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

Meld. St. 22 (2008-2009)


To table of content

7 Environmental protection

7.1 Introduction

In the opinion of the Government, Svalbard has an internationally important and valuable natural and cultural heritage, which Norway has a special responsibility to preserve. This was also emphasised in the previous Report to the Storting on Svalbard, where it was stated that Norway has a moral responsibility for preserving some of the last wilderness areas in Europe.

Protection of the natural environment is one of the key components of Norwegian Svalbard policy, and has been so for a long time. This is also based on the Svalbard Treaty, which has provisions concerning the preservation of Svalbard’s natural environment.When the Treaty entered into force in 1925, the population of Svalbard reindeer, which was already drastically reduced, was protected. This was followed up later with the protection of species such as the walrus in 1952 and the polar bear in 1972. In 1973, protected areas were established that covered more than half of Svalbard’s land area and territorial waters.

Today, preservation of the area’s distinctive natural wilderness is one of the main objectives of Norwegian Svalbard policy, and Norwegian policy dictates that environmental considerations are to prevail in the event of a conflict between environmental targets and other interests, cf. Report No. 9 (1999 – 2000) to the Storting and Recommendation No. 196 (2000 – 2001) to the Storting. Since the previous Report to the Storting, this has been put into practice through new, modern environmental regulations and the establishment of a number of new protected areas.In 2002, the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act entered into force, and in the period 2002 – 2005 the protected areas were considerably expanded. Sixty-five per cent of Svalbard’s land area and 87 per cent of its territorial waters are currently protected as nature reserves and national parks.

With the exception of a few settlements and their adjacent areas, Svalbard is still a large, contiguous wilderness area. These virtually undisturbed natural areas have great intrinsic value and are important for the protection of the vulnerable biodiversity that is found here. The areas also have great value as a source of knowledge and outdoor experiences.Since the previous Report to the Storting on Svalbard was submitted nearly ten years ago, the goal of protecting Svalbard’s wilderness has become more important but also more challenging. This is due, inter alia, to the increasing rareness of pristine nature in the global context and the increasing vulnerability of Svalbard’s natural environment as a result of global warming. At the same time, the pristine nature of Svalbard has become more important as a source of knowledge about climate change and the environment. This has resulted in a greater emphasis on the potential of the large areas of essentially undisturbed nature in Svalbard as reference areas for climate and environmental research, and a recognition that access to these areas is an important resource for Svalbard as a platform for international research. As a result of the growth in tourism and other traffic, it has become even clearer that the wilderness and cultural heritage are an important, but vulnerable basis for this industry.

Research, education and tourism constitute a large and increasing share of the activities of Norway and other nations in the archipelago. The Government regards the undisturbed natural environment in Svalbard as an important part of the basis for these activities and thus for Norwegian settlement and presence as well.

The Svalbard Environmental Protection Act and other environmental regulations are the most important policy instruments for ensuring that presence and activities stay within the constraints set by the conservation of the archipelago’s unique wilderness. At the same time, environmental protection is an integral part of a comprehensive Norwegian Svalbard policy.This entails that each of the societal sectors in Svalbard is also responsible for avoiding conflicts with environmental considerations and helping to achieve the environmental goals. How this responsibility is followed up by the various sectors is described in greater detail in Chapter 11: Sea and air, Chapter 9: Industrial, mining and commercial activities and Chapter 8: Knowledge, research and higher education.

In the coming years, we will face completely new challenges in some cases with regard to preserving Svalbard’s natural environment and cultural monuments. Svalbard is one of the places in the world where climate changes are expected to be greatest.As the temperature rises and the polar sea-ice is retreating, we must expect major ecological changes that make it increasingly difficult for species that are adapted to the current climate to survive. At the same time, both the traffic and the interest in natural resources on and around Svalbard can be expected to increase still further.

Figure 7.1 Boundaries for protected areas, land-use planning areas and
 territorial waters in Svalbard.

Figure 7.1 Boundaries for protected areas, land-use planning areas and territorial waters in Svalbard.

Source Norwegian Polar Institute

When climate changes rapidly, the overall impact on ecosystems and species will increase. This underscores the need for a management that considers local activities, climate change and other external pressures in context and that aims to limit the total impact in accordance with the ambitious goals that have been set for preserving Svalbard’s wilderness. The Government regards it as crucial that policy instruments be developed further and that measures be implemented in time to meet these challenges.

7.2 Main objectives

Preservation of the area’s unique natural wilderness is one of the main objectives of the Svalbard policy; cf. Chapter 4 Main objectives and instruments. The Government bases the environmental protection in Svalbard on the following main objectives:

  • On the basis of its internationally important natural and cultural heritage, Svalbard shall be one of the world’s best-managed wilderness areas.

  • Within the framework set by the Treaty and considerations of sovereignty, environmental considerations shall prevail in the event of conflicts between environmental protection and other interests.

  • The extent of wilderness areas shall be maintained.

  • Flora, fauna and cultural monuments that warrant protection should be preserved virtually intact, and natural ecological processes and biodiversity must be allowed to evolve virtually undisturbed by human activities in Svalbard.

  • There shall be large and essentially pristine natural areas in Svalbard that meet the need for reference areas for climate and environmental research.

  • The possibilities of experiencing Svalbard’s natural environment undisturbed by motorised traffic and noise shall be ensured, including areas that are easily accessible from the settlements.

These objectives establish the framework for all activity in the archipelago.

7.3 Policy instruments and achievement of objectives

7.3.1 Status and achievement of objectives

The current state of the environment in Svalbard is essentially good and provides a good starting point for successful preservation of Svalbard’s wilderness. Due to determined Norwegian conservation efforts over several decades, only a minor fraction of Svalbard’s land area has been affected by physical encroachments such as roads and other infrastructure. Furthermore, most populations of mammals and birds have been allowed to recover after overexploitation in earlier times. Even though there are also species in Svalbard that are threatened or vulnerable, the archipelago has not been subject to the same negative trends as the mainland with regard to infrastructure development and changes in land use, with the consequent loss of biodiversity. With the exception of a few settlements and mining areas, Svalbard is still a large, contiguous wilderness area with virtually intact natural ecosystems.

Reductions in the extent of wilderness areas in recent decades have been incremental only, and are related to certain extensions of the infrastructure in existing settlements and mining areas. Despite several plans, a determined policy has enabled us to avoid the construction of infrastructure that intersects and leads to fragmentation of wilderness areas, such as roads, power lines, etc. connecting the various settlements and mining areas in Svalbard. Hence, the wilderness areas in Svalbard are still contiguous and unfragmented in accordance with the objectives for preservation of wilderness.

Other local impacts on the terrestrial environment are also moderate and due to various forms of traffic in the terrain.

Since the last Report to the Storting on Svalbard, traffic in Svalbard’s natural environment has increased as a result of increased tourism, research activity and population in Longyearbyen. The increased traffic involves snowmobile, cruise and other boat traffic.For the most part, the traffic is motorised, and especially cruise traffic takes place to a great extent within the protected areas as well.

It is well known that the forms of traffic that occur in Svalbard can have impacts on flora, fauna and cultural monuments. It has been documented that the off-road driving with motor vehicles in some areas has resulted in considerable damage to the terrain and vegetation. Off-road driving in the terrain is currently strictly regulated and the visible impacts are mainly vehicular tracks related to previous mining and exploration activity. Local damage to vegetation and cultural monuments has also been documented at frequently used disembarkation sites for cruise tourism.

In some areas, motorised traffic may at times diminish the possibilities for undisturbed outdoor experiences. This is particularly true near Longyearbyen during the snowmobile season and in some frequently visited disembarkation sites on the west side of Spitsbergen during the cruise season.There has also been a marked increase in the cruise traffic in the nature reserves in East Svalbard, where there are conflicting interests over the use of these protected areas.

The fauna in Svalbard are protected in principle, but a limited amount of hunting, trapping and fishing is allowed, primarily as recreational activities for local residents. The populations of most species are in good condition and little affected by the activities that currently take place in the archipelago, but for a few species, there is insufficient knowledge to ascertain this with certainty. The populations of species such as Svalbard reindeer, walrus, and polar bear as well as eider ducks and geese have recovered or are increasing after the overexploitation of earlier times. The exceptions include Greenland right whale and Brent-goose, which still suffer drastically reduced populations. Svalbard char have also been heavily harvested. In some river systems, the population of mature char was drastically reduced and nearly depleted through overfishing. There are also many signs of climate-related changes in the environment. Diminishing sea-ice in the fjords on the west side of Svalbard is already having an impact on ice-dependent species’ use of these areas in the winter and spring. At the same time, the percentage of temperate fish species in the fjords has increased considerably. Species such as polar bear and glaucous gull have disturbingly high levels of certain environmental toxins. While the levels of “old” environmental toxins such as PCBs are slowly decreasing, the levels of some newer chemicals are increasing.

Seabirds, marine mammals and other species in Svalbard are directly or indirectly dependent on the biological production in the sea and factors that affect it. The populations of seabirds in Svalbard have not undergone the same negative trend as on the mainland.One exception is the collapse of the guillemot population on Bjørnøya in 1986 – 87, which was closely related to the collapse of the capelin population in the 1980s. Since that collapse, the guillemot population on Bjørnøya has recovered considerably.

The overall conclusion is that the extent of wilderness areas in Svalbard has been maintained. Even though our knowledge about the impacts of traffic is limited, an overall assessment of the state of the environment indicates that the impact on species and ecosystems as a result of local activity is still moderate.The most significant impact is still related to the remaining effects of overexploitation of living resources that occurred in earlier times. The levels of environmental toxins are disturbingly high in some species. The climate is changing rapidly, and we are probably already witnessing the first impacts of climate change on some populations. Depending on how traffic is controlled, there is a risk that a steadily increasing traffic will affect an increasing number of locations and areas in Svalbard. This is especially a challenge in the nature reserves on East Svalbard because of the role that these areas play as large and essentially pristine reference areas for research.

7.3.2 Current policy instruments

The most important policy instruments for the protection of the environment in Svalbard are the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act with accompanying regulations and the enforcement of these regulations, as well as monitoring of the state of the environment and activities that can have an impact on it. Monitoring and control of compliance with protection provisions and other environmental rules are handled by the Governor of Svalbard.These are tasks that are very important for compliance with the environmental regulations and that require a considerable input of resources.

In Svalbard, special rules concerning environmental protection have been issued in most areas instead of putting the mainland legislation in force. A new, modern Svalbard Environmental Protection Act entered into force on 1 July 2002. The Svalbard Environmental Protection Act is mainly a framework law that outlines the main principles for the management of the environment in the archipelago, and a number of regulations have been issued that supplement it.The objective of the Act is to maintain a nearly undisturbed environment in Svalbard with regard to a contiguous wilderness area, landscape elements, flora, fauna and cultural monuments. Within this framework, the Act makes room for environmentally benign settlement, research and commercial activities.

The Svalbard Environmental Protection Act and accompanying regulations regulate most areas in the field of environmental protection in Svalbard, such as habitat protection, infrastructure development and traffic, protection of cultural monuments, land-use planning in the settlements, local pollution and waste, and hunting and fishing.

In many ways, the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act is a pioneering effort in environmental law and very important in the efforts to achieve the ambitious environmental objectives that have been set for Svalbard. The experience with the Act so far is that it provides a good basis for a comprehensive, long-term management of the archipelago.

Textbox 7.1 The Svalbard Environmental Protection Fund

Figure 7.2 

Figure 7.2

The Svalbard Environmental Protection Fund has provided funding to environmental protection and cultural heritage projects in Svalbard since 2007. During its first two operating years, the Svalbard Environmental Protection Fund has distributed NOK 8 million to 57 different projects and measures that shall contribute to the protection of the natural environment and cultural monuments in Svalbard.

The income for the Svalbard Environmental Protection Fund mainly comes from the environmental fee to visitors to Svalbard. The revenue to the fund is supposed to be used to initiate and encourage good projects and measures aiming at achieving the ambitious environmental objectives for Svalbard.The Environmental Protection Fund is supposed to help ensure that Svalbard’s distinctive natural wilderness is preserved as a basis for experience, knowledge and sustainable use.

The revenue can be used in surveys and measures to survey and monitor the state of the environment, causes of environmental impacts and environmental impacts of certain activities, as well as restoring the environment to its original state. In addition, funding can be provided for management, maintenance and research in accordance with more detailed provisions in the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act.The revenue for the funds can also be used for measures to promote information, training and facilitation.The experience derived from Svalbard Environmental Protection Fund shows that the fund is important as a supplement to the ordinary environmental management and as a policy instrument to fill gaps in knowledge with regard to the state of the environment, causes and measures.The Environmental Protection Fund has also helped create a local commitment to promote the values of the natural and cultural heritage that Svalbard has to offer.

The challenges related to climate change, sustainable tourism and harvesting of the game and fish populations in Svalbard are relevant priorities for the fund in the coming years. The fund’s revenue has been increasing, and if this trend continues, it may become relevant to provide support to larger and more long-term projects.

The Ministry of the Environment has appointed a Board of Trustees for the fund, and the secretariat for the Environmental Protection Fund has been located in the offices of the Governor of Svalbard.

After the establishment of several new protected areas and the extension of the border for the original large protected areas in the sea from four to twelve nautical miles in the period from 2002 to 2005, 65 per cent of the land area and 87 per cent of the territorial waters are protected. In the autumn of 2008, the Bjørnøya nature reserve was also extended to 12 nautical miles from land.Through this conservation effort, an outstanding representative network of protected areas in Svalbard has now been established, which encompasses all known habitats in the archipelago.

Together with strict general environmental regulations, the extensive protected areas provides a good basis for maintaining the extent of wilderness and avoiding future loss or fragmentation of wild areas as a result of infrastructure development. Outside of the protected areas, however, this depends on restrictive practices as regards permits for infrastructure development and effective enforcement of the regulations.

Starting on 1 July 2007 Regulations No. 3780 of 1 June 1973 concerning the establishment of bird reserves and large nature conservation areas in Svalbard were amended so that only light marine diesel fuel may be used as bunker oil within the large nature reserves on the east side of Svalbard.A cap of 200 passengers per cruise ship was also introduced in these areas. In 2008, the Act relating to harbours and fairways also came into effect for Svalbard. This act provides opportunities to implement a number of measures pertaining to fairways that are also important with regard to reducing the risk of accidental oil spills. This and other maritime safety measures are discussed in Chapter 11.

Management plans are an important policy instrument for the management of protected areas, e.g. in order to provide predictability to users and to clarify the implications of regulations for various activities. Management plans should give a more detailed account of the conservation objectives and put the Regulations concerning traffic and other activities that may affect the natural and cultural heritage into operation.So far, the Hopen and Bjørnøya nature reserves are the only protected areas for which management plans have been elaborated.

Regulations concerning harvesting in Svalbard, which regulate all hunting, trapping and fishing in the archipelago, were passed on 24 June 2002. These regulations are an important policy instrument for ensuring a management of the fauna in accordance with the environmental objectives and the principles of the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act. The regulations were amended in 2008 and among other things authority was given to the Governor of Svalbard to specify new Regulations concerning fishing for arctic char in Svalbard, cf. Regulations No. 865 of 30 July 2008.

Motorised traffic in the terrain and the use of aircraft in connection with tourism are regulated in separate regulations. This regulation regulates the motorised traffic in space and time and distinguishes between the places where residents and visitors are allowed to travel by snowmobile.Pursuant to this regulation, snowmobile-free areas have also been established, where outdoor recreation and tourism may take place undisturbed even in areas that are easily accessible from Longyearbyen.

A good knowledge base with regard to the environmental impacts of local activity and external factors such as climate change and long-range pollution, and not least the ways in which these factors interact is a necessary basis for good management. Hence, the gathering of knowledge through surveys, regular monitoring and environmental research is an important policy instrument.

Environmental monitoring in Svalbard is organised and reported through the environmental monitoring system for Svalbard and Jan Mayen (MOSJ). MOSJ is coordinated by the Norwegian Polar Institute.

Information is also an important policy instrument with regard to both disseminating knowledge about the protected and wilderness areas in Svalbard and the rules that apply to traffic and other activities. This is mainly taken care of by the Governor.The establishment of the information centre “Svalbardporten” has helped improve the information work considerably.

International cooperation is of great importance to the state of the environment in Svalbard. This is especially true in connection with protection of migrating species, the management of the marine resources in the sea around Svalbard and external factors that have an impact, such as climate change and long-range pollution.However, this kind of international cooperation is beyond the scope of this report.

7.4 Special challenges and measures

The current regulations and good state of the environment give the Government a good starting point for its efforts to preserve Svalbard’s wilderness. At the same time, certain trends may pose major challenges for environmental protection in Svalbard.This applies not least to climate change, increasing traffic and potential changes in the activities as a result of a warmer climate that will make Arctic marine areas more readily accessible. In addition, the development in the settlements may pose a challenge to the environment. The environmental management must assess and deal with different factors that have an impact, such as climate change, pollution, infrastructure development, alien species, and disturbance so that the total impact in the long run does not reduce the extent of or the quality of the wilderness. This kind of management will make great demands on both fundamental knowledge and management’s ability to adapt and tailor policy instruments and measures in response to changes in environmental conditions and activity. In order to achieve the objectives concerning preservation of Svalbard’s wilderness, it is crucial that the policy instruments be further developed and utilised in a way that meets these challenges, and that the efforts to establish a knowledge base that makes this possible be continued. Not least, there will be a need for a more systematic approach to surveying and monitoring the environment and good systems for adaptive management based on new knowledge.

In a situation where both local activity and external pressures are increasing, two key environmental management principles are of particular importance. First, the so-called precautionary principle has been incorporated into the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act. When sufficient knowledge is lacking about the effects that a measure may have on the natural environment or cultural monuments, the Act stipulates that authority shall be exercised with a view to avoiding possible damaging effects on the environment. Second, the principle of overall environmental pressure, which is also established by law in the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act indicates that all activity that is initiated must be evaluated on the basis of the overall environmental pressure to which the natural environment and the cultural monuments will then be exposed. These principles will be particularly important, in view of the ambitious goal that has been set to preserve the virtually undisturbed wilderness in Svalbard. It is also established in Norway’s national strategy for sustainable development that the Government’s environmental policy shall be based on the precautionary principle.

It is expected that climate change will have considerable long-term environmental impacts on Svalbard. The basic causes of climate change cannot be averted by means of policy instruments and measures in Svalbard. However, the policy instruments should ensure that local activities give necessary consideration to changes in climate and environmental conditions so that the least possible overall environmental pressure will be inflicted on vulnerable species and ecosystems.

The Government also regards it as important to strengthen Svalbard’s status as a natural and cultural heritage of international importance and to increase the understanding among all involved parties of the measures that are necessary in order to conserve this valuable natural and cultural heritage for the future. The challenges posed by climate change to environmental protection in Svalbard are described in greater detail in Chapter 2.This discussion is a backdrop for the challenges that are described in the following section.

7.4.1 Biodiversity on thin ice

Challenges and measures

Although the biodiversity situation in Svalbard is good at present, species and ecosystems are vulnerable to many types of impacts. The assessment of the different species’ vulnerability shows that there are also threatened species in Svalbard. The reasons for this are complex, and in many cases not fully understood. Nevertheless, the following causal factors can be singled out:

  • hunting and trapping of mammals and birds in earlier times

  • impact on the species’ source of sustenance in the sea,

  • impact on migratory species in their wintering areas and along their migratory routes,

  • long-range pollution via air and water,

  • climate change

So far, the groups of species that have been assessed to determine whether they are threatened are birds, mammals and vascular plants. All in all, 70 species in Svalbard are on the national “red list” of threatened species. Fifty-one of these are plants, sixteen are birds, and three are mammals.

Common to the causal factors that have been identified is the fact that they are primarily related to external pressures or activities in earlier times. While the remaining effects of hunting and trapping in earlier times are declining with time, other factors can be expected to become more prominent. This applies in particular to climate change, which can be expected to increase in importance and become the predominant threat. However, inputs of environmental toxins to the Barents Sea will also play an important role and may be enhanced by climate change. The seabird populations in Svalbard are also dependent on a fisheries management that takes the populations’ nutritional requirements into consideration. Most types of fish that are important as sources of food for seabirds around Svalbard are currently in good condition or increasing in numbers.

The climate in Svalbard is rapidly changing, and it is probable that the living conditions for many species can be radically altered as a result of diminishing sea-ice, altered snow conditions and a longer growing season. Svalbard is an archipelago surrounded by pack ice and both species and ecosystems are dependent on an interaction between land and sea that is highly vulnerable to climate change. The fact that Svalbard is an archipelago also limits the land-based species possibilities of migrating north as the temperature rises. Thus, protection of areas and species in Svalbard cannot prevent climate change from becoming a serious threat to biodiversity.

Figure 7.3 One of the three winners in the drawing competition “My
 Svalbard – why Svalbard is a good place to live” at
 Longyearbyen School.

Figure 7.3 One of the three winners in the drawing competition “My Svalbard – why Svalbard is a good place to live” at Longyearbyen School.

Source Alona Kulyk, 3rd grade.

Nevertheless, the protection and the low pressure from local activities can help limit the overall impact and thereby help species and ecosystems to adapt more easily to climate change. According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), reducing other stressors, and hence the overall environmental pressure, is the most important management approach for limiting harmful effects of climate change on ecosystems and species. In such a context, an extensive protection of areas and species and strict regulation of local activities will continue to play an important role. Therefore, the Government emphasises the importance of limiting the overall impact on species and populations through necessary regulation of traffic and a continued restrictive attitude to harvesting and activities that entail degradation of the species’ habitats.

The importance of a continued strict protection is emphasised by the fact that climate change may amplify other impacts. Less ice may result in more ship traffic (cf. Chap. 2) and other traffic and hence increase the risk of serious pollution and the disturbance of important habitats. Climate change is also expected to affect transport and accumulation of environmental toxins and to increase the negative impact on vulnerable species. For migratory species, environmental conditions could also be considerably changed in wintering areas and along migratory routes with potentially serious consequences for many species.

A continued active effort to reduce the discharge of of environmental toxins and enhance cooperation in international fora for the protection of migratory species and populations shared with other countries will play a prominent role in Norway’s efforts to reduce the overall environmental pressure on species and ecosystems that are vulnerable to climate change.

A milder climate also increases the risk that alien species may spread to Svalbard and displace the archipelago’s native flora and fauna. Already at present the seawater along the west coast of Svalbard has become more temperate. This may increase the risk that alien species that can be found in the ballast water and in fouling on the hulls of ships may gain a foothold and spread through Svalbard’s environment. A risk analysis will be conducted for alien species in Svalbard as a basis for assessing measures to prevent the introduction and spread of such species.

It will be an important challenge to identify environmental changes early so that it is possible to adapt the management of these changes and limit their overall environmental pressure. In order to succeed in this, it is important to have adequate knowledge about how various species and ecosystems are directly and indirectly affected by climate change. The efforts to develop this knowledge are underway and will be advanced through surveys, monitoring and management-oriented research with the emphasis on impacts of climate change, environmental toxins and traffic on fauna, flora and threatened and vulnerable species. The framework for this work will be the existing environmental monitoring system for Svalbard and Jan Mayen (MOSJ). The establishment of a Centre for Ice, Climate and Ecosystems at the Norwegian Polar Institute will also help improve our knowledge of the most climate-sensitive and ice-dependent species and ecosystems in Svalbard. The national species project that is administered by the Directorate for Nature Management will also be of assistance in this context. As a follow-up to Report No. 8 (2005 – 2006) to the Storting, Integrated Management of the Marine Environment of the Barents Sea and the Sea Areas off the Lofoten Islands, a separate monitoring group has been established under the administration of the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research, which coordinates all monitoring of the marine areas in the North.

In March 2009, the Government submitted the strategy document Nye byggesteiner i nord – neste trinn i regjeringens nordområdestrategi (New building blocks in the north – the next step in the Government’s High North strategy). In the strategy document, the Government draws up the main directions for the further development of the High North and outlines efforts and measures that ought to be carried out over a 10 – 15 year period.The priority given to the different efforts, the sequence of implementation and the rate of progress will be regularly assessed and be presented in the Government’s annual budget proposal to the Norwegian Storting. In this strategy document, the Government has noted that the research communities in Tromsø should be further developed into a leading international centre for research on climate and the environment in the High North. One element in this effort should be the improvement of management-oriented expertise aimed at the needs in Svalbard for knowledge about the impacts of climate change and changes in industrial activity and traffic.

A number of policy instruments and specific measures related to infrastructure development, traffic, maritime safety and fisheries also play a major role in the preservation of biodiversity in Svalbard. This is described in greater detail in sections 7.4.2 and 7.4.3.

7.4.2 Traffic in Svalbard’s wilderness

Challenges and measures

Traffic is a major challenge in the management of most large protected areas and other wilderness areas. Undisturbed natural environment and intact ecosystems are vulnerable qualities that require a more active management if traffic increases and spreads to new areas. This kind of management should ensure that the traffic’s impact is limited to levels considered acceptable in different areas and ought to be based on a comprehensive analysis that also takes other types of impacts into consideration.

In recent decades, the traffic in Svalbard has increased. This increase includes snowmobile, cruise ship and other boat traffic. This growth can be expected to continue, partly as a result of increased tourism and partly because the interest in field-based research and the use of Svalbard as a meeting place is on the rise. Most of the traffic is motorised, and especially the cruise traffic takes place to a great extent within the protected areas as well.

Although Svalbard is large, it is usually special attractions such as cultural monuments, haul-out sites for walruses or other special natural phenomena and wildlife populations that are visited by tourists. The traffic is also greatest in the spring and summer when the environment is at its most vulnerable. To limit the impact on Svalbard’s natural environment and cultural monuments as a result of increasing traffic, it is necessary to control the traffic in accordance with the value and vulnerability of the various areas and their conservation goals.

An important challenge here is the regulation of the cruise tourism within the nature reserve in East Svalbard. In recent years, there has been a marked increase in the cruise traffic in these areas. At the same time, more attention has been paid to the value of preserving the nature reserves as reference areas for research. The Government regards it as important that the traffic in the two big nature reserves in East Svalbard be managed in a way that is in accordance with the objective of protecting them and that ensures the areas’ quality as essentially untouched reference areas for research. This is due to the need to study biological impacts of climate change in the Arctic, cf. Chapter 8: Knowledge, research and higher education. Research fieldwork may also entail disturbances and other pressures. In some cases, it is necessary to conduct research in areas and at times when the natural environment is particularly vulnerable in order to obtain knowledge that is necessary in order to manage the natural environment or document environmental changes that are highly important for the environment and society. Thus, the overall result is that much of the traffic in Svalbard is taking place in areas and at times when the natural environment is particularly vulnerable.

In the long run, increasing traffic will result to a varying extent in wear on the natural environment and disturbance of the fauna as well as a greater risk of pollution. The magnitude of this impact and risk will depend on the volume of traffic as well as where, when and how it occurs.

The documentation of the effects of traffic on the natural environment and cultural monuments in Svalbard is still rather limited. This is partly because the increase in traffic in many areas is relatively recent and partly because the monitoring and survey of impacts is still rather modest in scope. Based on knowledge from both Svalbard and other places, however, it is well documented that the kinds of traffic that occur in Svalbard may have impacts on flora, fauna and cultural monuments.

Specific studies of impacts on Svalbard’s fauna mainly evaluate behavioural responses and to a lesser extent impacts on population levels. Snow mobile traffic appears to have only a moderate impact on reindeer, but females and calves are vulnerable. It has also been documented that female polar bears with their young are easily disturbed. For these species, it cannot be excluded that they will be subject to “avoidance effects” that change the populations’ use of habitats. Bird species such as eider ducks and geese and other ground-nesting bird species are easily disturbed by foot traffic in nesting areas and resting areas. This results in increased loss of eggs and reduced reproduction. It is also known that regular traffic near the dens of Arctic foxes will often result in the litter of young being moved elsewhere. Studies also show that helicopter traffic has a disturbing effect on seabirds, geese, ringed seals and walruses. As mentioned previously, it has been documented that off-road driving with motor vehicles, e.g. related to former mining and exploration activities, has a markedly negative impact on terrain and vegetation and that concentrated foot traffic results in the formation of footpaths. Considerable wear on vegetation, terrain and cultural monuments in some much-visited disembarkation sites has also been documented.

Studies are underway of the impacts of traffic on three haul-out sites for walruses in East Svalbard, but the data have not yet been processed. Flocks of females with pups are mainly found in the east, and these are easily disturbed. Studies of the impact of traffic on Brent-geese and barnacle geese have been made in the archipelago of Tusenøyane. These species are extremely vulnerable during the breeding and moulting seasons. The vulnerability of various species and areas to acute oil spills has also been relatively well documented.

When it comes to the ways in which various forms of traffic are distributed and have evolved with time, the best surveys are those of cruise traffic. Surveys of other traffic are of varying quality, and there is, for example, no detailed overview of the snowmobile driving of residents.

Roughly speaking, Svalbard can be divided into three zones on the basis of acceptable levels of impacts from traffic. The lowest acceptable impact level is in the nature reserves, which have the strictest form of statutory protection and “are protected in order to preserve large, contiguous and essentially untouched natural areas as reference areas for research”, cf. the Protection Regulations. Experiencing nature is not one ofthe objectives for protecting these areas. In the three big national parks established in 1973, a somewhat greater amount of traffic and a somewhat higher level of impact are permitted. In addition to preserving untouched natural environments and their value as reference areas for research, their use for outdoor experiences is an important part of the conservation objective for these areas. In the remaining areas, which include central Spitsbergen and the settlements, acceptance of the impacts from traffic and tourism is generally higher than in the nature reserves and the national parks established in 1973. This also applies to the new national parks in central Spitsbergen.

When traffic increases, the need for comprehensive management increases as well, so as to keep the environmental impacts at an acceptable level and deal with conflicting user interests. This increases the need for a more thorough and consistent control of the traffic. Relevant policy instruments may include zoning and channelling of traffic, limits on the volume, guidelines adapted to different locations and requirements for guides to be certified.

The cruise trafficin Svalbard has increased in recent years and has spread to the archipelago’s more remote areas as well. Even though only a small percentage of Svalbard’s total land area is directly affected by disembarkation from cruise ships, these areas often have important and vulnerable conservation values related to cultural monuments and fauna. In addition to the risk of wear and tear on cultural and natural monuments, vegetation and soils, cruise traffic can also cause disturbance of fauna and entail the risk of acute oil pollution.

The cruise traffic within the two big nature reserves in East Svalbard used to be modest, but since the beginning of the 1990s, there has been a considerable increase in the volume of traffic at the same time as more and more new areas are being visited. The so-called expedition cruise vessels travel in these areas during the summer season. People are brought ashore in various places to experience the natural and cultural heritage, and the choice of disembarkation sites depends to a great extent on weather and wind conditions. Moreover, one and the same vessel will often set passengers ashore in several different places during one and the same cruise so that the number of disembarkations greatly exceeds the number of passengers on board. The number of disembarkation locations and persons on shore in the nature reserves in East Svalbard varies somewhat from year to year depending on ice conditions. Since 2001, the number of disembarkation locations has varied from 34 (in 2008) to 75 (in 2005). The number of persons on shore in the same period varied from about 8,000 (in 2001) to about 13,000 (in 2006) (source: The Governor of Svalbard). Based on the objective of protecting the environment and the increasing interest in the nature reserves in East Svalbard as an especially important reference area for climate research, it is important to ensure that the impact of traffic be kept at a sufficiently low level.

The documentation of the extent of the disturbance and wear resulting from the increased cruise traffic is still limited, and the need for a more systematic survey and monitoring of impacts is great. The operators in the cruise industry in Svalbard have taken considerable responsibility themselves in order to limit the possible environmental consequences of their activities, e.g. through internal control, information measures, choice of boats and equipment and training of guides.

Traffic related to research and education in Svalbard is already extensive. A continued focus on the further development of research and educational activities in the coming years will also entail increased traffic and activities in the field. Furthermore, it appears that researchers would like to shift their geographical focus more to the eastern parts of Svalbard because the Arctic phenomena that they want to study are less prominent or absent in West Spitsbergen, which is affected by the Gulf Stream. This research ought to be considered in the context of the eastern areas’ importance for climate research and future surveys, cf. Chapter 8: Knowledge, research and higher education. As previously described, the eastern nature reserves in Svalbard are protected in order to preserve large, contiguous and essentially untouched reference areas for research. That entails that it ought to be possible to utilise the areas for research and monitoring in accordance with this objective. At the same time, traffic and other activities related to research in these areas should be limited to research that cannot be conducted in other places, that has special relevance and that does not result in impacts that may be in conflict with the objective of protecting these areas.

Use of snowmobiles:More than 2,500 snowmobiles are currently registered in Svalbard. The number has more than doubled in the last decade (source: MOSJ). This indicates that the snowmobile traffic originating in Longyearbyen has also increased. With the exception of an increasing traffic on the east coast, the traffic is concentrated in central Spitsbergen. This is in keeping with the objectives for the development of tourism in Svalbard, where the plan is for the further development of tourism and traffic to be concentrated in this area. There has been a reduction in the amount of driving by residents in the Northwest Spitsbergen and South Spitsbergen national parks. Beyond this, there is little detailed knowledge about the volume and pattern of snowmobile traffic.


Improved knowledge

Solid knowledge about the extent and volume of various forms of traffic is important for environmental management. The same applies to know­ledge about how the traffic affects the natural environment and cultural monuments in Svalbard. There are also important gaps in the knowledge about the distribution and vulnerability of various habitats and species in Svalbard with regard to traffic. Therefore, it is necessary to develop a more systematic and comprehensive survey and monitoring related to traffic patterns, vulnerability and impacts of traffic. Improving our knowledge about the ways in which traffic affects the environment in Svalbard through surveys and monitoring will thus be an important task in the coming years. This applies to the vulnerability of both cultural monuments and various species and habitats to these impacts.

Management plans

Preparing management plans for the protected areas is a key policy instrument for managing various forms of traffic and for limiting the overall impact in keeping with the objectives of the protection measure. Management is defined here as various types of policy instruments, where channelling can be one of several relevant measures. Management plans should be a means of further clarifying and achieving the objective of the protected areas and providing guidelines for a comprehensive management. The plans should also ensure that the management has a sound scientific basis for various regulatory measures. Within the protected areas, these measures will be based on the provisions of the respective protection regulations. If any management plans are to be developed for areas which are not protected, they must be based on the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act and its accompanying regulations as well as the general environmental objectives for Svalbard. If necessary, these management plans may divide the individual protected areas into management zones with different objectives and balances between use and protection or between different user interests. In this way, management plans will be an important tool when it comes to striking a balance between the interests of research and tourism in accordance with the objectives of the protected areas.

At present, there are management plans for the nature reserves on Bjørnøya and Hopen. The Government wants to emphasise the importance of also drawing up management plans in the coming years for the remaining large protected areas, which will further clarify the protection provisions and provide further guidelines for traffic in accordance with the objectives of the protection measure. The potential for unacceptable impacts on the environment and conflict between different user interests indicates that there may be a need for management plans in areas outside the protected areas as well and especially in central Spitsbergen, where the brunt of the activities and traffic is located.

In order to come up with good management plans, it is important that the user interests be actively included in the process and not least that a solid knowledge base should be established with regard to vulnerability and impacts of traffic in protected areas.

Special considerations regarding measures concerning the various types of traffic

The cruise traffic

As mentioned above, the preparation of management plans for the protected areas will be an important tool for controlling all types of traffic, including those connected with cruise tourism. For most of the protected areas, provisions for protection were made at a time when there was much less traffic in Svalbard than there is at present. In order to ensure that the traffic is in accordance with the objectives of the protected areas, however, it has been necessary to amend some of these provisions. In the summer of 2007, amendments were made to the Protection Regulations for the two large nature reserves in East Svalbard, which entail requirements for fuel quality corresponding to light marine diesel for ships, and a cap of 200 passengers per cruise ship.

A proposal for provisions concerning the places where cruise tourists shall be allowed to disembark in the eastern nature reserves has been circulated for comment in 2008. The objective of the proposal is to limit the number of locations for disembarkation in order to preserve the two eastern nature reserves as large, contiguous areas with little anthropogenic impact as reference areas for research. In the consultation process, a number of contributions have been submitted calling for a review of various aspects of the part of the proposal that applies to disembarkation in the eastern nature reserves. This concerns both the extent to which the measures will provide an effective and sufficient protection of the nature reserves’ value as reference areas and the consequences of new sailing patterns for the cruise industry. Maritime safety implications must also be further assessed. When the comments submitted in the consultation process have been assessed by the Governor of Svalbard, the Directorate for Nature Management and the Directorate for Cultural Heritage, the Government will decide what further actions must be taken on the proposals for amendments to the regulations for the nature reserves in East Svalbard. The viewpoints and information that have been submitted in the consultation round will be thoroughly considered and included in the basis for the Government’s ongoing work on this matter.

The proposed amendments to regulations that have been circulated for comment also cover restrictions on access to certain selected cultural monuments and requirements for fuel quality corresponding to light marine diesel for ships that sail within the national parks in western Svalbard. It is important to the Government to reduce the risk of oil pollution in the protected areas and to ensure that important cultural monuments are sufficiently protected against traffic.The intention is to ensure that a decision concerning such amendments to the Protection Regulations will be passed in the summer of 2009.

Guidelines for research

Traffic resulting from research must be assessed in light of the increases in other types of traffic, the ambitious environmental objectives for Svalbard, the management category and conservation objectives of individual areas and the scientific need for undisturbed natural environments. In such a context, user conflicts may also arise, both between research and traffic in connection with recreation and tourism and between different research activities. The preparation of management plans for the protected areas will be an important tool for controlling all types of traffic, including those related to research. The Governor is working on guidelines for traffic related to research activities. These are to form the basis for requirements for field research and for measures to restrict research-related traffic and the risk of environmental impacts resulting from this traffic. Strict environmental requirements shall be specified for research in the field, and research that makes use of new methodologies that reduce the need for logistics, infrastructure and human presence shall be encouraged. Guidelines shall also be established for traffic in connection with research and production of films in Svalbard. These guidelines will be followed up with necessary and appropriate requirements and measures. The Government will also continue its efforts to ensure that traffic in and around Ny-Ålesund will not reduce the quality of the area as a platform for Norwegian and international research. Measures for better coordination of research field activities are described in Chapter 8.

Snowmobile traffic and non-motorised traffic in the vicinity of Longyearbyen. Both snowmobile traffic and non-motorised traffic and tourism are concentrated in the areas around Longyearbyen. This is also the preferred area for further development of tourism. At present there is substantial growth in the non-motorised sector of the tourism industry, and the potential for further growth is assumed to be considerable if conditions are arranged to promote it. A further development of non-motorised tourism is desirable and well in keeping with the ambitious environmental objectives for Svalbard. Therefore, the Government underlines the importance of ensuring a management regime that promotes dog-sledding and other forms of non-motorised outdoor recreation and tourism based in Longyearbyen. Efforts will be launched to assess how better arrangements can be made for this. Local tour operators will be involved in this work. The Government will also establish a better overview of the volume and patterns of snowmobile traffic in Svalbard.

Use of aircraft for sightseeing is prohibited in Svalbard, and its use for other purposes is strictly regulated. Pursuant to the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act, landing in the terrain requires a special permit. However, the use of helicopters in connection with research, management and other purposes is increasing. Helicopter traffic is very noisy and has a considerable potential to disturb the fauna. Thus, it is important that the use of helicopters in public administration and research and for other purposes be limited through a strict interpretation of the regulations and a better coordination and planning of activities in the field. Within the framework of the environmental monitoring system, MOSJ, efforts are being made to obtain a better overview of the total helicopter traffic in Svalbard.

New types of motorised traffic.Out of consideration for the environment, it is essentially undesirable to allow new types of motorised traffic in Svalbard. Plans for the use of hovercraft in Svalbard for the purpose of research have aroused the need for a stricter regulation of this type of motorised traffic. In the efforts to revise the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act, provisions regarding motorised traffic will be assessed, including the regulation and use of hovercraft.

7.4.3 Resource exploitation in our last wilderness


Growing interest in the natural resources in and around Svalbard could trigger an increased number of applications for permits for activities entailing significant infrastructure development in the natural environment outside of the land-use planning areas surrounding existing settlements and mines. The extent and location of development in these areas will determine the magnitude of the loss of wilderness areas.

Wilderness is a natural environment that has not been affected by significant infrastructure development. Limiting new infrastructure development that affects untouched natural areas is thus a necessary condition for the preservation of wilderness. The main challenge in this context is the constraints on future industrial activities in Svalbard.

Significant infrastructure development, such as roads, power lines, etc. is primarily relevant in connection with industrial exploitation of coal, oil and possibly other mineral raw materials within Svalbard’s territory. There are potentially exploitable resources within and near existing protected areas and in other wilderness areas that are not protected. Development and installations related to tourism and research can also become an issue, but will scarcely be of the same extent or significance for the wilderness characteristics as industrial activities. Infrastructure development is usually also followed by other types of environmental impacts. For example, mining operations or petroleum operations also affect the natural environment through pollution and various forms of disturbance.

In the protected areas, significant infrastructure development is prohibited. Moreover, except for in the land-use planning areas, all types of infrastructure development require special permission pursuant to the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act. Requirements have also been specified for environmental impact assessment of all development that can be assumed to have more than insignificant effects on the natural environment. Assessments of whether a permit can be granted, and if so on what conditions, will be based on the impact assessment and put special emphasis on the importance of the development for the wilderness character and special conservation values. The objective of maintaining the extent of wilderness areas in Svalbard calls for a continuation of restrictive practices when it comes to permits and conditions pursuant to the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act for activities that entail development outside of the existing settlements and mining areas. A continuation of restrictive practices outside the protected areas will also be important for protected areas because significant infrastructure development near these areas can have a negative impact on their conservation values.

The marine areas that surround Svalbard are not open to exploration for petroleum. In Svalbard, claims have been granted on the basis of geological indications of petroleum deposits. A claim is a preferential right to exploit any resources that may exist within a specifically designated area. However, the claim grants no unconditional right to begin operations. A claim is a clarification of rights among private licensees, and any exercising of the right to a claim is subject to restrictions in other regulations, e.g. the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act.

Drilling for petroleum has previously been conducted onshore, most recently in 1990 within what is now Nordenskiöld Land National Park, but it has not resulted in any commercially viable discoveries.

In the vicinity of the island of Hopen and along the west coast of Spitsbergen, some claims have been granted on the basis of indications of petroleum deposits. Permits for exploratory drilling have not been granted in the territorial waters of Svalbard.

Svalbard’s coastal areas have large populations of seabirds and marine mammals and are extremely vulnerable to oil spills. In the comprehensive management plan for the Barents Sea (Report No. 8 (2005 – 2006) to the Storting), the polar front, the sea-ice edge and the ice-filled waters around Svalbard (the territorial waters) are defined as especially valuable and vulnerable areas. It is also clear that the potential damage in the event of any oil spill will vary inversely with the oil spill’s distance from the shore.

The Government attaches importance to preserving Svalbard’s coastal areas as pristine as possible. As mentioned, fully 87 per cent of the territorial waters around Svalbard are protected as national parks or nature reserves. In these waters, petroleum operations cannot be permitted. In the parts of the territorial waters that are not protected, exploratory drilling and operations would require a permit pursuant to the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act in the same way as operations onshore.

As with former governments, this Government does not consider issuing permits for petroleum operations in the territorial waters around Svalbard to be in accordance with the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act, cf. section 9.5.

The Government will continue the current restrictive practices with regard to permits and conditions for activities that entail significant infrastructure development, extensive traffic, pollution or the risk of pollution that may affect wilderness areas, protected areas or other especially vulnerable and valuable natural areas. In cases where a permit is granted for activities requiring infrastructure development, pollution or the risk of pollution outside the land-use planning areas, strict conditions will be imposed with regard to the scope and extent of the development, its location and physical design, traffic and other activities connected with the development, discharges and the risk of discharges and cleaning up and, if necessary, restoring the areas involved when the activities cease. The aim of these conditions should be to minimise the scope and impact of the infrastructure development and other environmental impacts resulting from the activity, and moreover to ensure that it is carried out in a way that makes it possible to restore the affected areas to their original natural state when the activity has been concluded. In order to ensure that we have a good, updated picture of the development situation at all times, the Directorate for Nature Management will extend their survey of areas without major infrastructure developments in Norway (INON) to also include Svalbard.

7.4.4 The environment in the settlements and their adjacent areas


The environment in the settlements and their adjacent areas is affected by the activities that transpire there. Increased activity and a growing population may affect the environment through expansions of built-up areas and infrastructure, increased traffic, more hunting and fishing in adjacent areas and increasing discharges and generation of waste. In addition, energy use and transport and the resulting emission of greenhouse gases may increase. Longyearbyen and Svea in particular have grown considerably in recent years. How large the total impact on the environment in and around the settlements will be depends on the pace and patterns of further growth. This in turn will depend on the extent to which the authorities encourage and plan for further growth and the requirements that are specified for land-use, energy efficiency, traffic and emissions.

Land use. In the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act, provisions are specified concerning the land-use planning within specifically defined land-use planning areas around the settlements. The intention is that the objective of the Act shall be taken care of in the best way possible. In order to avoid the spread of activities and development outside the established areas of activity, the Act also states that activities related to settlement and business should as a rule be located in the land-use planning areas.

The settlements in Svalbard differ considerably in their nature, and there are different forms of land-use conflicts that must be resolved. There are also different administrative traditions in the Norwegian and Russian settlements, which entail different planning needs.

Longyearbyen has grown since the previous Report to the Storting on Svalbard. Building activity in Longyearbyen has increased, and so has the demand for new areas, especially for dwellings, research and education and business activity. Energy consumption has also increased. If the growth in Longyearbyen continues, this may give rise to a need for considerable investment in infrastructure.

The objective of the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act concerning environmentally sound settlement, research and commercial activities shall form the basis for further development of Longyearbyen and the other settlements in Svalbard. The Svalbard Environmental Protection Act has clear provisions about what is regarded as environmentally sound.

Land-use planning in Longyearbyen and other settlements is a key policy instrument for steering development in a desirable direction. The land-use master plan for Longyearbyen is now being reviewed and a new plan is expected to be approved in 2009.

Based on the objective of land-use planning and the possibilities of a holistic management of land use, it is important that the actual master plan designate areas for building purposes and specify how the land should be utilised, whereas the more detailed zoning plans provide a more detailed account of how the individual area is to be utilised. In the central area of Longyearbyen, there will be special needs for this kind of division of the planning work into two levels.

One of the main challenges in Longyearbyen is to adapt development to the area’s existing environment and characteristics. All of the major land-use planning areas are facing challenges, especially with regard to the cultural monuments. This is clearest, however, in Longyearbyen, where growth has been most pronounced. A survey of the cultural monuments and their associated buffer zones in Longyearbyen has recently been conducted, which will be of great help for future land-use planning.

A particular challenge for Longyearbyen in the coming years will be to improve the incorporation of possible risk of flooding and landslides into land-use planning. This is particularly due to climate change, which has resulted in altered precipitation, melting and hydrological conditions. These changes are likely to be amplified in the coming years. The ground on which Longyearbyen is built is vulnerable and can easily be affected by climate change. This is especially true in the areas surrounding the mouth of the river in the Longyear­dalen valley. To a varying extent, climate change will also entail similar challenges for the other settlements in Svalbard.

Cultural monuments. Svalbard’s settlements have a long history, and they include cultural monuments and environments that bear witness to different phases in the settlement’s development. These cultural monuments are integrated into the built-up areas and have great value as historical symbols and sources of historical knowledge and awareness. When the current built-up areas have evolved in close connection with the historical core of the settlement, there may be conflicts between the protection of cultural monuments and further development of the settlements. The process of completing land-use plans for Svalbard’s Norwegian and Russian settlements will help clarify the relationship between preservation and development. The follow-up by local authorities, however, will always be critical to the protection of cultural heritage.

Ny-Ålesund has Svalbard’s biggest set of automatically protected cultural monuments predating 1946 (29 buildings). The settlement is also an important cultural environment that should not lose its historical character. A management plan for the protected buildings has been developed in cooperation between the Governor, Kings Bay and the Directorate for Cultural Heritage, and has proved to be an important step in the efforts to preserve the historical character of the settlement. Consideration has been given here to the fact that the interiors of some of the buildings can be modernised. The historical and cultural heritage of the area must be taken into consideration in any further development.

The cultural monuments from Longyearbyen’s former mining period are important as sources of emotional and aesthetic experience and have great symbolic value. The protected cableway facilities and other technical cultural monuments require extensive and difficult maintenance. Climate change can speed up deterioration by increasing the rate of decay of wood and the destabilization of the uncompacted debris on the mountainsides in the Longyeardalen valley. Store Norske, which owns the aerial cableway facilities, ought to prepare a maintenance strategy in collaboration with the Governor. In Ny-Ålesund, Kings Bay has incorporated protection of cultural heritage in its management strategy.

There are also significant cultural heritage values in the land-use planning areas that surround the current and former settlement and areas of activity in Barentsburg, Pyramiden and Colesbukta in the form of mining installations and built-up areas from the post-war period. Most of these cultural monuments do not have any formal protection. Therefore, it is an important challenge to define what ought to be preserved and to cooperate with the owners on this.

Pollution and waste. Although the pollution situation in Svalbard is dominated by long-range pollution, local sources also contribute, especially in the areas around current and former settlements and mines. Emissions from power production and run-off of environmental toxins from old landfills, mine tailings and polluted soil are the biggest challenges here.

The Government regards it as highly important that local sources of pollution be brought under acceptable control so that the impact on the environment will be minimal outside the immediate vicinity of the relevant sources. In Ny-Ålesund, the research and monitoring activities are dependent on keeping the local anthropogenic impacts at a very low level. The discharges from settlements and other activities in this area must therefore be limited to a minimum.

The Norwegian Pollution Control Authority (SFT) has issued a discharge permit for coal mining operations in the Svea Nord mine and has plans to incorporate the mining operations in Longyearbyen into this permit so that it regulates all Norwegian coal mining operations in Svalbard. A corresponding permit has been issued to the coal-fired power plant in Longyearbyen with requirements for scrubbing a number of substances from the emissions. SFT has also notified Trust Arktikugol in Barentsburg that operation of the power plant there will require a corresponding permit to the one that has been issued to the power plant in Longyearbyen.

In the somewhat longer run, substantial new investment in production and the distribution of power and heat in Longyearbyen will have to be made. For more details, cf. section 10.1.3 Power supply.

For most of the locations with polluted soil in Svalbard, measures have already been taken or the risk of pollution is under control. For the locations where there will still be activities, the status cannot be clarified before activities cease. For the remaining locations, the situation will now be assessed. Where it is deemed necessary, requirements for clean-up and recovery will be specified. According to the plan, the work shall be completed during 2010.

In 2008, the Governor and the Norwegian Pollution Control Authority commenced work on removing as many as possible of the local sources of PCB pollution in Svalbard. The so-called PCB project aims to survey sources of PCBs in all settlements in Svalbard and collect these sources for adequate destruction. The biggest challenges are in Barentsburg and Pyramiden, and a very good collaboration has been established with the Russian mining company Trust Arktikugol. The phasing out of the capacitors with PCBs from light fixtures has been completed in the Norwegian settlements. The clean-up in Barentsburg and Pyramiden and the supervision to make sure that the phasing out of PCBs is finished shall be completed in 2009. The possibilities of using the practical experiences from the project as a basis for international cooperative projects concerning PCB phase-out will be assessed further.

The environmental authorities will also clarify what ought to be done with the facades of buildings and polluted soil in Svalbard that have proven concentrations of PCBs. In connection with this, the environmental authorities will establish cooperation with the owners of the buildings and issue orders concerning measures that must be taken when this is deemed necessary.

7.4.5 Nomination of Svalbard as a World Heritage site


UNESCO has signalled a clear interest in having Norway assess Svalbard as a part of the so-called World Heritage List under the World Heritage Convention. In June 2007, on the basis of recommendations from experts in the Directorate for Nature Management and the Directorate for Cultural Heritage, Svalbard was added to Norway’s tentative list of areas that the State Party will consider for nomination to the World Heritage List in the coming years.Further efforts are now being made to assess Svalbard as a potential World Heritage site. In this process, a closer look will be taken at the basis for a possible World Heritage status and the areas that may be relevant for nomination. The potential consequences of any proposal that may be made for traffic, tourism, etc. will also be assessed.

Giving an area World Heritage status entails no independent restrictions on the utilisation of the site, but it is a prerequisite for inscription on the World Heritage List that the areas and values on which inscription is based are given sufficient protection pursuant to national legislation. World Heritage status can also result in increased international attention to Norway’s management of the areas.

Svalbard has important conservation values related to its undisturbed nature, landscape and biodiversity, including large populations of seabirds and marine mammals with conservation value at the international level. The cultural and historical heritage represent the activities of many nations over a period of more than 400 years combined in a way that can scarcely be found anywhere else. It is the sum of these qualities that makes Svalbard unique, and that can justify World Heritage status and that therefore will be the natural basis for the demarcation of a possible future World Heritage site.

World Heritage is a trademark with considerable power to attract tourists. Although Svalbard is already an extremely attractive tourist destination at present, it must be taken into account that the area will attract even more interest and that the influx of tourists may increase if it is inscribed on the World Heritage List. World Heritage status may therefore be important for the development of tourism in Svalbard, at the same time as this status may give rise to increased pressure from traffic in vulnerable areas.

Go to the top
Go to front page