9 The Arctic
The temperature in the Arctic is rising faster than in any other part of the world. Moreover, the physical environment associated with snow and ice is particularly sensitive to a warmer climate. Climate change is therefore the most serious threat facing Arctic species and ecosystems. For the same reasons, communities that depend on the living resources of the Arctic are also vulnerable to climate change. Climate change adaptation in the Arctic will therefore entail special challenges. As the sea ice melts, the Arctic is becoming more accessible for new activities such as oil and gas extraction, mining, shipping, fisheries and tourism. This can open up new opportunities, but may also exacerbate negative impacts on the environment and on traditional ways of using the living resources of the Arctic. Climate change may also intensify the negative impacts of other pressures such as ocean acidification and pollutants on the Arctic environment. In the Government’s view, management of the natural environment in the Arctic must therefore be based on an ecosystem approach that will make it possible to adapt management to rapid changes in the climate, environmental conditions and human activity. An approach of this kind is intended both to facilitate value creation through sustainable use and to maintain the high environmental value of the Arctic environment and its biodiversity.
This chapter discusses climate change in the Arctic and the specific challenges that need to be addressed in Norway’s most northerly waters and in Svalbard, where climate change is already altering environmental conditions and patterns of activity. The chapter also gives an account of Arctic cooperation on the climate and climate change, and the Government’s efforts to strengthen the knowledge base for climate change adaptation in the Arctic. Issues relating to mainland Norway and to Norway’s sea areas more generally are discussed in other chapters of the white paper.
9.1 Climate change in the Arctic
In recent decades, temperatures in the Arctic have been rising twice as fast as the global average. The annual mean temperature in the region is 2 °C higher than it was a hundred years ago, and data indicate that the summer temperatures are now higher than at any time during the past 2000 years.
The rising temperatures are causing rapid, far-reaching changes to the physical environment in the Arctic. The transition to an ice-free Arctic Ocean appears to be occurring much faster than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projected in its Fourth Assessment Report in 2007. The summer sea ice cover has been reduced by about a third in recent years compared with the average for the normal period 1979–2000. In September 2012, the extent of the sea ice reached the lowest level since measurements started, and was 48 % under the average for the period 1979–2000. The extent and duration of snow coverage have also decreased significantly. The estimated annual loss of mass from the Greenland ice sheet has quadrupled since 2000, and the loss of mass from other ice caps and glaciers in the Arctic is also increasing sharply.
The Svalbard archipelago has also experienced rapidly rising temperatures, combined with a rise in precipitation. Since the mid-1960s, the average temperature in Longyearbyen has risen by 0.9 °C per decade. The extent of the sea ice has been showing a clear downward trend both in the Barents Sea and in the Fram Strait between Svalbard and Greenland since satellite monitoring began in 1979. Svalbard’s glaciers are also retreating rapidly and their mass balance is negative. In addition, the temperature of the permafrost is rising.
Because of polar amplification, it is expected that temperatures in the Arctic will continue to rise twice as fast as the global average. The estimated rate of temperature rise in Svalbard and the northern Barents Sea is far higher than for areas further south. There are also considerable smaller-scale variations. For Svalbard, the projected rise in mean air temperature ranges from about 3 °C in the southwestern part of the archipelago to 8 °C in the northeastern part towards the end of the present century. For the sea, the projected temperature rises are more moderate: sea temperature in the northern Barents Sea is projected to rise by 2–3 °C. It is very uncertain how fast the Arctic sea ice will retreat, but both modelling results and the rapid reduction in the area and volume of the ice indicate that the Arctic seas may be almost ice-free in summer by the middle of this century. Melting of the Greenland ice sheet and other ice caps and glaciers is expected to accelerate, but it is uncertain just how rapid the process will be. The thawing of permafrost and the reduction in snow coverage are also expected to continue, and ocean circulation and weather patterns may change considerably.
Future climate change in the Arctic will depend on processes such as melting of sea ice and land ice, and changes in ocean currents and atmospheric circulation, which govern the transport of heat from further south. Some of these processes involve positive feedback loops, which can cause changes to accelerate. Sea ice melt and the release of methane (a greenhouse gas) from melting permafrost are the best known of these feedback mechanisms. Other mechanisms, such as changes in cloud cover as the areas of open sea become larger, and cooling of the surface water as a result of faster melting of the Greenland ice sheet, may moderate the warming process. Many of these mechanisms are difficult to incorporate into climate models, which adds to the uncertainty of climate projections for this region. Climate change in the Arctic and the processes governing it also have major implications for climate change and sea level rise at global level, which adds to the uncertainty of projections of future global change.
9.2 Impacts and adaptation needs
Impacts on the Arctic environment
The rapid temperature rise in the Arctic is expected to intensify many of the same types of impacts that are expected to become apparent further south. Many species and habitats that are characteristic of the Arctic today are expected to have difficulties in adapting to climate change, both because of the rapid pace of change and because many species will be unable to move further north to find new areas of habitat with a suitable climate. Species and ecosystems associated with the sea ice are particularly vulnerable to climate change, and may disappear from larger and larger areas of the Arctic.
Rising temperatures will result in a northward shift in the distribution of species and habitats. The Arctic species and habitats found in the region now are expected to be gradually displaced by species and habitats that are currently found further south. The tundra areas north of the Arctic treeline are some of the terrestrial habitats that are expected to undergo the most dramatic changes.
Marine ecosystems will change as the sea temperature rises. Higher temperatures and the retreat of the sea ice will allow more southerly species to move into Arctic sea areas, and purely Arctic species will meet growing competition, greater predation pressure and a higher risk of disease and parasites. Coastal waters and continental shelf areas along the margins of the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free for longer and longer periods, which will be a serious threat to the drift ice ecosystem and the species it supports. Areas of suitable habitat for the polar bear, ringed seal, walrus, narwhal, little auk, ivory gull, polar cod and a number of other species that are part of the marginal ice zone ecosystem are expected to be greatly reduced. The distribution of commercially important fish species such as cod, haddock and capelin may change. Warmer water and a reduction in ice cover may result in larger quantities of phyto- and zooplankton, but there is no guarantee that fish and other animals will be able to make use of the greater availability of food.
On land, the Arctic treeline is expected to shift northwards and upwards, a trend that is already apparent today. In certain parts of the Arctic, the treeline is expected to move as much as 500 kilometres northwards in the course of this century. Within the same time frame, half of the current area of tundra in the Arctic may be replaced by forest and scrub, which would entail major changes in species diversity.
Since Arctic land areas border on the Arctic Ocean in the north, some Arctic species and ecosystems may disappear completely in the longer term, or become restricted to isolated Arctic islands north of the mainland. Animals and plants on isolated islands are particularly vulnerable because it is more difficult for them to shift northwards to stay in the same climate zone as the temperature rises. At present, the sea ice functions as a bridge that animals can follow between Arctic islands or between islands and the mainland. As the ice disappears, more or less continuous populations of species such as the Arctic fox, reindeer and polar bear may be split into much more isolated and therefore more vulnerable populations. This could make isolated Arctic archipelagos such as Svalbard even more important in future conservation strategies, but could also make conservation efforts more challenging.
Changes in snow cover will have impacts on soils, vegetation and the fauna. Some migratory species in the Arctic, such as geese, many benefit when the snow melts earlier in spring. On the other hand, if increasing amounts of winter rain result in more frequent formation of a hard ice crust, this may have serious impacts on animals such as reindeer that are dependent on digging through the snow to find food in winter. This phenomenon is already being observed more frequently in Svalbard and elsewhere in the Arctic.
If climate change is already putting pressure on species, for example through habitat loss or poorer food supplies, they will be less resilient to other pressures, both external pressures such as long-range pollutants, UV radiation and ocean acidification, and those caused by local activities, such as harvesting, local pollution, land development and disturbance. Climate change may also intensify other pressures, either directly or indirectly. The declining sea ice cover is making marine and coastal waters in the Arctic more accessible for fisheries, maritime transport, cruise ships and oil and gas activities. In certain areas, a reduction in ice cover may make it easier to start mining activities and extract minerals. The increase in activity levels may lead to more harvesting, infrastructure development, habitat loss and fragmentation, the spread of invasive alien species, disturbance of the fauna, and pollution and the risk of pollution. It is therefore essential to set limits for activities in the Arctic that will keep the risk level and cumulative environmental effects on species and ecosystems within reasonable bounds.
The speed of climate change in the Arctic highlights the need for an ecosystem-based approach to management of the Arctic environment. This will make it possible to adapt the management regime and environmental standards to rapid changes in the climate, environmental conditions and human activity. An approach of this kind is intended both to facilitate value creation through sustainable use and to maintain the high environmental value of the Arctic environment and its biodiversity.
In the Government’s view, the integrated management plans for the Barents Sea–Lofoten area and the Norwegian Sea will be very important tools for overall adaptation of the framework for activities in Arctic seas to changes in the climate, environmental conditions and patterns of activity. The management plans are already contributing to an integrated, resilient management regime that incorporates climate change considerations. A range of measures to protect particularly valuable areas and reduce pressure on the environment and the risk of accidents and pollution have already been adopted within the framework of the management plans, in response to the observed and expected increase in the level of activity in our northern seas.
Human activity in northern sea areas is expected to increase in future, and it is uncertain what cumulative environmental effects we can expect on ecosystems as a result of activities in various sectors, climate change and ocean acidification. The pace of climate change and ocean acidification is higher than previously expected. This may result in more marked cumulative environmental effects in the years ahead, and means that it is important to introduce management measures that increase the resilience of ecosystems. Any pressure on an ecosystem must be assessed on the basis of the cumulative environmental effects on the ecosystem now or in the future, taking into account the structure and functioning of the ecosystem. This principle applies in the Arctic as well. Cumulative effects must be assessed for each ecosystem component, for species and habitats, and for the ecosystem as a whole. The principle that cumulative effects on the ecosystem must be assessed underlies the management plans for Norwegian sea areas, the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act and the Nature Diversity Act. The Marine Resources Act takes the cumulative environmental effects of utilisation of living marine resources into account, and requires the authorities to ensure that they are managed sustainably.
9.3 Adapting nature management in Svalbard to climate change
Climate change will pose considerable challenges for nature management in Svalbard: it will have major impacts on the species, ecosystems and landscapes Norway is seeking to protect, and may result in more traffic and pressure on the islands from various types of activities. The distribution of species will change. Areas that have been important for ice-dependent species may lose their value as habitats, while other areas become more important. Thus, the distribution of species and ecosystems in space and time will be constantly changing, as will their vulnerability to local activity, and the authorities need mechanisms that make it possible to adapt the management regime to this situation.
The comprehensive protection regime and strict environmental rules set out in the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act and regulations under the Act are a good starting point, because intact ecosystems in themselves make nature more resilient to the impacts of climate change. It is therefore important to maintain the current protection regime. A management regime clearly cannot prevent loss of ice cover and rapidly rising temperatures from altering the physical conditions and species’ habitats. But it can help to ensure that the changing climate and the possibility that species and habitats will become more vulnerable are taken into account in local activities.
Important measures have already been introduced in Svalbard in response to the decline in the extent of the sea ice, which has made some areas more accessible and exposed vulnerable species and habitats to more traffic and human activity. To reduce the risk of a shipwreck or grounding causing serious pollution or the loss of human life, ships sailing within the protected areas of Svalbard (which cover most of the territorial waters) are now prohibited from carrying heavy bunker oil, and cruise ships that call in the nature reserves in the eastern part of Svalbard may not carry more than 200 passengers. In addition, compulsory pilotage is being introduced, and charting of the waters around Svalbard is being improved. Climate change adaptation is one of the elements of the management plans that are being drawn up for the protected areas in Svalbard. The protected areas cover 65 % of the land area of the islands and 87 % of the territorial waters. Management plans for these areas will therefore be an important tool for adapting the management regime to a changing climate. Climate change is expected to make it easier for alien species to survive and spread in Svalbard. An action plan to prevent the introduction and spread of invasive alien species in Svalbard is being drawn up.
In the same way as in mainland Norway, it will be necessary to strengthen instruments to safeguard threatened species and habitats that may come under increasing pressure as a result of climate change. This applies especially to species that are heavily dependent on ice-covered areas of sea, such as the polar bear and Arctic seals, since their distribution may change considerably and become much more restricted. Another factor it may be necessary to consider is the increasing isolation and consequent vulnerability of some species and populations as the loss of sea ice weakens links between the Svalbard islands and between Svalbard and Arctic islands and mainland areas further east. These considerations must be incorporated into species and habitat management in Svalbard.
Most animal species in Svalbard are protected, but limited hunting and trapping is permitted. Game species include reindeer, Arctic fox, ptarmigan and certain seabird species. It may be necessary to adjust quotas and hunting seasons to take account of the vulnerability of these species to climate change.
Extensive research, monitoring and mapping of species and ecosystems in Svalbard is in progress, and results are reported through the environmental monitoring programme for Svalbard and Jan Mayen (MOSJ), which includes several indicators of impacts of climate change in Svalbard. The monitoring programme needs to be further developed so that changes can be identified at an early stage and the management regime can be adjusted as necessary. Knowledge of population trends for vulnerable species such as the polar bear is currently inadequate. To make it possible to implemented targeted measures, it is also important to identify areas that will become either more vulnerable or more important as habitats for vulnerable species as the climate changes.
9.4 Settlements and human activity in Svalbard: impacts of climate change and adaptation needs
In Svalbard, as in mainland Norway, climate change may increase the risk of landslides, avalanches and flooding, and result in more frequent and more severe extreme weather events, sea level rise and storm surges. Infrastructure such as roads, buildings and port facilities will be vulnerable to such climate-related events. Only about 2500 people are resident in Svalbard, and infrastructure is limited to a few areas, including the mines, that are not linked together by roads or power lines. Their isolation may make the settlements more vulnerable to climate-related events that disrupt critical infrastructure. Heavy rainfall in winter has already begun to occur more frequently in Svalbard, and in winter 2012 this resulted in a slush flow in Longyearbyen that damaged the road system. The active layer (the soil layer above the permafrost that thaws each summer) is becoming deeper and deeper, which makes the ground unstable and is a threat to buildings and other infrastructure. Coastal erosion may also become a growing problem for buildings and cultural heritage sites near the shoreline in Svalbard, since wave action will increase as sea ice is lost. See box 3.8 in Chapter 3.6 for more about climate change and Svalbard’s cultural heritage. The Governor of Svalbard is revising the risk and vulnerability analysis for Svalbard, which dates from 2009. The work is being carried out in close cooperation with Longyearbyen Local Administration and other members of the emergency planning council. Possible social consequences of climate change are an important element of this analysis, which is expected to be completed in spring 2013. Climate change considerations must also be incorporated into land-use and general planning processes in Svalbard. This work is in progress. During the most recent revision of the land-use plan for Longyearbyen, adaptation to changed conditions, including landslides, avalanches and flooding, was one of the topics that was highlighted. The guidelines on land-use planning under the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act are now to be revised, starting early in 2013, to include a detailed description of how climate change considerations are to be taken into account for the different land-use planning areas in Svalbard. Input on how this should be done should be obtained in close dialogue with relevant actors. Adaptation of land-use management in Svalbard to climate change will require enhanced expertise and knowledge. An important task for the Governor of Svalbard is to provide guidance for Longyearbyen Local Administration and other bodies responsible for planning in Svalbard. Staffing for planning and mapping functions at the Governor’s office has been strengthened in recent years.
Much of the infrastructure in Longyearbyen – roads, bridges, buildings – was constructed in the 1970s. Thawing of the permafrost makes the ground unstable and is a threat to buildings and other structures, and this combined with variable maintenance standards, an increase in the population and a generally higher activity level resulting in more wear and tear, means that Longyearbyen now has a maintenance backlog for important and critical infrastructure such as roads, electricity and heating infrastructure, and buildings. Climate-related events may put even more pressure on the already vulnerable critical infrastructure in the Arctic, creating a need for upgrading and adaptation.
Research and the travel and tourism industry are important sectors in Svalbard, and will be affected by climate change. Even today, the increasing length of periods without sea ice in summer is making areas more accessible to cruise ships. At the same time, an earlier spring thaw and a reduction in ice cover on the fjords has resulted in a shorter season for snowmobile-based tourism, and restricted the areas available for such activities. These trends are expected to continue. There will be less opportunity for visitors to observe ice-dependent species such as walruses, ringed seals and polar bears, and this may make some tourism products less attractive. On the other hand, new species that move into the area, such as whale species that are commonly seen further south today, may partly compensate for this. Svalbard also has other important qualities such as its wild landscapes and unspoiled nature, which are likely to make it an attractive destination even with a warmer climate. Thus the travel and tourism industry will have to adapt its activities to a situation in which many species are under stress as a result of climate change, which means that visitors will have to show special consideration, and certain areas will need to be shielded from disturbance and traffic to maintain their value as reference areas for climate research. The industry may also have to comply with new and stricter environmental standards.
Research in Svalbard is generating important knowledge that will be valuable for projections of future changes in the climate, ice cover and environmental conditions. This is key information for planning activities and climate change adaptation both within the region and in a wider context. Focusing on climate research in the Arctic, including Svalbard, is thus an essential part of climate change adaptation. However, climate change also affects research activities themselves, in a number of ways. Much of the research being carried out in Svalbard is climate related, and the opportunity to study climate change in the Arctic is one of the drivers behind the growing interest in research and teaching activities in the archipelago. The great socio-economic value attached to this research is influencing the willingness to invest in research infrastructure and carry out projects and field work in Svalbard. However, in the long term the retreat of the sea ice may considerably restrict opportunities for research on processes, ecosystems and species associated with the sea ice.
Svalbard and the protected areas of the archipelago are not much affected by local activity. This is an important factor, because it makes it possible to distinguish between the impacts of climate change and those of other pressures. The large nature reserves in eastern Svalbard are particularly valuable as undisturbed reference areas for research on the impacts of climate change on Arctic species and ecosystems, and it is important to manage these areas in a way that will maintain their intended function as reference areas. Research field work must, like tourism and fisheries activities, be adapted to an environment where many species are under stress as a result of climate change, and special caution and protection are needed.
The warmer climate and loss of sea ice are also resulting in changes in activity patterns in the waters around Svalbard. Fisheries activity has already increased. Cruise traffic has also grown considerably in recent decades, and activities have expanded to larger and larger parts of the archipelago, partly because the extent of the sea ice has declined. A continued increase in the volume of shipping, both cruise ships and fishing vessels, around Svalbard and in the northern part of the Barents Sea is to be expected. Such changes in activity patterns may make it necessary to upgrade fisheries inspection, maritime safety, oil spill preparedness and response, and search and rescue capacity in these waters. The Governor of Svalbard, the Norwegian Coastal Administration and the Norwegian Coast Guard may all need additional resources and capacity as a result.
Most of the Arctic has already been divided into search and rescue regions (SAR regions), but in certain areas the division of responsibility is unclear or inappropriate. Norway, Denmark (Greenland) and Russia have therefore agreed on a more suitable delimitation of our SAR regions. Norway’s SAR region has been extended, so that it now includes the area north of Svalbard and to the North Pole, and its border with the Russian SAR region has been moved slightly further east. This gives a natural division of responsibility between the various countries, and reflects their actual search and rescue capacity. In response to the increase in activity and the wider geographical area of responsibility, it has been decided that the Governor of Svalbard’s helicopter service is to be expanded from one large helicopter and one medium-sized helicopter to two large helicopters. In addition, a new search and rescue vessel of a suitable size for the new helicopters will be available from 2014. This will strengthen search and rescue capacity in Svalbard and nearby sea areas.
Since 2010, the Norwegian Space Centre has been running a project to test satellite technology to monitor maritime traffic in northern waters. Moreover, in 2009 the International Maritime Organization (IMO) introduced obligatory long-range identification and tracking of cargo and passenger ships at sea (LRIT), with global coverage. This means that Norway will from now on have access to better information on maritime activity in Arctic waters, which will also be valuable for search and rescue operations. From 1 July 2012, the Pilotage Act and associated regulations were made applicable to Svalbard. This means that the rules relating to the state pilotage service, compulsory pilotage and pilot exemption certificates also apply in the waters around Svalbard. Compulsory pilotage is being introduced gradually in the period 2012 to 2015. It has applied to coal vessels to and from the Svea mine since 2012, and from 2013 includes large passenger vessels (length 150 metres or more). From 2015, the rules for the waters around Svalbard will be the same as for mainland Norway, meaning that vessels of a length of 70 metres or more and passenger vessels of a length of 24 metres or more must use a pilot when sailing inside the baselines. Smaller size limits apply to vessels carrying dangerous cargo.
9.5 Climate change adaptation and Arctic cooperation
The Arctic states, particularly the five states that border on the Arctic Ocean, share important challenges and interests when it comes to addressing climate change and the higher level of human activity in the Arctic. This applies not least to environmental problems and the framework for activities in areas where use of natural resources and maritime transport will become possible as the melting ice makes them more accessible.
There is effective, binding international cooperation in the Arctic, which promotes environmental protection and sound resource management. Even though parts of the Arctic Ocean are covered by ice, the Law of the Sea applies fully in this region, as it does in other sea areas around the world. The international legal framework for all activity in the Arctic Ocean is set out in the Convention on the Law of the Sea, which clarifies questions relating to jurisdiction in the area, as well as rights and duties. Under the Law of the Sea the coastal states bordering the Arctic Ocean have special duties and rights in the area. The melting ice and expected increase in activity in the Arctic will make cooperation on the implementation of existing instruments and the development of supplementary rules in various areas essential. New regulatory measures are being developed to meet growing needs, within the framework of international law.
Although various actors may have differing, legitimate interests in the north, the Arctic is currently a peaceful region in which states display a willingness to cooperate and to resolve contentious issues in accordance with the principles of international law.
The Arctic Council is the most important arena for dealing with common challenges in the Arctic. It is the only political circumpolar cooperation forum at government level, and plays a leading role in generating and communicating knowledge about climate change in the Arctic. Environmental issues are a central part of its work, particularly assessments of environmental status, climate change, sustainable development and environmental protection as activity increases.
The Arctic Council has published a number of reports that synthesise and assess new knowledge on climate change in the Arctic. In 2011, reports presenting the results of the Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA) assessment were published, bringing together the latest knowledge about the changing state of the cryosphere. The Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program (CBMP) is building up a coordinated monitoring system with a strong focus on the impacts of climate change. The Arctic Biodiversity Assessment, a major review of the status and trends of Arctic biodiversity and projections for the future, will shortly be published. The impacts of climate change are one of the key topics in this review as well. The project Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change in the Arctic (VACCA), also under the Arctic Council, has conducted and published an initial scoping study.
Two recently started projects are intended to improve understanding of climate change in the Arctic and how climate change together with other drivers and pressures will change the natural environment and human society in the future.
Adaptation Actions for a Changing Arctic (AACA) is a Norwegian initiative that is intended to enable more informed and timely adaptation in a rapidly changing Arctic. It will develop a range of Arctic scenarios for the period up to 2050 as a basis for adaptation strategies and planning. It consists of three elements: identifying relevant information from existing reports and projects; identifying other relevant work on adaptation; and assessing models and scenarios that can improve projections of climate change and other factors of change in the Arctic. The work will be concluded in 2017.
The Arctic Resilience Report is a flagship project for the Swedish chairmanship of the Arctic Council. It is focusing on the risk of reaching tipping points beyond which there may be sudden shifts in Arctic ecosystems and communities, and on resilience to such shifts. Norway is represented on the steering committee and is taking part at expert level. The project is to be concluded in 2015.
Ecosystem-based management of Arctic seas is a priority cooperation topic for the Arctic Council, and is also an important approach in climate change adaptation. The Ecosystem Approach Expert Group is co-chaired by Norway. So far, it has focused on discussing concepts and terminology for ecosystem-based management, and on mapping different marine ecosystems in the Arctic. The expert group will recommend guidelines for ecosystem-based management to the ministerial meeting in 2013. The Arctic Council is also surveying areas of particular ecological and cultural value in the Arctic. The results will be used as a basis for assessing whether any of these areas will need special protection when the volume of shipping in the Arctic rises. The application of ecosystem-based management is also one of the basic principles that is to be followed in developing a revised Arctic Council Arctic Marine Strategic Plan, which is scheduled to be ready for the 2015 ministerial meeting.
Specific cooperation agreements are also being negotiated under the Arctic Council to address the challenges posed by the increase in traffic and activity in Arctic waters. The Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic, which was signed during the ministerial meeting in Nuuk in 2011, was the first legally binding agreement to be negotiated under the auspices of the Arctic Council. During the Nuuk ministerial, the foreign ministers also decided to establish a task force co-chaired by Norway, the US and Russia to develop an international instrument on Arctic marine oil pollution preparedness and response. The purpose of the initiative is to simplify procedures for international assistance in the event of acute pollution in the Arctic. Negotiations on the instrument have been finalised, and will according to plan be signed at the foreign minister meeting of the Arctic Council in spring 2013. The agreement should make it easier for Norway to draw on relevant emergency resources in the event of serious oil spills in our waters.
The IMO is working on the development of a Polar Code of rules for ships operating in polar waters. This will set out specific requirements for vessels and crews operating in these waters, including ship design, equipment, operations, environmental protection and damage limitation. Norway considers it important to ensure that ship design and equipment are suitable for operations in polar waters and that environmental considerations are taken properly into account.
Climate change in the Arctic and the High North is also on the agenda of the Barents cooperation and Norway’s bilateral cooperation with Russia. Cooperation on ecosystem-based management and joint environmental monitoring arrangements are important topics in environmental cooperation between Norway and Russia. As part of the environmental cooperation in the Barents region, a climate change action plan is being drawn up, in which adaptation will be an important element. This work is being chaired by Norway, and the plan is scheduled to be adopted in the course of 2013.
The Government will seek to ensure that cooperation in the Arctic Council and other international cooperation in the High North results in a joint knowledge base for climate change adaptation and ecosystem-based management in the Arctic.
9.6 Knowledge and competence building
The rapid changes in the climate and environmental conditions in the Arctic make great demands on people’s knowledge and understanding of climate change and its impacts. Such knowledge is an essential basis for management and planning in the Arctic, a region where activity levels are rising rapidly. In addition, knowledge about climate change in the region is important because changes in the climate system in the Arctic have major implications for global climate change and for sea level rise.
Norwegian institutions have for many years been involved in research and monitoring relating to climate change in the Arctic and its impacts. For example, the Norwegian Polar Institute, the Norwegian Meteorological Institute and the Institute of Marine Research run research and national monitoring programmes that cover land, the sea ice, the atmosphere and the oceans. The Polar Institute’s research activities are designed to improve the knowledge base in fields where the environmental authorities have direct management responsibilities in the polar regions. The main priorities are climate change, ocean acidification, hazardous substances and biodiversity. Climate research is coordinated by the Polar Institute’s Centre for Ice, Climate and Ecosystems (ICE). The Centre’s activities include studies of the physical processes that control the behaviour of the Arctic sea ice. Another priority is research on Arctic ecosystems, focusing on indigenous ice-associated species, which are some of the species that are most seriously threatened by future climate change. There is also extensive research on the Antarctic climate and the impacts that climate change in Antarctica may have on the rest of the world. The Polar Institute is also responsible for and runs the environmental monitoring programme MOSJ, which collects and processes data from the atmosphere, land and sea areas around Svalbard and Jan Mayen.
The Institute of Marine Research also runs extensive research and monitoring activities and provides advice relating to the impacts of climate change on the marine ecosystem. In the present context, research in the northern Barents Sea and the waters west and north of Svalbard on biodiversity, alien species, the northward shift in distribution of commercial and other species, changes in the plankton and benthic communities, changes in biological production (phyto- and zooplankton, fish, seals and whales) and changes in the resilience of the ecosystem to environmental pressures and stress is particularly relevant. Such comprehensive studies are made possible by the annual joint Norwegian/Russian ecosystem surveys, which look at the entire ecosystem «from physics to whales».
Climate and environmental research in the North has been considerably strengthened by the establishment of the Fram Centre (the High North Research Centre for Climate and the Environment), which opened in Tromsø in 2010. This is an umbrella organisation, under which 20 Norwegian institutions, including the Institute of Marine Research and the Norwegian Polar Institute, are cooperating to generate new knowledge.
At the Fram Centre, research is being carried out on climate change and how it affects all elements of Arctic ecosystems. One key research topic is how indigenous peoples and local communities can adapt as quickly and as effectively as possible to climate change in order to maintain their way of life and income base, and thus their local communities and indigenous culture.
The Fram Centre is also preparing to launch an observatory for the ecological impacts of climate change on the Arctic tundra, known as KOAT. The plan is for observations to be carried out in two areas – on the Varanger peninsula in the far northeast of mainland Norway (in the subarctic zone), and in Svalbard (in the arctic zone). The purpose is to build up knowledge of climate-related changes that are relevant to the management of these ecosystems.
Other research at the Fram Centre is looking into how climate change affects the spread of hazardous substances and studying the negative impacts of such pollutants on health and the environment.
Ocean acidification in Arctic waters is another important research topic at the Centre. The impacts on ecosystems are being studied to provide a basis for estimating the economic consequences as regards marine resources. One project, a scoping study called «The Economics of Ocean Acidification», is a first step towards a multidisciplinary approach, which will provide a more integrated understanding of ocean acidification and related adaptation needs.
Changes in the climate and marine environment will result in new patterns of use of the Arctic that require new knowledge and innovative technology. Researchers are looking at the future of the Arctic and at economic and political aspects of change. There are also shipping-related projects on topics such as traffic statistics, transport corridors, regulation of Arctic shipping and the detection, effects and clean-up of oil spills in ice-covered waters.
Climate change will open up opportunities for more commercial activity in the High North and the Arctic. This applies particularly to oil and gas activity and maritime transport, but mining operations may also be expanded as areas become more easily accessible and demand grows. The impacts of developments, disturbance, pollution and waste will depend on the scale of such activities, their geographical distribution and what environmental standards are imposed.
At national level, a number of initiatives have been taken to build up competence and knowledge with a view to promoting more commercial activity in the north. The Government intends to strengthen knowledge about climate change and the environmental impacts of increasing activity in the Arctic and the High North. Knowledge is important for the development of management strategies that can limit negative environmental impacts and ensure that new commercial activities are carried out within environmentally sound limits. This will be an essential element of an integrated approach to developments in the High North. An initiative has been taken to develop a framework for the environmental impacts of increasing activity in the Arctic and the High North as a new priority research area for the Fram Centre in the course of 2013.
The High North and the Arctic are an integral part of Norway’s national climate-related monitoring programmes. Norway collects large amounts of data through field work in Svalbard and research cruises in the surrounding Arctic waters, in the Fram Strait and in the Barents Sea. Concentrations of about 30 different greenhouse gases and ozone-depleting substances are monitored from the Zeppelin Observatory in Ny-Ålesund in Svalbard. Ocean acidification is being measured at different times of year in Norwegian waters, among other things along a transect from Tromsø to Longyearbyen. The monitoring programmes make it possible to measure climate change in the Arctic and to predict future changes and impacts that may entail a need for adaptation.
A great deal of work is also being done in connection with the management plans for the Barents Sea–Lofoten area and the Norwegian Sea to collect and collate information that can provide a better basis for ecosystem-based management of Norway’s northern sea areas. Much of the knowledge generated is also important for adaptation of the management regime to a changing climate and to the resulting increase in activity. The knowledge base for management of Svalbard’s natural environment is being developed and tailored to the needs of the authorities. A key element of this work is obtaining and tailoring the knowledge needed as a basis for management plans for the large protected areas in Svalbard. Much of the work focuses on the impacts of climate change, and is providing the authorities with better knowledge of how climate change considerations can be incorporated into their work.