Meld. St. 32 (2015–2016)

Svalbard — Meld. St. 32 (2015–2016) Report to the Storting (white paper)

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7 Environmental protection

7.1 Introduction

Protection of the natural environment is a key element in the Svalbard policy, and the preservation of Svalbard’s distinctive natural wilderness has long been an overriding objective of this policy. This is also a result of the Svalbard Treaty, which contains provisions concerning the preservation of Svalbard’s natural environment. Svalbard has a natural and cultural heritage of international significance and value, which Norway has a special responsibility to preserve. This was emphasised in the two previous white papers concerning Svalbard.

The overriding objectives of the Svalbard policy remain unchanged, and will ensure comprehensive and balanced management of the archipelago. Preservation of the area’s distinctive natural wilderness is one of these overriding objectives. More specific objectives for environmental protection in Svalbard have also been issued, and have long guided its management policy (see section 7.2). These objectives, too, remain unchanged. At the same time, the management of natural and cultural heritage sites in Svalbard must take into account the fact that Svalbard’s communities and its environment are both changing, and must facilitate necessary restructuring and further development in line with the objectives that have been set. One of the overriding objectives of the Svalbard policy is to maintain Norwegian communities in the archipelago. Accordingly, activities that ensure this must be facilitated. Experience to date shows that significant growth in tourism and research and the further development of existing mining operations have been possible within the framework of existing environmental regulations and objectives.

The magnificent nature and abundant animal life of Svalbard offer significant opportunities for nature experiences and nature-based tourism. With the exception of a few particularly vulnerable areas, almost all of Svalbard is accessible to vessel-based tourism when ice conditions permit. This is also the case inside the protected areas, where extensive activity in the form of adventure cruises already takes place in the summer season. In spring, large areas are accessible for snowmobile trips starting from, for example, Longyearbyen, even though certain areas are protected from such traffic so as to accommodate non-motorised tourism and outdoor recreational activity. Svalbard also offers unique opportunities to research climate change and the environment in the Arctic, in a natural environment that is relatively untouched by other influences. Its geographical position also makes Svalbard an attractive location for a various types of space-related activity. Moreover, Svalbard is relatively easily accessible and has a highly developed infrastructure by Arctic standards. By deliberately capitalising on these advantages, Norway has allowed research, higher education, space activity and nature-based tourism to grow and become important activities that also make up an increasingly large part of the foundation for Norwegian communities and presence in Svalbard. These activities over time have also led to a rise in traffic in Svalbard’s natural environment, and to the need for better forms of facilitation and, as needed, regulation to protect the environment in the long term.

Given the uncertainty about the future of continued mining in Svea, the Longyearbyen community now faces a restructuring in which activity and traffic levels linked to tourism, research and higher education, among others, may increase further. Such an increase in activity and traffic will heighten the need for management based on knowledge.

The environmental regulations and environmental objectives in Svalbard establish the framework for all activities. Within that framework, however, there is latitude for additional activities related to tourism, research and higher education.

This chapter describes the challenges these developments represent and announces some new measures to facilitate necessary restructuring and further development, and to ensure that this can be achieved within the framework of the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act and the environmental objectives.

In close dialogue with the relevant actors in Svalbard, the environmental authorities will now take coordinated action to better facilitate tourism in the zone known as Management Area 10, which includes the Isfjorden area and areas surrounding the inhabitated locations (see map in Figure 6.1). With this in mind, the first phase of this work will be initiated as soon as possible, ensuring a comprehensive approach to the construction of new commercial tourist cabins and the use of temporary facilities for the tourism industry in winter. Efforts will also begin on the consideration of accommodating vessel disembarkation at selected locations in the Isfjorden area and to put in place better frameworks for non-motorised tourism products such as skiing and dogsledding trips.

An active visitor management strategy will ensure that use of protected areas is facilitated in such as way as to permit the best possible visitor experience while at the same time increasing respect and understanding for the protection and safeguarding of the natural and cultural heritage assets. Through good dialogue with the users, the authorities will ensure a management that takes into account the challenges climate change creates for the environment and for activities such as tourism and research.

The Government will also secure natural assets and cultural heritage sites located near inhabitated locations and important for tourism, recreation and the local population. Furthermore, a process has begun to assess whether there is any basis for nominating parts of Svalbard as World Heritage sites, due to the internationally significant natural and cultural heritage found there.

To ensure comprehensive, long-term management, the Government will continue developing management plans for the protected areas in Svalbard. These plans will facilitate activity in accordance with the purpose of the protection and the protection provisions. Another important objective is to adapt management policy to the rapid climatic and environmental changes Svalbard is facing. In order to facilitate activity and ensure sound coordination of management inside and outside the protected areas in Management Area 10, management plans will be drawn up that include both protected and unprotected areas.

Figure 7.1 Svalbard reindeer and Svalbard rock ptarmigan grazing together.

Figure 7.1 Svalbard reindeer and Svalbard rock ptarmigan grazing together.

Photo: Nicolas Lecomte, Norwegian Polar Institute

7.2 More on the environmental objectives for Svalbard

Protecting Svalbard’s distinctive natural wilderness is one of several long-established overriding objectives of the Svalbard policy. The purpose of the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act, which entered into force in 2002, is to preserve a near-pristine environment in Svalbard with regard to contiguous areas of wilderness, landscape, flora, fauna and cultural heritage. Within this framework, the act allows for environmentally sound community, research and business operations.

In Report No. 22 (2008–2009) to the Storting Svalbard, which the Storting endorsed through its consideration of the white paper (Recommendation No. 336 (2008–2009) to the Storting), more detailed objectives were set for protecting the environment in Svalbard. Apart from some minor adjustments, these objectives are the same as those stated in Report No. 9 (1999–2000) to the Storting Svalbard.

The objectives are as follows:

  • On the basis of its internationally significant 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 munuments that warrant protection should be preserved virtually intact, and natural ecological processes and biodiversity must be allowed to evolve virtually undisturbed by human activity in Svalbard.

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

  • The possibility to experience Svalbard’s natural environment undisturbed by motorised traffic and noise shall be ensured, including areas that are easily accessible from the inhabitated locations.

The Government will continue to use these environmental objectives as the basis for its management of Svalbard. At the same time, within the scope of the objectives and applicable legislation, the Government considers it important to facilitate further necessary development in the inhabitated locations and development of new and sustainable activities.

7.3 Challenges and measures

7.3.1 State of the environment

After consideration of Report No. 22 (2008–2009) to the Storting (see Recommendation No. 336 (2008–2009) to the Storting) it was concluded that the state of the environment in Svalbard was generally good, and that this provided a good starting point for successfully protecting Svalbard’s natural wilderness.

It was pointed out that the climate in Svalbard was changing rapidly, and that we were already witnessing the first impacts of climate change on some stocks. It was also stressed that there was a risk that steadily growing traffic would affect an increasing number of locations and areas in Svalbard.

The state of the environment in Svalbard is still generally good, and for some species, such as the walrus, stocks have continued to regenerate and increase after previous overexploitation. The impacts of climate change have become even clearer, and are now better documented. We have gained more knowledge about the vulnerability of ecosystems to climate change on land, in the sea and in pack ice, and new studies show that climate change poses the most serious threat to species and ecosystems in Svalbard and in the Arctic region generally. Although the level of different types of activity in and around Svalbard has increased, the impact of current human traffic and other local activity is considered moderate.

7.3.2 Current policy instruments

Svalbard already has a modern framework of environmental regulations and a well-functioning system for managing natural and cultural heritage sites; these provide a good starting point for handling the environmental protection challenges that Svalbard faces. The regulations offer many opportunities for development within the existing framework.

The most important policy instrument for achieving the environmental objectives for Svalbard is the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act and accompanying regulations. The act, which entered into force in 2002, is a framework act. Its purpose is to maintain a nearly intact environment in Svalbard with regard to contiguous areas of wilderness, landscape, flora, fauna and cultural heritage. Within this framework, the act allows for environmentally sound community, research and business activity.

The act contains more detailed provisions on a number of environmental topics. The Svalbard Environmental Protection Act and accompanying regulations govern area protection, encroachment into the natural environment and traffic, protection of cultural heritage sites, land-use planning in the communities, local pollution and waste, and hunting, trapping and fishing. This legislation lays down the framework for all activity and land use that may have an impact on the environment. Within the protected areas, the protective regulations are the most important tool for setting limits on activity and land use. In the areas that are not protected, activity and land use are governed by a strict, general environmental regulatory framework. In land-use planning areas surrounding the inhabitated locations, the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act and accompanying regulations define the framework for land-use planning and activity that may impact the environment. Almost 14 years after coming into force, the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act has shown that it satisfactorily addresses the need for comprehensive, long-term management of the archipelago. Moreover, the act has not prevented a significant increase in activity during that period. The regulations governing environmental matters remain unchanged, and the Government will carry them forward as a predictable framework for all activity in Svalbard.

The protected areas in Svalbard cover 65 per cent of the land area and 87 per cent of the territorial sea. Between 2002 and 2006, protection of these areas was supplemented and expanded on the basis of geographical analysis, so that all of Svalbard’s main ecosystems are sufficiently encompassed. New geographical and environmental data have been obtained since then, but important knowledge gaps still exist as to whether the protection is sufficiently representative of all of Svalbard’s natural environment. To safeguard areas with special qualities, protection may still be regarded as an appropriate policy instrument.

Management plans have been drawn up for the nature reserves in East Svalbard, as well as draft management plans for the national parks and bird sanctuaries on the west side of Spitsbergen. A management plan is being developed within the framework of the protection regulations, elaborating on them and rendering them more specific. The plan should provide predictability through specific guidelines for area use, information, case processing, etc.

The current legislation provides a good starting point for dealing with future challenges because intact ecosystems in themselves help make nature more resilient to the impacts of climate change. The Government will therefore continue to pursue the current protection policy. At the same time, necessary adaptation and flexibility for managing climate change and increasing activity will be addressed. Management plans serve as an important tool in this context.

In Svalbard there is a close connection between life on land and life in the adjacent areas of sea and pack ice. These marine areas are important habitats for many species found in Svalbard, particularly ice-dependent species such as the polar bear, and Arctic seal and whale species. The surrounding marine areas are also feeding areas for Svalbard’s seabird populations.

The environmental regulations in Svalbard are applicable in Svalbard’s territory as far as the territorial limits. Many species in Svalbard are migratory or belong to stocks that inhabit large parts of the marine and pack-ice areas surrounding the archipelago. It is important that these stocks be managed and protected with equal effect throughout their area of distribution. Consequently, the management plans and regulations that govern activity in the waters around Svalbard are also important for environmental protection in Svalbard. Management of areas outside the territorial limits is not a topic of discussion in this white paper, however.

For seabirds and marine mammals at the top of the marine food chains, the management and control of fisheries in the territorial sea and the Fisheries Protection Zone around Svalbard are vital. This topic is discussed in more detail in section 9.4.7. Fulfilment of international obligations to protect migratory species and stocks we share with other countries, as well as vulnerable species and ecosystems, is also vital to environmental protection in Svalbard.

Figure 7.2 Polar bear.

Figure 7.2 Polar bear.

Photo: Jon Aars, Norwegian Polar Institute

7.3.3 The significance of climate change for environmental management

The temperature in the Arctic is rising approximately twice as fast as the global average, and Arctic species and ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Svalbard and the surrounding marine areas are among the parts of the Arctic where these changes are occurring fastest, and where natural and cultural heritage sites are expected to suffer the worst consequences.

In its latest report, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concludes that the risk of significant changes in Arctic ecosystems in the long term is extremely high. Climate changes will reduce the habitats of several species found in the Arctic today. Many of these may eventually disappear from increasingly large parts of the Arctic region, and Svalbard is among the areas where this is expected to occur with greatest rapidity. This is because the sea ice surrounding Svalbard is retreating faster than in most other parts of the Arctic and because Svalbard, as a result, is an area where climate models predict the temperature will continue to rise particularly fast.

In addition to the direct environmental impacts of these climate changes, retreating sea ice will make more and more of Svalbard’s coastal and marine areas accessible for activity for much of the year. This presents opportunities for a continued rise in maritime traffic related to cruise tourism and fishing around Svalbard and in the northern Barents Sea, but also the potential for greater environmental impact and risk.

Together with other environmental impacts, including changes in activity, rapid climate changes pose a significant and growing challenge to environmental protection in Svalbard. Continual change in future environmental conditions is therefore something the environmental management authorities must take into account, and to which the tourism industry and other activities must adapt.

The restructuring process facing Longyearbyen may lead to increased activity and, as a result, heighten the challenges related to traffic. Such an increase in traffic must therefore be managed in a way attuned to the rapid changes in climate and environmental conditions. This means that management of local activity must account sufficiently for species and habitats that are exposed to increasing pressure as a result of climate change. This applies not least to ice-dependent species such as the polar bear and seals, which are at risk of having their main habitats significantly reduced as the sea ice gradually retreats. The combination of increased traffic and climate changes underlines the importance of having plans in place to manage the areas surrounding the inhabitated locations (Management Area 10). Such plans will facilitate further development of various nature-based tourism products while taking into account the increasing pressure on the environment stemming from such factors as climate change. They will also help provide predictable conditions for the business community while providing the authorities with a useful management tool for the area.

Ocean acidification caused by increased uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by the ocean is an increasingly important factor affecting Arctic marine ecosystems. Ocean acidification occurs faster in the Arctic because cold water absorbs more carbon dioxide. In the long term it must be expected that ocean acidification may have significant consequences for the marine ecosystems around Svalbard. This phenomenon will interact with climate change in ways that are hard to predict, but that could affect plankton and other key species and therefore the structure and function of marine ecosystems.

Increased environmental impact caused by climate change and ocean acidification are considerations that must be incorporated into the management of species and their habitats, and that may have significance for activity frameworks. Environmental management can facilitate desired development by learning from experience and by accessing and exploiting new knowledge. Important prerequisites for such management include a set of clear, verifiable environmental objectives, continuous monitoring of the state of the environment, development of models for predicting changes, and regular assessment of the state of the environment and goal attainment. Such management must also include sound processes for involving those affected by the measures. The Government will further develop environmental management in Svalbard to ensure that these prerequisites are in place. The Government is determined to safeguard species and habitats that may be exposed to further pressure resulting from climate change and ocean acidification combined with other impact factors. Important tools in this context are management plans and practical implementation of the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act.

7.3.4 Challenges related to traffic and other activity

Despite increased activity in and around Svalbard, the scope of the impact resulting from traffic and other local activity is still deemed moderate. Few conflicts have been registered between organised tourism activity and natural and cultural heritage assets as a result of today’s tourism activity. One reason for this may be sound industry procedures and attitudes with regard to complying with environmental regulations, and training for guides that results in an emphasis on careful management of traffic by operators. Emphasis is also placed on reaching out to individual tourists with good information about regulations and safety measures.

Since the previous white paper on Svalbard, tourism and traffic levels have increased, as has international interest in Svalbard as a platform for Arctic research.

In the Barents Sea, fishing for fish species such as cod and haddock has extended more to the north in recent years. Simultaneously, cruise traffic and research activity have contributed to a rise in maritime traffic in the waters surrounding Svalbard. On land, too, traffic is increasing and traffic patterns are changing as a result of climate change and retreating sea ice. This is the case for cruise ship disembarkations and snowmobile traffic alike. These trends have been managed satisfactorily through existing policy instruments, and the tourist industry has adopted its own measures to help limit the environmental impact. Tourism and research are activities that contribute much-needed knowledge and create good ambassadors of environmental protection in Svalbard as a result of the natural experiences they provide. These activities may also contribute to restructuring needed in the years to come. However, these types of activities also create more traffic. Through the use of current regulations and management plans, traffic through the natural environment will be managed so as to allow such traffic to increase in a way that is sustainable and that addresses environmental considerations in line with current objectives.

Report No. 22 (2008–2009) to the Storting Svalbard pointed out that Svalbard could be divided roughly into three zones according to acceptable levels of impact from traffic. The lowest impact level is accepted in the nature reserves. In the three large national parks established in 1973, slightly higher levels of traffic and impact are accepted. In the remaining areas, which encompass central Spitsbergen including the Isfjorden area and the inhabited locations, traffic impacts are more acceptable than in the nature reserves and the national parks established in 1973. This three-way division will continue in the implementation of environmental regulations and the development of management plans.

A growth in tourism may have significance for the natural environment and cultural heritage sites in the Isfjorden area. This area contains national parks, other protected areas and areas that are not protected. We must therefore assist in managing use of this area so as to ensure the best possible visitor experience while at the same time increasing respect and understanding for the protection and safeguarding of the natural and cultural heritage assets. The work on visitor management related to national parks on the mainland will serve as an important reference base in this connection, and similar processes should be implemented in the Isfjorden area. Growth in tourism and other activities also heightens demand for knowledge about vulnerable areas and resource deposits, and about which areas can tolerate increased use. In the summer of 2015, the Governor of Svalbard and local tourism industry actors conducted such vulnerability studies of some areas in Isfjorden. Further mapping and development should rely on a comprehensive methodology based on the Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre’s ‘Nature Types in Norway’ classification system. On the basis of such mapping, work will be initiated to facilitate disembarkation at selected locations in the Isfjorden area.

In 2007 permission was granted under the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act to establish three cabins for commercial use in connection with tourism in Svalbard. See section 6.2.1 for further discussion of cabins for commercial use and other measures to facilitate further development of the tourism industry inside Management Area 10.

Management plans will be drawn up for the national parks in central Spitsbergen. This work will also include assessing management of the intervening non-protected areas in order to adopt a comprehensive approach to different types of traffic and other activity in the areas surrounding the inhabited locations. This particularly applies to Management Area 10 (see map in Figure 6.1) and the busiest traffic areas on the east coast.

In a comprehensive plan like this, guidelines on traffic in different areas must be assessed according to where increased traffic is desirable and where concern for natural assets makes increased traffic undesirable.

Important measures have already been launched in Svalbard in response to retreating sea ice, easier access and increased exposure of vulnerable species and nature areas to traffic. Regulations governing the large nature reserves in eastern Svalbard, for example, have been amended to include certain restrictions on traffic in selected areas. In 2007, ships were banned from carrying heavy fuel oil through these nature reserves. In 2009, the ban was expanded to apply to all parts of the national parks on the west side, with some time-limited exemptions that were repealed in 2015. Exemptions still apply for sailing to and from Sveagruva. This significantly reduced the risk of environmental damage caused by emissions of heavy fuel oil inside the largest part of Svalbard’s territorial sea. Maritime safety and emergency preparedness are discussed in more detail in Chapter 10.

The environmental management authorities will pay closer attention to traffic in areas with important and vulnerable environmental assets. Emphasis will be placed on good dialogue with users to find solutions that take into account the challenges for activities such as tourism and research that could arise from possible changes to the framework governing traffic. Changes in the framework must be followed up with specific information and increased supervision during critical periods. Consideration of new measures may also evaluate alternative traffic routes and solutions to ensure predictability for the tourism industry.

Less snow and fjord ice in springtime could also make snowmobile trails impassable and thereby affect conditions for tourism and other activity. At the same time, less sea ice will make it easier to reach many areas by boat for longer periods during the year. During winters with little fjord ice, most snowmobile traffic will be concentrated in areas where ice is still found. In such situations, both snowmobile traffic and animal life will be concentrated in the remaining ice-covered areas, and animals will be exposed to an increasing level of disturbance. The environmental management authorities have circulated for public consultation a proposal to amend the regulations governing motorised traffic in Svalbard. The proposal involves expanding the area where visitors can operate snowmobiles when participating in organised tours or when accompanied by permanent residents. The background for the proposal is that a decline in fjord ice in Tempelfjorden and Billefjorden has created a need to protect animal life from motorised traffic on the fjord ice as well as a need on the part of tourism operators for an alternative route to Pyramiden when the fjord ice is unsafe. Allowing an alternative route across the glacier systems will address both the tourism industry’s need to arrange tours to Pyramiden and the need to avoid disturbing polar bears and seals at a sensitive time of the year.

When considering traffic related to research and monitoring, the needs and opportunities for knowledge development – to provide a basis for Svalbard’s management, among other things – will have to be balanced against the need to avoid traffic in vulnerable areas and at the most sensitive times of the year. In general the need for updated knowledge about the environment and changes in the state of the environment is growing because of the speed of climate change. The Svalbard Environmental Protection Act contains rules governing permits for motorised traffic. These stipulate, among other things, that management must take into account the objective to limit motorised traffic in Svalbard when processing applications for permits for motorised traffic.

Supervision and the exercise of authority will also create a need to travel in vulnerable areas from time to time, including periods when disturbances should be avoided. Nonetheless, the clear objective for such activity must be to keep traffic in vulnerable areas to an absolute minimum.

7.3.5 Infrastructure development into nature

With the exception of a few areas surrounding the inhabited locations and the mines in Svalbard, the archipelago appears as a large, contiguous wilderness area with no elements of heavy infrastructure development such as roads or power lines, etc.

In principle, infrastructure development in protected areas is not permitted. In areas that are not protected, the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act places restrictions on permits and conditions for activities that involve infrastructure development.

The Svalbard Environmental Protection Act stipulates that settlement and business activity as a rule should be located in the land-use planning areas. Establishment of mining operations requires permission under the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act, and the holding of claims does not give entitlement to infrastructure development in Svalbard. The restrictive practice governing permits and conditions under the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act will be pursued in respect of activities that result in the infrastructure development of natural areas and landscapes outside the established inhabited locations and mining areas. This practice is based on the environmental impact of the activity in question. This means, in the case of applications to conduct activities such as exploratory drilling for minerals, one must examine the overall impact of the exploratory activity on the environment in terms of both scope and time. If such an application to conduct exploratory drilling is approved, it does not mean the applicant can later expect to be granted a permit to begin mineral extraction if the exploration gives promising results. Such decisions will be considered individually, based on the restrictive practice at the time and on the objective of maintaining the extent of wilderness in Svalbard.

Stringent conditions will also be set for infrastructure developments inside or in extension of established mining areas and inhabited locations in order to protect environmental interests in the case of new or expanded activity. This particularly applies to new activities that will affect wilderness areas or important and vulnerable environmental assets. In 2011 permission was granted to establish a new mine in Lunckefjell on condition that the area involved be returned to its original condition on cessation of operation. It was also stressed that the operating period should last only five years before being returned to its original condition, and that any infrastructure developments should be of a temporary nature. Similar requirements must be anticipated if permission is granted to expand existing mining areas or other activities that involve heavy infrastructure developments into nature. On granting permission for the new mine in Lunckefjell the ministry stated, with regard to opportunities for more activity of the same type in the same area, that all applications must be specifically considered in light of the principle of cumulative environmental impact. An infrastructure development permit related to the mining operation in Lunckefjell does not mean permission will automatically be granted to establish similar activities in other areas in future.

7.3.6 Pollution and waste

Some species are still negatively affected by long-range transported pollutants. Levels of classic pollutants such as PCBs in animals from Norwegian Arctic areas are showing a generally downward trend, mainly because of a ban introduced against their production and use, whereas the concentration levels for chemicals not banned internationally are rising. The levels for certain new pollutants are far higher than for the classic pollutants, indicating that the new pollutants pose a challenge. Most of the pollutants found in the Arctic are transported over long distances. Local sources of pollution are discussed below in the section dealing with the environment and land-use planning in the local communities.

Marine littering and microplastics in the sea and on the beaches around Svalbard have been identified as a growing problem. Marine debris such as plastic rope, fishing nets and plastic bags can kill animals that eat it or become entangled in it. Microplastics are tiny plastic particles that come from the breakdown of plastic debris in the sea or that enter the marine environment via drainage and runoff from land, resulting from wear and tear of plastic products such as car tyres and fleece garments or from products containing microplastics, such as scrubbing agents. Microplastics can represent an additional stress factor for animals in the Arctic region that are exposed to climate change. As well as having a direct impact on animals, microplastics can also serve as routes for dispersal and uptake of pollutants.

Every year the Governor of Svalbard invites the local population to take part in a beach-cleaning exercise. This clean-up helps reduce the risk to animal life and makes the coastal areas more attractive to tourists. In 2016 the Norwegian Environment Agency will publish an analysis of national measures against marine littering and an assessment of potential measures to reduce and prevent the occurrence of microplastics in the marine environment.

7.3.7 New species

Several new species have been observed in Svalbard in recent years, partly as a result of a warmer climate and partly as a result of the introduction of non-native species. The rapid warming weakens the climatic barrier against non-native species from temperate regions and raises the risk that such species will gain a foothold and spread in Svalbard and in the Arctic waters, where they could displace native species. The release or transport of organisms that are not found naturally in Svalbard is prohibited under the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act without special permission. Work on drafting an action plan to prevent the introduction and spread of non-native species in Svalbard is in its final phase, and will be implemented by the environmental management authorities.

The discharge of untreated ballast water represents a particularly high risk of introducing non-native organisms into the marine environment. Ballast water is regulated by ballast water regulations that entered into force in 2009. The Ballast Water Convention is expected to enter in force in the near future. Once it does, Norway will revise its ballast water regulations.

The snow crab is a species that is regarded as new to the Barents Sea and that is now spreading towards Svalbard. The snow crab appears on the Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre’s Black List of alien species in the high-risk category. It is not yet known how the crab arrived in the Barents Sea from the Beaufort Sea. The species could come to occupy marine areas around Svalbard and account for a major part of the bottom fauna. Bycatches of isolated crabs have already occurred in East Svalbard. It is difficult to predict what this crab will mean for the rest of the ecosystem, but it could eventually have a significant impact on marine ecosystems. Like the king crab, the snow crab feeds on a wide range of bottom organisms. Studies of the state of the environment in areas expected to be affected are currently being conducted to document the impacts.

7.3.8 Environment and land-use planning in the local communities

The local communities in Svalbard are under development, and one feature common to all of them is that the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act’s aim of environmentally sound community, research and business operations will form the basis for future development. Increased activity in the local communities and their immediate vicinity may affect the environment through the expansion of buildings and infrastructure, more traffic, more hunting and fishing in surrounding areas, and increasing emissions and generation of waste. The scale of the environmental impact in and around the inhabited locations in the coming years will depend largely on what requirements are placed on land use, energy efficiency, traffic, waste management and emissions.

New knowledge about the pollution situation in the communities indicates that local emissions affect the environment more severely than previously believed. The Government therefore considers it important that local sources of pollution be brought under control.

Svalbard’s local communities have a long history, with cultural heritage sites and environments that bear witness to different phases in their development. These heritage sites have great symbolic and source value, as storytellers. The buildings present today evolved in close connection with the historical core of the area, and striking a balance between cultural heritage interests and development aims can prove challenging.

The Svalbard Environmental Protection Act contains provisions regulating land-use planning within specifically defined land-use planning areas around the communities. The intention behind these provisions is to fulfil the purpose of the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act in the best possible way and to lead development in a desired direction.

Each land-use planning area has a planning authority which, in addition to its ongoing planning duties, ensures that plans are complied with and followed up. The planning authority is the landowner or the party granted this authority by the ministry.

A land-use plan clarifies the actual use of land, but grants no automatic right to start up a new activity. The activity itself may be subject to other provisions in the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act and, possibly, other regulations. Although an activity may be in compliance with an approved land-use plan, a special permit from the Governor of Svalbard may be required in some cases.

The climate changes in Svalbard – as in the rest of Norway – increase the risks of avalanche and flood, more extreme weather conditions, and higher storm surges caused by sea-level rise. Physical infrastructure such as roads, buildings and ports are therefore more exposed to these types of climate-related incidents. Climate-related incidents can pose a threat to life and health. Climate changes add strain to critical Arctic infrastructure that is already vulnerable, thereby creating a need for upgrading and adaptation. Coastal erosion could also become a growing problem in Svalbard. It is therefore important that land-use and community planning in the planning areas take climate change into account. The guide to land-use planning under the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act is currently being revised. A description of how the planning areas in Svalbard should take climate change into account will be included in the revised guide.

The local communities in Svalbard are very different in character, as are the types of land-use conflicts that need to be resolved. The communities also have different management traditions and, accordingly, different planning needs. For this reason the planning system is flexible, and allows details to be adapted to the needs of the communities.

Longyearbyen is the planning area that has changed most in recent years. The land-use plan for Longyearbyen was last adopted in 2009 and is currently under review. A new plan is expected to be approved in late 2016/early 2017. The Longyearbyen Community Council is the planning authority in Longyearbyen, and may approve land-use plans insofar as no objections are raised. Work is currently being undertaken to implement Longyearbyen’s numerous detailed zoning plans into the land-use plan. The land-use plan will be an important document for showing how Longyearbyen wants to develop in the coming years, making it an important tool in the community’s current restructuring process. Knowledge about areas prone to flood and avalanche will be vital for sound planning. This knowledge must also be reflected in the land-use plans so that these serve as adequate tools for further developing the local community.

A key purpose of land-use planning is to set guidelines on what may be built and where, and to what extent undeveloped areas may be used. The plan must therefore be sufficiently detailed to provide a basis for planning and building decisions. For some areas, such as the central areas, separate zoning plans may have to be prepared.

The areas in the immediate vicinity of Longyearbyen are heavily used by the local population all year round, and cultural heritage sites are often tourist destinations. Longyearbyen’s cultural heritage sites can be said to represent the community’s profile, and are used to market the town as a tourist destination. In addition, interesting fossil deposits, including those of reptiles, are found in the vicinity of Longyearbyen. The potential within this field is considerable, in respect of further research, higher education and information dissemination, and as part of the offering to tourists.

The environmental management authorities have taken a closer look at the natural and cultural heritage assets in the area surrounding Longyearbyen and its value in terms of outdoor recreation and tourism. Adventdalen is regarded as one of the most important areas for waders and freshwater birds in Svalbard; sixteen of Svalbard’s red-listed bird species have habitats there. The lower section of Adventdalen is a particularly important resting and stopover area for a large number of geese and waders. This area also has several small sites that are highly valuable for plant life. Work will be initiated to assess the need for greater protection of these areas in lower Adventdalen.

Adaptation to make local natural and cultural heritage attractions more accessible will have positive effects for both tourism and the local population. Possible measures include the installation of ‘sherpa trails’ inside the planning area.

Barentsburg’s land-use plan from 2004 is currently undergoing revision. A new planning programme was approved in the autumn of 2015, and the responsible planning authority, Trust Arktikugol, wishes to update the plan so that existing infrastructure, buildings and land use are accurately reflected in the plan, while at the same time facilitating new land use. Research and tourism have become important activities, and the aim is that the plan should facilitate further development of these activities.

Pyramiden had its first land-use plan approved by the Governor of Svalbard in 2014. The background for the requirement to prepare a land-use plan was the wish to develop Pyramiden for tourism and research purposes. Trust Arktikugol is the responsible planning authority for Pyramiden, and has performed maintenance work in the planning area since 2007.

Sveagruva’s land-use plan was revised in 2012, but the planning area has undergone changes since then. The land-use plan has served as the steering document for Store Norske Spitsbergen Grubekompani AS (SNSG) in connection with the physical development of Svea, and provides a basis for decision-making on the use and protection of the land and buildings there. The Norwegian Government took over as landowner in Svea in the spring of 2015. Svea’s coal-mining operation is currently suspended. During this suspension, SNSG rents the land and infrastructure from the state. Based on this situation, the Ministry of Climate and Environment has given SNSK authority to act as the planning authority in Svea. The future of the mining operation in Svea is now uncertain. Changed use of the area would require the land-use plan to be revised so that the use and the plan are in accord. Under the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act, revision of land-use plans is to be considered every four years. At the request of the Governor of Svalbard, SNSK has initiated work on revising the land-use plan for Svea.

Ny-Ålesund has begun work on revising its current land-use plan. Since the current plan was approved in 2009, a more detailed zoning plan has been drawn up for a new geodetic observatory and various changes have occurred in the Ny-Ålesund’s building stock.

Pollution in the inhabited locations

The Norwegian Environment Agency has granted emissions permits to the coal mining operations in Svea Nord, Lunckefjell and Mine 7, to the coal power plant in Longyearbyen, and to the coal mining operation and coal power plant in Barentsburg. The Governor of Svalbard has also granted other emissions permits, including to Avinor for operating Svalbard Airport. The scope of pollution from diffuse sources such as soil contamination and waste disposal sites remains uncertain.

PCB sources in the inhabited locations were identified under the PCB project, as it was called, and since then a number of clean-up measures have been implemented and the use of PCB phased out. The biggest challenges lie in Barentsburg and Pyramiden, and the work has been conducted in good cooperation with Trust Arktikugol. The environmental reviews of buildings in Barentsburg and Pyramiden have resulted in new findings of material containing PCB. Requirements were set for clean-up and restoration where deemed necessary.

Supervision and environmental surveys have shown continuing waste-management challenges in several inhabited locations, involving both hazardous waste and building refuse. The need for improved regulations and measures to ensure compliance will be assessed.

A sewage treatment plant opened in Ny-Ålesund in the autumn of 2015. Opening of the plant means that sewage is no longer discharged untreated into the fjord, a development which validates the investment in Ny-Ålesund as a research station with its own marine laboratory, among other facilities. The research station in Hornsund has had a sewage treatment plant since 2008. Longyearbyen currently has no sewage system. Adventfjorden is affected by the emissions, so there is a need for sewage treatment. This matter will be examined further. The need to treat emissions from other inhabited locations and research stations will also be assessed. The Longyearbyen Community Council will have responsibility for establishing and operating a sewage treatment plant in Longyearbyen.

Figure 7.3 Adventdalen.

Figure 7.3 Adventdalen.

Photo: Ståle Nylund, Office of the Governor of Svalbard

7.3.9 Cultural heritage sites

Climate changes also affect Svalbard’s cultural heritage sites in the form of increasing erosion, more extensive damage from rust and rot, thawing permafrost, landslides, etc. The iconic cableways and pithead installations from mining operations in Longyearbyen and vicinity are exposed to rot and landslides, and the airship mooring mast in Ny-Ålesund to rust; meanwhile, the hunting and trapping cabins and other important buildings in Svalbard are decaying at a faster rate. The warmer climate and retreating sea ice in Svalbard mean that coastal erosion is happening faster than before. At the same time, less sea ice leads to more wave activity, which in turn leads to more erosion of unprotected shorelines, where most of Svalbard’s cultural heritage sites are situated.

A list of the 100 most important cultural heritage sites and cultural environments was drawn up in the Cultural Heritage Management Plan for Svalbard 2013–2023. Fifty of them were assigned high priority. Follow-up of the prioritised cultural assets may involve supervision, proposals for preservation, inclusion in land-use plans or restoration and maintenance. In the case of some cultural heritage sites of particular historical and/or experiential value, there will be a need to initiate preventive measures, such as ones to counteract rot or erosion.

In the case of particularly valuable cultural heritage sites, detailed documentation ought to be undertaken or archaeological emergency excavations carried out to preserve their value as historical sources that would otherwise be lost. Also to be considered is whether to relocate cultural heritage assets or carry out preventive measures such as erosion control.

Industrial cultural heritage sites represent a particular challenge. These sites are important symbolic structures for Longyearbyen and Svalbard. The most important ones will be given priority with regard to immediate measures and securing. Under the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act, owners are required to maintain protected cultural heritage assets. Should they fail to do so, and if there is a risk of decay, the Directorate for Cultural Heritage may order the owner or user to carry out corrective measures.

7.3.10 World Heritage

As a state party to UNESCO’s Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (World Heritage Convention), Norway is obliged to identify potential world heritage assets within its own territory. Given the unique natural and cultural heritage assets the archipelago represents, Svalbard in 2007 was placed on Norway’s tentative list of sites under consideration for nomination to the World Heritage List in the next five to ten years. Any nomination of parts of Svalbard to the World Heritage List would mark an important Norwegian contribution to a more geographically and thematically representative World Heritage List, and would align with the objective of making Svalbard one of the world’s best-managed wilderness areas. Through consideration of Report No. 22 (2008–2009) to the Storting Svalbard (see Recommendation No. 336 (2008–2009) to the Storting), further work was announced to review Svalbard as a World Heritage area. The Government will assess whether there are grounds for a nomination of parts of Svalbard as a World Heritage Site on the strength of its internationally significant natural and cultural heritage.

Textbox 7.1 Lower Adventdalen

Figure 7.4 Purple sandpiper

Figure 7.4 Purple sandpiper

Photo: Stein G Nilsen, Norwegian Polar Institute

The Adventdalen delta and Adventdalen west of Jansonhaugen make up a vital resting and stopover area for a large number of water birds in both spring and autumn. A total of 74 water bird species have been registered here, 25 of which are wader species. No other area in Svalbard plays host to such a diversity of species. A total of 16 of Svalbard’s red-listed bird species are found in this area, among them brent goose, sanderling, dunlin, red knot, ringed plover, red phalarope and European golden plover. The three species mentioned last also nest there.

The Adventdalen delta becomes ice-free earlier than the other delta areas in Svalbard. Migrating water birds can therefore find food here before settling down to nest. Around 10,000 pink-footed geese feed here in late May every year, in addition to brent geese and a large number of barnacle geese.

The lower sections of Adventdalen, particularly Fivelflya, have abundant areas of moist/bog tundra. This means the area has a higher incidence of certain bird species than any of the protected areas in Svalbard. This is especially the case for the red-listed dunlin. More than 80 per cent of Svalbard’s total population is believed to nest here. The purple sandpiper also appears in large numbers; as many as 2,000 have been sighted simultaneously. The purple sandpiper has been designated a species of national responsibility1 for Svalbard, since a significant proportion of the global population nests in the archipelago.

The Longyearbyen Field Biological Association has been an important contributor of information concerning the incidence of bird species and other natural assets in this area. In 2015 the Longyearbyen Field Biological Association called for this area to be protected and designated as a wetland site of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. The association also stressed the positive significance this would have for tourism and for development of tourism in Svalbard. Viewed in connection with the proposed nature information centre in Longyearbyen, the creation of a protected area and nomination of the area for inclusion on the Ramsar Convention’s list of wetland sites of international significance could lead to the establishment of an important arena for information and experience while also serving as a new tourist attraction.

1 A species of national responsibility is a species Norway has a particular responsibility to protect. A significant proportion (25 per cent or more) of such a species’ European stock is in Norway.

Textbox 7.2 Svalbard’s Environmental Protection Fund

Svalbard’s Environmental Protection Fund allocates funds to measures that protect natural environments and cultural heritage sites in the archipelago, in accordance with section 98 of the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act and the fund’s statutes. The fund’s resources should contribute to ensuring that Svalbard’s distinctive wilderness and cultural heritage are preserved as sources of experience, knowledge and value creation. The fund’s income is largely derived from the environmental fee for visitors to Svalbard. Enterprises, organisations and private individuals may apply for funding. The Ministry of Climate and Environment has appointed a board for the fund, and the Governor of Svalbard acts as its secretariat. Since its formation in 2007, the Environmental Protection Fund has allocated NOK 97 million to 471 environmental projects, and experience shows that the Fund is a well-established economic instrument in the work of protecting Svalbard’s environment. Examples of projects recently supported by Svalbard’s Environmental Protection Fund are a new waste disposal plant in Barentsburg, restoration of a locomotive in Ny-Ålesund, and a collection scheme for beach litter in Longyearbyen.

Figure 7.5 «Toa»: Steam locomotive No. 2 was made in Berlin in 1909 and it arrived in Ny-Ålesund in 1917. The locomotive was used to transport coal from the pitheads to the shipping quay before lorries took over that work. In connection with Kings Bay’s centena...

Figure 7.5 «Toa»: Steam locomotive No. 2 was made in Berlin in 1909 and it arrived in Ny-Ålesund in 1917. The locomotive was used to transport coal from the pitheads to the shipping quay before lorries took over that work. In connection with Kings Bay’s centenary, Svalbard’s Environmental Protection Fund has granted funding to restore the locomotive so it can continue to serve as a storyteller and landmark in Ny-Ålesund. The restoration work is being carried out at the Aurskog-Høland Line’s special workshop in Sørumsand.

Photo: Asbjørn Hagen

7.3.11 Environmental management’s need for knowledge

Currently, the need for monitoring and evaluating the state of the environment is covered in part by the system of Environmental Monitoring of Svalbard and Jan Mayen (MOSJ). This system will be further developed to address the growing need for knowledge about the status of Svalbard’s environment and the trends observed. The monitoring programmes SEAPOP and MAREANO provide knowledge, respectively, about seabirds in and around Svalbard and the seabed surrounding Svalbard. Aerial monitoring to map the impact of climate and environmental contaminants in Svalbard is performed as part of the central government’s environmental monitoring. In addition, surveys and research are conducted on the impacts of climate change and other impact factors. This research has been strengthened in recent years through the establishment of the Norwegian Polar Institute’s Centre for Ice, Climate and Ecosystems (ICE) and the Fram Centre in Tromsø. The Fram Centre in Tromsø is now being expanded in a new building phase, and a new ice-strengthened research vessel is under construction. Knowledge about the state of the environment and climate change in Svalbard is decisive for local environmental management and is important for the further development of conventions and other international forms of cooperation.

Work is being conducted to improve the environmental monitoring parameters of cultural heritage sites. This work is being carried out under the MOSJ system. Reporting on the status of individual cultural heritage sites is done by updating the Askeladden cultural heritage database, and a concentrated effort to quality-assure the data held there is advisable. There is a need to strengthen existing knowledge about threatened and vulnerable species and habitats in the Norwegian part of the Arctic and to conduct more systematic assessments of threatened and vulnerable natural environments. This particularly applies to the significance of climate change for threatened natural environments in the Arctic. The knowledge base for threatened and vulnerable species and habitats in Svalbard, with emphasis on marine and sea-ice environments, will be further developed.

7.3.12 Environmental information

The Governor of Svalbard has proposed establishing a nature information centre in Longyearbyen. Twenty-six authorised visitor centres have been established on the mainland, focusing on a range of topics such as national parks, wetlands, wild reindeer and predators. Three World Heritage centres have also been established for the purpose of providing accurate information, enhancing knowledge about world heritage, and strengthening ties to local communities. In large parts of Svalbard where the land and marine areas are protected, there is untapped potential for visitors to be introduced to the archipelago’s unique environmental assets in a way that allows them to be both preserved and experienced. The proposed nature information centre will convey the value of Svalbard’s cultural and natural assets and serve as a communications arena for administration, research, higher education, tourism and other economic activities.

7.4 Summary

The Government will:

  • Continue to pursue the current objectives and regulations in the environmental field.

  • Within this framework and in close consultation with tourism operators, take coordinated action to better facilitate tourism in Management Area 10, which includes the Isfjorden area and areas surrounding the inhabited locations.

  • Ensure a comprehensive and environmentally responsible approach to the construction of commercial tourist cabins and the use of temporary facilities for tourism in winter.

  • Improve knowledge about the Isfjorden area’s vulnerability to human traffic, and on that basis consider measures to facilitate vessel disembarkation at selected locations.

  • Improve the framework for non-motorised tourism products such as ski and dogsled trips.

  • Continue work on management plans that facilitate further development of activities such as tourism, research and higher education. Ensure that management plans are drawn up for areas surrounding the inhabited locations (Management Area 10), including both protected and unprotected areas. Ensure that use of the protected areas is facilitated and managed to permit the best possible visitor experience while increasing respect and understanding for the protections and safeguarding the natural and cultural assets.

  • Facilitate in finding solutions for areas that are becoming more vulnerable to human traffic as a result of a warmer climate and retreating sea ice. The environmental management authorities have circulated for public consultation a proposal to expand the area where visitors can operate snowmobiles when participating in organised tours or when accompanied by permanent residents. Secure natural assets and cultural heritage sites located near communities and important for tourism, recreation and the local population. To this end, work will be initiated to assess the need for greater protection of areas in lower Adventdalen, where bird life is especially abundant.

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