Enable Javascript in your browser for an improved experience of regjeringen.no

Meld. St. 22 (2008-2009)

Svalbard

To table of content

2 Background – purpose of the report

Figure 2.1 Map of Svalbard

Figure 2.1 Map of Svalbard

The objectives of Norwegian policy towards Svalbard have remained unchanged for a long time and lay the groundwork for a stable and predictable exercise of authority and community development in the archipelago. These objectives remain firm. Even so, how best to achieve them must be assessed regularly in the light of new challenges and trends. It is especially the increase in activity and the rapid climate changes in the Arctic and the significance this has for the environment and activity in the area that indicate a need for a new Report to the Storting on Norwegian Svalbard policy.

At intervals of around ten years, three comprehensive reports on Svalbard were submitted to the Storting. The previous report (Report No. 9 (1999 – 2000) to the Storting, Svalbard) was submitted in 2000. In addition, in 2007 the Office of the Auditor General conducted a performance audit of Svalbard and in Document No. 3:8 (2006 – 2007), The Office of the Auditor General’s Investigation of the Management of Svalbard, recommended a new comprehensive review of Svalbard policy. The Storting followed this up in its deliberation of the report, and in Recommendation No. 46 (2007 – 2008) to the Storting, Recommendation from the Standing Committee on Scrutiny and Constitutional Affairs, requested a new Report to the Storting on Svalbard during the current Storting period (2005 – 2009).

In view of this, in December 2007 the Government decided to start work on a new Report to the Storting in order to capture developments during the past ten years and point out key challenges and describe how they are to be met.

2.1 The objectives of Norwegian policy towards Svalbard

The Treaty of 9 February 1920 concerning Spitsbergen (the Svalbard Treaty) recognises “the full and absolute sovereignty of Norway over the Archipelago of Spitsbergen”. Pursuant to the Act of 17 July 1925 relating to Svalbard (Svalbard Act), Svalbard forms a part of the Kingdom of Norway. Norway has an important responsibility to administer the archipelago in a way that ensures peace, stability, protection of natural wilderness and responsible resource management. The basis for Norwegian administration of Svalbard is that Norway not only has the right to exercise authority within the framework set by the Treaty, but also has an obligation to enforce its sovereignty in a proper and credible manner. This is particularly important because the Svalbard Treaty grants nationals and companies from signatory countries equal liberty of access and entry and freedom to engage in certain kinds of activities, a situation reflecting the archipelago’s long history of foreign settlements and activities. Norway alone, in virtue of its sovereignty, is responsible for ensuring that this is complied with. At the same time Norway has an obvious right to safeguard its national interests in Svalbard as long as these interests do not conflict with the provisions of the Treaty or international law.

The overriding objectives of Norwegian policy towards Svalbard 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.

These objectives have remained unchanged for years, and they enjoy broad political support.

Though its responsibility for coordinating Norway’s Svalbard policy, the Ministry of Justice and the Police is responsible for submitting this report on Svalbard to the Storting. In keeping with the fact that specific responsibilities for the various aspects of Svalbard policy rest with the competent ministries, work on this report involved a number of ministries.

The Government has set out three main topics for this Report:

  • A robust presence in Svalbard – with particular attention to the future prospects of coal mining operations.

  • Svalbard as one of the world’s best-managed wilderness areas – tourism and other traffic.

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

The challenges discussed in this report must be viewed in the context of the overriding objectives of Norwegian Svalbard policy. Like the previous Reports to the Storting on Svalbard, this report, too, will describe objectives, challenges and possible measures for Svalbard, i.e. the area within the scope of the Svalbard Treaty, which is the territory and territorial waters out to 12 nautical miles from the baselines (mean low water marks). It is also this area that comes under the Governor’s jurisdiction and the Svalbard budget.

2.2 Svalbard and the High North

Svalbard policy is an important instrument for Norwegian authorities for achieving their aims in Svalbard, but not the only one. Precisely because the archipelago is an integral part of the realm, Svalbard is also covered by a number of other, general policy areas. This Report is aimed especially at the objectives, priorities and policy instruments that apply particularly to Svalbard.

The Soria Moria Declaration designated the High North as the Government’s most important strategic priority area, and in this connection the Government has formulated a separate High North strategy. Svalbard is a crucial part of the High North, and continued effective and appropriate Norwegian administration of Svalbard, in keeping with the objectives of Norway’s Svalbard policy, will help to strengthen and deepen our presence in the High North. This Report to the Storting is based on the guidelines set forth in the High North strategy. The strategy’s place in the report will vary by topic and context.

The High North, including Svalbard, is among the areas in the world seeing the biggest impact of climate change. At the same time, the areas are generally characterised by increased activity. Climate models point to the Arctic as the area on earth that will experience the fastest and greatest warming as a consequence of higher concentrations of greenhouse gases. This can be expected to have serious consequences for the ecosystems and many Arctic species and will pose big challenges to environmental management. For society and activities in the Arctic, climate change will present challenges as well as new opportunities. This fact is an important backdrop for the report.

Norway’s relationship with foreign players in Svalbard is characterised by candour and cooperativeness, and the foreign policy climate has been favourable since the submission of the previous report on Svalbard to the Storting. Viewed in this perspective, the current situation must be characterised as good. A further objective is both to exercise authority in a credible, consistent and predictable manner and for Norway to be at the forefront of proper management of the environment and natural resources in the High North. Key concepts in the High North strategy are environmental protection, responsible resource management, activity and knowledge. Thus the High North strategy underscores the importance of a robust Norwegian community in Longyearbyen and Svalbard’s importance as a platform for international climate and environmental research. The strategy also underscores the ambitious environmental objectives for Svalbard and stipulates that environmental concerns are to outweigh other interests. The High North strategy is part of the background for possible measures discussed in the Report to the Storting.

2.3 Developments in Svalbard since 2000

Since the previous Report to the Storting there have been changes, both to the local social structures in Svalbard and to the external parameters of Norwegian Svalbard policy. In general, local developments can be outlined as follows:

  • The development of infrastructure and services in Longyearbyen and Ny-Ålesund has continued. This is the main reason that total central government transfers to Svalbard have also increased through this period.

  • The expansion and modernisation of the administration has continued. Even if local conditions dictate that the organisation of social life in the archipelago will differ in some respects from the mainland going forward as well, the constraints under which the Svalbard community operates will become more and more like those on the mainland. More laws and regulations will apply in Svalbard and they will be enforced consistently and equally.

  • Local democracy in Svalbard is now in place through the establishment of the Longyearbyen Community Council.

  • The trend towards greater diversification and privatisation of industrial and other business activity, particularly in Longyearbyen, has continued.

  • Developments in the tourism industry have continued, and tourism has consolidated its position as a significant direct and indirect source of employment.

  • The coal mining operations of Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani AS have expanded, following a decline towards the end of the 1990s. However, industrial activity in Barentsburg has declined further since the previous report on Svalbard was submitted to the Stor­ting.

  • Svalbard has developed into an important platform for Norwegian and international research. During the 2000s South Korean, Chinese and Indian research stations were established in Ny-Ålesund, bringing the total number of foreign research stations in Ny-Ålesund to nine.

  • There are clear signs that the climate in the Arctic and in Svalbard is getting warmer and that Svalbard has become increasingly important as a source of knowledge of anthropogenic climate change and its impact.

  • Local environmental efforts in Svalbard have been bolstered substantially by the entry into force of the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act and creation of new protected areas, among other measures.

The only settlements in Svalbard that can be called local communities in the usual sense are Longyearbyen and Barentsburg. The Russian mine in Pyramiden was closed down in 1998. The development of infrastructure and services more or less tailored to families began in the 1970s and expanded in the 1980s in Longyearbyen. The expansion in Longyearbyen accelerated in the 1990s. On the other hand, the Russian mining community has been reduced substantially on account of limited activity, and mining operations have now been suspended. Currently, approximately 2,500 persons are registered as residing in the archipelago, broken down as follows: 2,050 in Longyearbyen and Ny-Ålesund and approximately 450 in Barentsburg. However, when the previous report on Svalbard was submitted to the Storting, the ratio was approximately 1,425 to around 940.

Textbox 2.1 Scenario for changes in climate in Svalbard

A regional climate model for the Norwegian Arctic has been run for the scenario periods 2021 – 2050 and 2071 – 2100. For Svalbard the model shows that we may be facing a rise in annual temperature of approximately 3°C in the south-west, and approximately 8°C in the north-east over the next 100 years. For the autumn and winter months the models show a rise of over 8°C in the north-east portions of Svalbard. For the summer, the models show a warming in Svalbard in the range of 2 – 4°C. At the same time, precipitation is expected to increase by 10 – 40 per cent, while snow depths are reduced on account of a shorter winter season. According to the model, wind speeds will increase, especially in areas where the sea-ice disappears. Strong winds will occur more frequently.

The expected change in annual mean temperatures from the 30-year period 1961 – 1990 to the 30-year period 2071 – 2100 is based on the NorACIA regional climate model. The green shows the lowest expected temperature rise, and the red shows the greatest expected rise. Note the sharp rise in temperatures in the farthest east in Svalbard and the considerable dissimilarity across Svalbard.

Figure 2.2 Scenario for changes in climate.

Figure 2.2 Scenario for changes in climate.

Source met.no (2008). NorACIA’s climate scenarios for the Norwegian Arctic.

At the same time as the number of foreign nationals in Svalbard has declined since the previous report, the foreign presence in Longyearbyen and Ny-Ålesund has increased. Research and tourism in particular have led to the influx of foreigners from several nations to Svalbard.

Since 1920 the main purpose of Norwegian Svalbard policy has been to keep the archipelago out of conflicts between the great powers and ensure credible Norwegian governance of the archipelago. This has been achieved by consistent compliance with the provisions of the Treaty and maintenance of Norwegian activities, of which coal mining has been the most crucial. In recent years, private business activity and research have expanded considerably in scope. Coal mining, tourism, and research currently represent a substantial portion of activity in the archipelago. The changes that have taken place in Svalbard since the previous general report was submitted to the Storting fully demonstrate the importance of an overall Svalbard policy that is sufficiently sound and flexible enough to tolerate changes in operating parameters. For that reason, all sector policy for the archipelago must be based on the overriding objectives of Norwegian Svalbard policy.

2.4 Climate change – challenges and opportunities

Temperatures in the Arctic are expected to rise twice as fast as the global mean. During the past 100 years annual mean temperatures in the Arctic have risen on average approximately 2°C. The sea-ice has retreated and become thinner, and glaciers as well as areas covered by snow year-round are shrinking. The Arctic ocean is also becoming warmer, and on land more and more of the permafrost is melting. Where the sea-ice is retreating, coasts are subject to erosion from an increase in wave activity. Changes in climate and ice conditions are already affecting Arctic fauna. The melting of the permafrost and greater coastal erosion will also result in damage to settlements and infrastructure in many places in the Arctic.

In autumn 2008, the average temperature in the Arctic was 5°C above the long-term normal, and the sea-ice in the polar basin was 30 per cent below the average for the period 1979 – 2000. Melting from the Greenland ice sheet in summer 2008 was the highest since measurements began in 1970, and for the first time in recorded history, the Northwest Passage and Northeast Passage were ice free at the same time. (Arctic Report Card 2008 NOAA/Arctic Council).

2.4.1 Svalbard in a global context

While the mean temperature in Svalbard has soared in recent years, the glaciers have receded and the permafrost is warmer than before. During the winters of 2005 – 2008 there has been little ice in the fjords on the western side of Svalbard, where warm Atlantic water has penetrated all the way to the coast. Both anthropogenic warming and natural fluctuations may be of importance for such changes. According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), anthropogenic impacts on the climate are accelerating, and the observable changes in Svalbard are probably only the beginning of a rapid transformation towards a warmer Arctic and new climatic conditions. Based on IPCC scenarios for average growth in emissions, it is estimated that already in 2050, between 14 and 37 per cent of the world’s species will have disappeared or be threatened by swift extinction as a consequence of climate change. The Arctic has been singled out as one of the regions where it is assumed that impacts of climate change on species and ecosystems will be greatest and occur first.

Textbox 2.2 Ivory gull

The ivory gull is a characteristic species of high Arctic areas, living in ice-covered waters all year-round. It lives on crustaceans and fish it finds in the pack ice, which is why it is dependent on the sea-ice for survival. The ivory gull nests in the northern reaches of Canada, Greenland, Svalbard and Russia. Studies done in Canada have documented an 80 per cent decline in Canadian populations during the past 20 years. The decline is attributed to reductions and changes in the extent of sea-ice and higher levels of environmental toxins. In Canada the species is now facing extinction in most of its nesting areas. Studies conducted in Svalbard and in Russia indicate that besides reduced extent of sea-ice, the ivory gull is also affected by environmental toxins. The species is exposed to high levels of PCBs and DDT, substances that interfere with the birds endocrine systems and reduce eggshell thickness. The consequences are lower reproduction and survival rates.

Figure 2.3 Ivory gull

Figure 2.3 Ivory gull

Source Hallvard Strøm, Norwegian Polar Institute

How ice, snow, permafrost and ocean circulation react to rising temperatures is also of great importance for the global climate. The Arctic snow and ice cover serves as a mirror reflecting most of the solar energy back into space. For that reason the size of areas covered by ice and snow matters a great deal for both Arctic temperatures and the thermal balance of the Northern Hemisphere. When snow and ice melt, most of the solar energy is absorbed by open water and bare ground. This amplifies the warming and leads to further melting. This positive feedback mechanism makes the process self-reinforcing.

More rapid warming of the Arctic due to shrinkage of snow and ice cover can also amplify and accelerate other processes with potentially serious consequences for the global climate.

2.4.2 Local impacts in Svalbard

The risk that many species of living organisms can disappear from the Svalbard area or die out must be regarded as high and depends on how quickly the climate changes and the pack ice retreats. It is assumed that the risk is greatest for species and ecosystems dependent on sea-ice, but a number of other species may also be at risk.

In addition, climate change will also make many species and ecosystems more vulnerable to other kinds of impacts. Less ice will make many areas more readily accessible to activities that can have an adverse environmental impact. When the temperature rises, it will be easier for new species to establish themselves in Svalbard. This may pose a threat to species naturally occurring there today.

The significance of climate change for Svalbard is on several levels. On the one hand, Svalbard has become a key area for gathering knowledge about what happens when temperatures in the Arctic rise and how this may impact the climate in other places on earth. This puts Svalbard at the centre of the biggest environmental challenge the world community faces today. A better understanding of climate processes in the Arctic is crucial for efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and for efforts to adapt society to the climate changes that now appear to be unavoidable. This underscores the importance of making full use of the opportunities Svalbard offers as a platform for Norwegian and international climate and environmental research.

On the other hand, climate change will have growing, direct significance for nature management in Svalbard, in that the physical environment and ecological conditions may be substantially changed, cf. Chap. 8. Climate change will also affect transport and the dispersal in the environment of various toxins that is brought to the Svalbard area by air and ocean currents.

Climate change will also have a direct impact on buildings and infrastructure in Svalbard, and thus on land-use and social planning. Changes in precipitation and increased melting of the surface layer in the summer may put settlements at greater risk of landslides and floods. Greater melting can also lead to failure in the foundations of buildings and other infrastructure. Cultural monuments, too, will be more exposed to coastal erosion and decay. These processes will accelerate as climate becomes milder and wetter.

2.4.3 A new era – challenges and opportunities

A milder climate and the retreat of sea-ice may result in vulnerable areas becoming more easily accessible to traffic and other activity. For Svalbard this pertains especially to cruise tourism, fisheries and other ship traffic. On the other hand, reductions in fjord ice in spring may also make some areas less accessible to motorised traffic. All together, the result can be an increasing need to control traffic and other activity to limit the impact and risk of pollution.

Today, the ship traffic around Svalbard primarily consists of cruise and freight traffic, research-related traffic and fishing. Recent trends indicates that ship traffic to Arctic areas will increase both in volume and extent. Trawling for cod is moving ever northward and now takes place as far north as Is­fjord (78 degrees north), at almost the same latitude as Longyearbyen.

Even if this Report to the Storting particularly concerns the archipelago as such, it is important to see coming opportunities and challenges also in a broader context. In the longer term, an increasingly ice-free Arctic Ocean may also open completely new routes to international shipping between east and west. The shortest route through the Arctic Ocean from the major shipping ports on the European continent passes directly west of Svalbard. At the same time, the seas north of Greenland and Svalbard are likely to be the most challenging and risky for shipping. This may pose considerable future challenges, not least with regard to search and rescue and pollution clean-up operations. It will have to be expected that Longyearbyen will become increasingly important as a base for rescue and pollution clean-up operations in the Arctic seas. A growing need for other maritime services must also be addressed. Greater demand for energy and easier accessibility may also mean a greater interest in petroleum activities in Arctic waters, near Svalbard as well.

The Svalbard Environmental Protection Act, which entered into force in 2002, is an important framework act that, along with other relevant regulations for Svalbard, will be a key instrument for dealing with the various challenges the archipelago will face in the coming years. With regard to developments in the big picture, i.e. for the seas beyond Svalbard, different instruments and processes will provide a framework for dealing with them. Even so, it is important to consider these trends in context.

In 2006 the Government submitted Report No. 8 (2005 – 2006), Integrated Management of the Marine Environment of the Barents Sea and the Sea Areas off the Lofoten Islands, to the Storting. The plan is intended to clarify the overriding framework for existing and new activity in these ocean areas. Pursuant to the management plans, no petroleum activities are to be initiated in a 65 km zone around Bjørnøya and in the marginal ice zone and at the polar front. For a detailed discussion of limitations on any petroleum activity in the territorial waters around Svalbard, see sections 7.4.3 and 9.5.

A warmer Barents Sea may lead to changes in the ranges of important fish stocks. Some of these displacements may occur gradually, depending on whether new spawning grounds further north and east are made use of. It is expected that cod will continue to spawn along the coast of northern Norway. For capelin, possible spawning grounds in a warmer ocean may move to Svalbard, Novaya Zemlya and Franz Josef Land. (Source: NorACIA report 2008: Klimaendringer i Barentshavet (Climate Change in the Barents Sea)).

The Marine Resources Act provides guidelines for managing living marine resources. It is vital to Norwegian fisheries management for the harvesting of living marine resources to be sustainable. Shared stocks in the Barents Sea are managed by the Joint Norwegian-Russian Fisheries Commission on the basis of scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea.

2.5 The Office of the Auditor General’s performance audit of Svalbard

The Office of the Auditor General conducted a performance audit of Svalbard, Document No. 3:8 (2006 – 2007), The Office of the Auditor General’s Investigation of the Management of Svalbard, which was concluded and submitted to the Stor­ting in spring 2007. The Office of the Auditor General points out that striking a balance between a robust Norwegian presence and keeping the environment as pristine as possible serves to complicate the governance and management of Svalbard. The investigation emphasises that the interests of income and the environment need to be addressed on the basis of overall considerations of a sustain­able economy and strict environmental standards. The Government wishes to underscore the fact that these interests are recurring issues in this report, which the authorities are keen on balancing in the formulation of Svalbard policy.

The Office of the Auditor General also points out a need for more specific knowledge about the impact of traffic, research and tourism. The Government is also concerned about the total burden on the vulnerable Arctic environment and elucidates this in particular in Chap. 7 Environmental protection.

In view of community development, particularly in Longyearbyen, the Office of the Auditor General has asked whether there is a need to consider whether more acts of law ought to apply to Svalbard. In its discussion of the report by the Office of the Auditor General, the Storting also points out the importance of this, cf. Recommendation No. 46 (2007 – 2008) to the Storting by the Standing Committee on Scrutiny and Constitutional Affairs. Legislation is one of the most important instruments for effective exercise of authority and proper administration of Svalbard. Owing to the special conditions in Svalbard, the Svalbard Act contains a separate principle for the application of laws to the archipelago. In the report, legislative issues are an important topic, to which Chap. 5 Legislation is devoted in full.

In the discussion in the Storting of the Office of the Auditor General’s investigation of the management of Svalbard, a wish was also expressed to illuminate a number of other issues in the report. Besides the aforementioned topics, the Storting pointed to maritime safety, the challenges related to managing Svalbard, population trends and future of coal mining as a principle industry, as especially important. In this Report to the Storting the Government discusses all of these issues, in addition to the other topics that the Storting drew its attention to in its consideration of the Office of the Auditor General’s report.

Go to the top
Go to front page