious goals for environmental protection in the archipelago. Accordingly, environmental considerations are to take precedence over other interests whenever they conflict. Current regulations and a favourable state of the environment provide a good basis for reaching these goals.

As a result of determined protection efforts over many decades, only a tiny portion of Svalbard’s land area has been affected by physical encroachments such as roads and other infrastructure. Biodiversity is also virtually intact, and populations of most species previously at risk of overexploitation have recovered.

Even though the situation for biodiversity and wilderness is currently good, new trends may pose serious challenges to environmental protection in Svalbard. This pertains especially to climate change, but also to increasing traffic and changes in the activities taking place in and around Svalbard. Climate change can be expected to alter the physical environment and hence the living conditions for flora and fauna considerably. Climate change, therefore, will become more and more important for nature management in Svalbard. This applies especially to the retreat of sea-ice, which is likely to reduce the range of many ice-dependent species, and which may eventually lead to their disappearance from the Svalbard area.

Chap. 7 Environmental protection discusses various challenges being faced and how the Government will ensure that the ambitious environmental goals can be reached. Management in keeping with the ambitious environmental goals will make great demands on fundamental know­ledge and management’s ability to tailor instruments and measures to changes in environmental conditions and activity.

In Svalbard an important objective is to preserve the extent of wilderness areas. This means strict limits on significant infrastructure development in wild areas not already affected by such encroachments. Growing interest in the natural resources in and around Svalbard could mean an increase in applications for permits for activities leading to physical encroachments outside of the planning areas surrounding existing settlements and mines. The Svalbard Environmental Protection Act and current strict practice with regard to permits for infrastructure development outside of the planning areas are well suited to deal with this trend.

1.5 Research, knowledge and higher education

Svalbard is of vital importance as a platform for Norwegian and international research. Research and higher education are to be key elements in Norwegian activities in Svalbard in the years to come. Although Svalbard must remain an attractive venue for scientists from around the world, Norway is to have a leading role and be a key player in the area of developing knowledge in and around Svalbard.

UNIS has grown considerably since its founding and plays an important role in Svalbard in general and in Longyearbyen in particular. UNIS should continue its effort to attain good results in research and education, and in principle the Government supports the ambition of the centre to become a leading international venue for Arctic studies.

The International Polar Year has brought greater attention to environmental and climate-related research. The archipelago is naturally ideal for such research and offers world-class infrastructure and facilities. Surveillance, surveys and the establishment of long time series are of fundamental importance for science and management, on land as well as in the waters around Svalbard, and carries an additional economic interest. Unique space-related infrastructure has been built near Longyearbyen, and in the coming years it ought to be used to the fullest extent. Development and exploitation of the observation systems for space, oceans, land and ice will be an important aspect of knowledge policy for Svalbard. Putting in place systems for consistent, extensive monitoring of oceans, land and ice continues to be a challenge.

Longyearbyen and Ny-Ålesund will be the natural starting points for research and education based on the archipelago’s particular advantages, and total scientific activities ought to ensure a strong, comprehensive research effort. Furthermore, the efficient exploitation of the infrastructure in Svalbard and collaboration between institutions and nations must be promoted.

1.6 Industrial, mining and commercial activity

One of the overriding objectives of Norwegian policy towards Svalbard, preservation of Norwegian communities in the archipelago, rests on three main pillars.

Continued coal mining is essential for maintaining Longyearbyen as a family community. It is the Government’s view that coal mining should continue within the strict framework set by environmental laws and commercial profitability and in a manner that supports the objective of Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani to contribute to a robust community in Longyearbyen. At the same time, coal mining is based on a non-renewable resource. It is also vulnerable to fluctuations in the price of coal. Unforeseen events can have serious consequences on operations. In view of this, the Government is of the opinion that an effort should be made to facilitate research, education and tourism in a way that will ensure a robust basis for settlement in Longyearbyen in the longer term as well, and be compatible with the objectives of Norwegian Svalbard policy.

Tourism in Svalbard ultimately depends on pristine nature. For that reason, ecotourism appears to be a suitable niche for the archipelago that can be developed further, well adapted to the constraints set by the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act and a natural focus area for the tourism industry in Svalbard. Today, a wide array of activities is offered, from cruises covering large parts of the archipelago to activities based in the Longyearbyen area such as kayak trips, hikes, ice caving and dog-sledding and snowmobile safaris. There is a potential for further development of tourism in Svalbard, particularly outside of the high season. Such development must be within strict safety and environmental limits. The tourism industry is consciously targeting the course and conference market, which has helped to improve occupancy for accommodations businesses. However, seasonal fluctuations are a challenge for maintaining year-round jobs in the tourism industry in Longyearbyen.

There is fishing in the territorial waters around Svalbard, and in the Fisheries Protection Zone surrounding Svalbard. Fisheries in the territorial waters around Svalbard are discussed in detail in section 9.3.

Svalbard’s geographic location is, as has been mentioned, ideal for space-related activities, for studying the atmosphere and downloading satellite data. Substantial investment in infrastructure, primarily through a fibre-optic cable to the mainland, as well as at the SvalSat satellite downlink station outside Longyearbyen, has made Norway a significant international player in the area of downloading satellite data. Satellite data downloaded in Svalbard is used increasingly for monitoring sea-ice conditions, oil pollution and ship traffic. There is every reason to believe that since the need for space-related services will continue to grow in the years to come, particularly in areas such as civil protection, the environment and climate, these services may continue to be a growth industry in Svalbard.

1.7 Longyearbyen and the other local communities

As discussed above, since the previous Report to the Storting on Svalbard, Longyearbyen has consolidated its position as a modern family community, with a well-developed public infrastructure and a generally good array of services. However, it is the policy of the Government that Longyearbyen not become a “cradle-to-grave” community.

The effort to bring about a more varied economy in Longyearbyen has been a success and has resulted in the emergence of tourism, retailing, education and research as complementary and alternative industries to coal mining. The number of businesses in Longyearbyen has risen in such areas as retailing and service production. For that reason, the array of private services in all in Longyearbyen is relatively ample, even compared with what mainland communities of similar size offer.

Substantial investment has been made in Longyearbyen’s infrastructure in the past decade. Besides the aforementioned research-related infrastructure, a new terminal building has been built at the airport, the school has been expanded, a day-care centre has been expanded and a new one built, and a new reserve power station has been built, among other projects.

While Longyearbyen has seen considerable growth in the past decade, both in population and in the level of activity, the activity in Barentsburg has been substantially reduced. At the same time, the foreign presence has increased in Longyearbyen and Ny-Ålesund. Research and tourism in particular have brought foreigners from several nations to the archipelago.

1.8 Sea and air – transport, safety, search and rescue and emergency preparedness

Together with greater activity in the High North, an increase in sea transport in the waters around Svalbard poses new challenges to maritime safety efforts concerning Svalbard. The increasing traffic must primarily be met by preventive measures that reduce the likelihood of accidents and that limit the impacts if accidents occur. For that reason, a number of measures have been introduced in this area since the previous Report to the Storting on Svalbard. By evaluating further measures to improve safety at sea around Svalbard, the Government’s objective is to lower the risk of unwanted incidents connected with maritime transport around Svalbard, to avoid harm to life, health or the environment.

Maritime safety measures implemented around Svalbard in recent years have made the level of safety closer to that along the mainland coast. A key challenge will be adequately monitoring developments in ship traffic. This will provide ample opportunities to analyse trends, so that necessary measures such as regulations and development of maritime infrastructure, services and emergency preparedness can be carried out.

The increase in activities is also reflected in greater aircraft and helicopter traffic. Continued growth in this area may result in a need for increased safety measures, e.g. in the form of air traffic control services and the development of radar coverage.

The Office of the Governor is the central body for planning and crisis management in the area of civil protection and emergency preparedness in Svalbard. The public emergency search and rescue service around and in Svalbard, comprises the Office of the Governor’s two helicopters and service vessel. In addition, the Norwegian Armed Forces support the Governor with the resources available at any given time. As has been mentioned, in the future, Longyearbyen may be an even more important base for search and rescue missions in the area. Emergency preparedness of this sort is a natural part of Norway’s exercise of authority in Svalbard.

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