Historical archive

The High North - top of the world - top of the EU agenda?

Historical archive

Published under: Stoltenberg's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Institute of European Affairs, Dublin

- The question I have been asked to discuss – Are the European countries sufficiently aware of the developments in the High North? – is important and highly relevant. The short answer is “yes – and no”. “Yes” in terms of the general awareness of energy supply issues, but “no” if in terms of the full range of issues, opportunities and challenges the High North represents, for the whole of Europe, Minister of Foreign Affairs said in his speech in Dublin 18 September. (18.09.06)

Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas Gahr Støre

The High North - top of the world - top of the EU agenda?

Institute of European Affairs, Dublin 18 September, 2006

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Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you, Mr Dukes, Director General of the Institute, for your words of welcome.

I am delighted to be here in Dublin – a historic city, with roots for us Norwegians that go back to the not-so-peaceful Viking Age when global travellers from the North arrived in longboats.

We tend to assume that we live at the height of globalisation – and measured in scope and depth that may be true. But the Viking age was indeed also an age of globalisation – where distances shrunk and cultures spread by new communication technology – the longboats.

Dublin has long been a cultural metropolis, a transatlantic melting pot, and a long-standing connection point between our two nations.

Personally, Ireland gives me particularly good vibrations since my wife and I came here for our honeymoon 18 years ago – and it has proved an excellent setting for anchoring a lasting relationship.

In Ireland today, there are more than 250 Norwegians, who have come here to study – medicine in particular – and the number is increasing. They are cultural bridge-builders and when they return to Norway, they become ambassadors for Ireland. I have first hand experience – as two of my brothers-in-law and one nephew studied medicine here in Dublin. Ireland has excellent schools and universities – your country is helping to develop our young talents.

This year we mark the centenary of the death of Henrik Ibsen. And we recall that more than a hundred years ago, it was Irish authors and intellectuals, like James Joyce, George Bernhard Shaw and Oscar Wilde, who introduced Henrik Ibsen’s plays to the English-speaking world. James Joyce even learnt Norwegian in order to be able to read Ibsen’s plays in the original language.

For me, Ireland today is a country with a strong, impressive brand. Not just as the home of St Patrick, the shamrock and long traditions of folk music, but also the voices of W.B. Yeats, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney – among others – and the voices, music, lyrics and political conscience of U2. Your world-famous band is an idol – of pop and rock – but also an idol of social responsibility – for my generation, for me, as it is for my sons.

And one of my sons has reminded me that Bono may have a hidden message to us politicians in one of his songs which goes like this: “. . .You’ve got to get yourself together / You’ve got stuck in a moment and now you can’t get out of it. . .”. Anyway...

The occasion for my visit is the state visit of Their Majesties King Harald and Queen Sonja, which testifies to the close, solid and friendly relations between our two countries.

The talks I have had confirm that we have a vital platform to build on further. We have many emerging joint opportunities.

One important area of emerging opportunities brings us together here today – and that is the main topic for my address – the High North of Europe – a Norwegian perspective.

I am honoured to address you here at the Institute of European Affairs (IEA). The question I have been asked to discuss – Are the European countries sufficiently aware of the developments in the High North? – is important and highly relevant.

The short answer is “yes – and no”. “Yes” in terms of the general awareness of energy supply issues, but “no” if in terms of the full range of issues, opportunities and challenges the High North represents, for the whole of Europe.

Before I give you the long answer, I would like to sum up the developments in the High North to date.

And I’ll start with some basic geography and history – but from a new perspective. Where on earth is the High North?

There is an old saying that where you stand depends on where you sit. Perspectives on geopolitics depend on the point of view we adopt for analysing the world and relations between states.

Maps influence the way we view the world. They challenge us to look at areas and opportunities from new perspectives. From a northern angle the planet earth looks quite different.

Have you ever noticed that most weather report maps on European TV channels cut Europe off at around the 60 th> parallel? They include the three Nordic capitals of Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki, but not much more of these countries.

Now, the area I am focusing is much further north – in fact it extends beyond the 70 th> parallel – a region that used to be known for its strategic, military significance, an area where conflicting political systems met.

I think it is important to point this out because for most Europeans the High North could be anything north of Oslo – or Newcastle or Edinburgh for that matter. In fact a German researcher once told me that when he first heard about the High North, he thought of Schleswig-Holstein!

No indeed, the High North covers the areas of the Arctic adjacent to Norway, the northernmost parts of Scandinavia and Russia, and the ocean areas to the north of these countries. It has an Arctic, a Nordic and indeed a European dimension.

As you can also see from this map, one third of mainland Norway lies north of the Arctic Circle. The Norwegian mainland reaches far into the Arctic Ocean. In fact in the Northeast Atlantic, Norway has jurisdiction over an area six times the size of mainland Norway.

Today, the High North is no longer just a cold and desolate wilderness – of interest only to weather-beaten fishermen, hunters and explorers who returned – if at all – only after spending months or years in this hostile environment.

It is no longer just an area of military interest either.

Firstly, it is an emerging European energy province.

Secondly, it is an arena for a new chapter in our cooperation with Russia.

Consequently – and thirdly – it will make an important contribution to wider European integration.

Last – but not least – the region is an early-warning zone for climate change.

Energy is key. Energy is in fact the dimension that is reintroducing the High North to the political scene.

As I speak, important decisions are being made on technology, environmental standards, resource management, and the routes and means of transport in this region.

As I speak, important decisions are being made on market destinations – whether the gas from this region should be sent to Europe, to the United States or both – by pipeline, by ship or both.

In other words, there are lots of opportunities – and challenges – in the northernmost part of Europe.

This is why the region has an important place on the Norwegian-Irish, the Norwegian-European and the transatlantic agenda.

I intend to draw your attention to these issues.

*****

Norway and Ireland have both experienced rapid economic development in a short time span.

For Norway, the transition from a relatively poor country on the periphery of Europe to one of the richest nations in the world took place during the course of a few decades in the 20 th> century. Our economic adventure is all about natural resources – fish, oil and gas, as well as timber and industries based on hydropower.

And it is about how we have organised our society. I believe that the way we developed the welfare state helped pave the way to prosperity and development. The way advantages were distributed fairly. The way the state invested in health and education for all. The way the state and the social partners engaged in charting a common vision for value creation, employment and welfare.

The riches from oil and gas cannot alone explain the state of today’s Norway. Had it not been for the social organisation – and our society’s social capital – oil and gas revenues could have taken us in the wrong direction – as has been the case in so many energy-rich countries.

From the outset, fisheries have played an important part in the Norwegian economy, and have been the mainstay of its exports for centuries.

They are still important, but it was the oil that was found on the Norwegian continental shelf in the late 1960s that opened a new chapter for the development of our economy since then.

Today, there are 50 fields in production on the Norwegian continental shelf. In 2005 they produced 3 million barrels of oil per day and a total of 85 billion cubic metres of gas.

Now, Norway is the world’s third largest exporter of oil and gas, providing the EU countries with 15 per cent of their gas consumption. Norway provides Germany with 20 per cent of its oil and 25 per cent of its natural gas requirement. For France the figure is close to 30 per cent – that amounts to the heating of every third meal of the French cuisine.

Security of supply is now a major issue in European energy policies – and on the world’s agenda.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair raised the following question at Georgetown University in the US during a visit in May: “Which is the issue that has rocketed up the agenda of most political leaders in a way barely foreseen even three years back?” He answered his own question: “Energy policy”.

At a hearing in the US Senate in June, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Senator Richard Lugar said that “important foreign policy goals [...] are being undermined by international energy imbalances”. And he went on to suggest that this trend has weakened US foreign policy leverage.

Taoiseach Mr Bertie Ahern, said in a speech back in April [27 April, at the Engineers of Ireland Annual Conference]: “In order to fully meet the challenge now before us, I believe we have to be prepared to take a long-term view. We must be willing to explore and adopt innovative, 'out-of-the-box' measures and pool our expertise and resources, particularly in areas such as research into new or better fuel options and improving energy efficiency. We must do this in the context of a more joined up approach to reviewing current Climate Change and Energy Policy.”

I could not agree more.

Given Ireland’s dependency on oil imports, and its situation at the outer edge of the European gas grid, this is obviously a crucial issue.

Last year, Norway exported petroleum products to Ireland worth more than 1 billion euro. Some Norwegian gas also finds its way to Ireland via the gas interconnection with the UK market.

In a month’s time – on 16 October – a new gas pipeline from the Norwegian shelf to the UK – the Langeled pipeline – will be officially opened. This will increase the UK’s import of Norwegian gas considerably – indeed it is estimated that 20 per cent of British gas consumption will be met by Norwegian gas by 2007.

I would not be surprised if some of this reached Ireland as well.

The Norwegian oil adventure started in the south of the North Sea, and has been moving north over the years. Today, we are developing the Barents Sea as a petroleum province.

However, the Barents Sea is also Europe’s most important fishing grounds and 60 per cent of the fish from these waters end up on European tables. In fact, Norwegian waters provide as much cod as the EU countries catch themselves.

Norway’s economic success depends to a large extent on exploitation of natural resources. But this has not been achieved without an effort. Active steps have been taken all the way: to manage the resources in a sustainable manner, to create industrial and societal spin-off effects, and to maximise value creation.

*****

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today, developing our relations with Russia is a cornerstone of our High North policy.

In the past, our management of this bilateral relationship in a proper and stable manner has made a real contribution to peace and stability in Northern Europe. We see this as an important task also in the future.

Norway and Russia have lived in peace for one thousand years. Now that the Cold War has ended, we are rediscovering patterns of trade and exchange that date back many centuries.

Our common border has been reopened. The figures tell their own stories. In 1990, around 3000 people crossed the border in the north. Last year the number climbed above 100 000! Students, businessmen and -women, construction workers, fishermen, tourists, artists, etc. Previous ties have been re-established and re-strengthened. New ties are developing. This is very positive.

There are active contacts on official level and on grassroots level, people-to-people. In the border town of Kirkenes you hear Russian spoken on the street and the signs, advertisements and restaurant menus are written in both Norwegian and Russian.

The visionary project of the Euro-Arctic Barents Cooperation – launched in 1993 – integrates Russia into a close regional scheme of cooperation with its Nordic neighbours. It is part of a broader effort to link Russia more closely into European and Western cooperation structures, on different levels, and in many areas – health, education, environment, culture, etc.

The High North, including the Barents Sea, remains, however, an area of prime strategic importance. Still, the Kola Peninsula is the home base of the Northern Fleet, which carries a major part of Russia’s nuclear deterrent.

Our task – our challenge – today is to keep all this in mind while continuing to move forward – developing a new kind of relationship built on joint opportunities, improving the management of living resources and, not least, pursuing what President Putin has called a strategic energy partnership between Norway and Russia.

Norway, Ireland and other European countries need Russia just as much as Russia needs us. We must not isolate Russia.

This does not mean, however, that we will close our eyes to worrying developments in Russia, such as corruption, and increasing political control of strategic economic sectors, the media, NGOs and civil society.

These issues are part of our frank and open dialogue – a testament to the solid relations we have built.

One of my main messages is this: the traditional security concept has changed. It is not the geographical map that has changed, but how we view that very map. What we need to face today, is how to deal with the concept – I mean the challenge – of energy security – and the broader challenge of sustainable resource management, climate change and environmental protection.

The sense of insecurity about energy supplies throughout the world is obvious and understandable – as I can also see from the papers and discussions on your website. Consumption is increasing and the vulnerability of energy-consuming countries has been exposed. Political instability in a number of petroleum-producing regions has exacerbated these uncertainties.

Security of supply is a major issue in the debate on the EU’s energy policy.

The Commission’s recent green paper on sustainable, competitive and secure energy sets out very clearly the challenges Europe is facing. Now the debate has started on how these challenges should be addressed. We are prepared to contribute actively to these discussions – we have in fact been invited to do so by the Commission.

The increased demand for energy must be met by developing renewable resources and increasing energy efficiency.

Ireland has a good track record in this field. Norway, too, pursues an active policy of developing renewable energy sources. It is our ambition to give an even higher priority to this area.

However, oil and gas will remain the main energy source for many decades. Therefore, we still need to increase hydrocarbon production – while reducing carbon dioxide emissions – and while developing even safer and cleaner ways of utilising fossil energy. The promising fact is that all of this is possible.

As a major producer of oil and natural gas, Norway is producing to the maximum of its capacity.

We are investing in new research and development efforts with a view to extracting more from existing fields.

We are exploring new parts of our waters – in the North Sea and further to the north into the Barents Sea.

A conservative estimate indicates that so far Norway has produced one third of the petroleum resources in its continental shelf, and one third of these are is believed to be the Barents Sea.

The first field to become operational in the Barents Sea, the Snøhvit field, will start delivering liquefied natural gas – LNG – next year. New technological frontiers are being crossed every day in this project. The gas will be extracted by means of subsea installations only. There will be no platforms or ships on the surface.

This diminishes the risk of environmental damage in an area with rough and unpredictable weather. Moreover, it is safe for fishing vessels to overtrawl the subsea installations.

The same kind of subsea technology is being applied in the development of the Ormen Lange field in the Norwegian Sea, under similar conditions. This is the field that will provide the gas to be exported to the UK through the Langeled pipeline.

The technology developed for the Snøhvit and Ormen Lange fields is highly relevant for the offshore projects in the Russian part of the Barents Sea. Of particular interest are the plans for developing the gigantic Stockman field, 550 kilometres off the coast of Murmansk in north-western Russia.

To give you an idea of the dimensions involved, the gas from this field could meet Germany’s gas consumption for the next 25 years. Norwegian companies are among the candidates to become Gazprom’s partners in this project.

Both the Snøhvit and Stockman fields are LNG projects. LNG technology makes it possible to transport natural gas independently of pipelines, making it a commodity that can be transported in a similar way to oil.

This gives us an idea of the extent of future gas markets.

To begin with, gas from the Barents Sea will be targeted at the US market. So far only a small number of LNG regasification facilities have been built in Europe, but this is sure to change. I understand that there are plans to build an LNG plant in the Shannon area, which will make Ireland a front runner in the new gas market.

If the Barents Sea gas resources meet our expectations, I am confident that LNG will be shipped from the High North to the EU countries – including Ireland, of course – in the future.

The energy chapter in the High North is just being opened. However, the continuation of the story requires long-term strategic planning.

We have known about the resources in the Barents Sea since the 1970s. The Snøhvit field was discovered in 1984, field development commenced in 2001, and production will start in 2007.

The planning of offshore petroleum production takes time and requires huge investments. They are complicated, technologically, economically, and politically. Yet the potential rewards are significant in an environment of high energy prices and growing demand.

We expect more resources to be discovered in the years to come, in both the Norwegian and the Russian parts of the Barents Sea.

We will pursue a policy that ensures they are developed and produced in an environmentally sound manner.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Until now, doing business and exporting goods from the rough waters of the Barents Sea has been all about fish. For centuries, people in the High North have lived from the fisheries. This will continue. It is our responsibility to ensure that it does.

The collapse of the cod stock off Canada’s east coast is a stark reminder of the importance of international cooperation in the management of living marine resources. When these fisheries were finally closed in 1993, the stock had dwindled to a small percentage of the level recorded in the early 1960s. It has since shown virtually no signs of recovery. Ireland has also experienced the effects of over-fishing.

Lessons must be learnt from this. We are determined to preserve the rich fish stocks of the Barents Sea. Norway and Russia cooperate on the management of the Northeast Arctic cod. So far we have succeeded in achieving sustainable management.

But we are under hard pressure from illegal fishing and the refusal to respect quotas. This makes it all the more necessary to maintain firm and predictable control both by the coastal states involved and by the port authorities where the fish is landed.

Together with Russia, we have recently launched an initiative for broad cooperation with European partners to fight illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing.

I am pleased that Ireland has responded positively and that the initiative is being discussed during this visit by the Norwegian and Irish ministers responsible for fisheries.

The guiding principle for developments in the High North must be to balance the interests of the different sectors. Commercial interests – be they fisheries, aquaculture, shipping or the petroleum industry – must be managed in a sustainable manner.

Of overall importance, now, is the well-being of our broader marine environment, an environment that knows no boundaries. As Norway’s sources of wealth clearly lie in or just beneath this marine environment, pollution of our waters is of the utmost concern.

For many years, one of the common causes of concern for the Irish and the Norwegian peoples has been the discharge of radioactive materials from the nuclear plant at Sellafield, which have polluted both the Irish Sea and large parts of our northern waters.

Technetium discharges have now ceased, but we – both Norway and the people of Ireland – are still concerned about the UK’s plans for resuming activities that may cause harmful releases in the future. We therefore will continue to urge the UK to take greater account of its neighbours’ interests in this matter.

We must ensure that human activities in the Barents Sea are conducted in accordance with the highest safety and environment standards. The balance of the marine ecosystem must not be threatened.

Norway is responsible for ensuring that the Barents area remains stable, secure and soundly managed – in the present and in the future – for traditional activities such as fisheries, and for new industries such as energy.

A key instrument in the management of the marine environment – for our part – is the Government’s integrated management plan for the Barents Sea-Lofoten area, which was adopted recently.

This plan is based on the principles of ecosystem-based management. This is quite new concept. I believe that these principles must be applied in order to safeguard the resources of the sea for future generations.

The point of departure is the conviction that human activity related to the sea must be managed in such a way that the ecosystems are not harmed. It is also a premise that different economic activities must be able to co-exist.

This means that fisheries, petroleum exploration and production, and sea transport must be balanced and managed in a sustainable way. This requires extensive knowledge about the sea and its ecosystems, and the plan is being followed up by major research programmes.

We also have good and constructive discussions with the Russian authorities about these issues. Our vision is for the highest standards to apply to the entire Barents Sea. Perhaps our new management plan could even become an export product.

Given the growing importance of the resources in the High North – both for Norway and for our partners – it is in the interest of us all to boost our knowledge about the region. Indeed, we can accept nothing less than state-of-the-art knowledge on all dimensions of management and all fields of activity as our yardstick.

And with this in view, we are currently developing research and development programmes on the High North in which a wide range of actors will be invited to participate, also from abroad.

In this context I have noted that scientific cooperation between Norway and Ireland has expanded in recent years – in particular in the fields of marine and veterinary sciences. The marine sciences, studying the long-term effects of environmental change, pollution and temperature change, are of special relevance for the developments in the High North. Research institutes in Norway and Ireland are working together to develop new and sophisticated remote sensing methods that will be valuable in this respect.

There is, however, scope for expanded cooperation in this field. I hope the occasion of the state visit, which is bringing together experts from both countries at conferences at University College Dublin and the National Maritime College of Ireland (in Ringaskiddy), will inspire our scientists and students to work even more closely together in the years to come.

*****

This also applies for the final topic I will touch on – climate change.

We must be clear about one thing in this matter: the time for asking the “if” question has passed.

We are now facing the “how-to-respond” questions.

We know that climate change will affect industries, infrastructure, transport and other vital areas of human life.

Changes in the Arctic climate are critical because they indicate what is about to happen in the rest of the world.

And changes are taking place now. The Arctic ice is melting. We are seeing it with our own eyes.

When ice melts, darker land is laid bare and heat absorption increases. So does global warming. Polar bears are already seriously threatened as a result of both melting ice and increasing levels of pollutants that originate far away.

These early – or perhaps not so early – warning signals to the rest of the world should spur dedicated efforts by decision shapers and decision makers from all walks of life – at national, regional and global levels.

We urgently need a truly global regime to curb emissions of greenhouse gases.

We must step up our efforts to adapt to the climate change that is already a fact.

We must take action in the High North.

And we must help vulnerable developing countries that do not have the resources to adapt.

As an energy producing country – and an Arctic nation – we take the warning signals very seriously. Climate and environmental policy is therefore treated as an integrated dimension of Norway’s energy policy.

In October, Norway takes over from Russia as chair of the Arctic Council. The council is an important arena for discussing environmental issues and the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment has boosted understanding of climate change.

Major Arctic nations like the US, Russia, and Canada are involved in the council, in addition to Norway and the other Nordic countries. The council is an important platform for responding to the challenges of climate change, and we will therefore strive to strengthen it.

Norway’s chairmanship of the Arctic Council will partly coincide with the International Polar Year 2007-2008 – an important opportunity to step up international research cooperation in the Arctic and in the Antarctic.

*****

So, returning to the question of Europe’s awareness of the issues of the High North.

Is the High North at top of the European agenda? No.

But some important related issues are: energy security, resource management, and climate change.

The High North could provide answers to some of the fundamental questions, as set out in the EU Commission’s green paper on sustainable, competitive and secure energy.

I have been putting the High North on the agenda of all my talks with colleagues, partners and experts in Brussels and other European capitals for some time.

It was, indeed, one of the topics of my meeting with Taoiseach Mr Bertie Ahern an hour ago.

And we shall continue to put the High North on the political agenda in Europe and elsewhere.

This is a common agenda for Europe. Norway is not a member of the EU. By a slight majority Norwegians voted no in 1972 – a vote that was reconfirmed in 1994. But we are intimately associated with the EU and its member states – by being a member of the Internal Market through the European Economic Area Agreement – and by scores of links and agreements and relations among companies, organisations and people.

We share Europe’s future – its environmental fate and its security.

So, these are three keywords that summarise Norway’s High North policy:

Presence, activity and knowledge:

  • Presence in the new chapters that will be written about the exploitation of both renewable and non-renewable natural resources in the High North.
  • Presence as a coastal state that takes its responsibilities seriously, including carrying out inspection and control activities in an appropriate way in the zones under its jurisdiction. And
  • A high level of activity and ambition in the fields of technology, research and the environment. And, therefore:
  • Investment in knowledge and the sharing of knowledge. We can allow ourselves no lesser ambition than being at the forefront of High North and Arctic knowledge.

Norway is reaching out to Ireland, to neighbours, friends and partners, at both sides of the Atlantic, to realise the opportunities and face the challenges in the High North.

To realise that the High North is

  • a frontier for meeting our energy needs,
  • a frontier for addressing climate change and environmental impacts, and
  • a frontier for creative interaction between the nations and peoples of the North.

The traditional security concept has changed and we are facing new challenges together, in a spirit of European and global solidarity. The modern world is after all one of interdependence.

I have talked about the waters, the energy resources, the food resources, the climate and other “things” we share. I would like to end almost where I started, with another important common denominator – the arts, the letters, and literature.

Tomorrow, Norwegian and Irish Ibsen scholars will meet to discuss the “Irish Ibsen” at Trinity College. Meanwhile, Professor Tore Rem from Oslo – who is participating tomorrow – has just published his book on Henry Gibson, as our great playwright was first known in Great Britain and Ireland.

And I will end my speech with some words of George Bernhard Shaw, which Professor Rem quotes, “The impact of Ibsen just about equals the impact of three revolutions, six crusades, a couple of foreign invasions and an earthquake”.

Ibsen wanted to change the world in his time. Bono wants to change the world today. I do not want to draw the comparison any further.

Thank you.