Speech at the Royal Geographical Society

London, 28. november 2013

- The goal is to seize the opportunities while at the same time ensuring sustainable management of the natural environment and resources in the Arctic, sa utenriksminister Børge Brende i sitt foredrag på Royal Geographical Society i London.

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The Arctic. Major opportunities – major responsibilities

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me to speak here at the Royal Geographical Society. A most suitable place for a discussion about major opportunities and responsibilities in the Arctic. In fact, here we have discussed polar issues, our common interest and concerns for more than 100 years.

The Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen chose the Royal Geographical Society for his first talk after the famous expedition to the South Pole in 1911. His remarks were followed by comments by his British friend and colleague, the great polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Roald Amundsen was a frequent guest of the Royal Geographical Society, and so was another of our famous explorers, Fridtjof Nansen. Nansen was, as you may know, also Norway’s first ambassador to London following our country’s independence in 1905.

I am happy to note that cooperation between British and Norwegian polar explorers and scientists, both in the Arctic and in Antarctica, is not a thing of the past. The ties are still strong, and I believe they will remain so, since we face many of the many of the same challenges and opportunities in the future.

Two years ago we signed a Memorandum of Understanding that paved the way for even closer cooperation. Lately the UK and Norway have intensified their dialogue on Arctic Affairs. And in 2015 representatives of the British Antarctic Survey will join representatives of the Norwegian Polar Institute on the research vessel Lance to drift with the Arctic ice during the winter season.

The UK and Norway continue to work together in the Arctic and on Arctic issues. The key word is cooperation – not competition.

The Arctic – a new geopolitical hotspot
The Arctic is often perceived as a remote, barren area. But that is not the whole story by any means.

While the various parts of the Arctic have a lot in common, there are also great differences across the region. Differences in climate, economy and living conditions.

The Arctic is not a homogenous region. There is not one Arctic. There are many Arctics.

The Norwegian part of the Arctic is different from that of Greenland and Alaska due to the mild Gulf Stream

In the Norwegian High North we have a diversified economy. The relatively warm climate has allowed us to build up expertise in business development and resource management over a longer period of time than has been possible in most other parts of the Arctic region.

The Arctic is home to 10% of Norway’s population.

One third of our land area is north of the Arctic Circle.

So are 80 % of our sea areas.

For many people in Norway, life in the Arctic is everyday life

For them, exploring the opportunities means acting responsibly.

In the long run that is what pays off. 

Today we see great interest from non-Arctic actors, both in Europe and in Asia, who want to take part in the development of the Arctic region as it becomes more accessible.

Even with such great interest from many actors, there is a high degree of consensus at these high latitudes.

There is no race for the Arctic.

The Arctic Council is the most important arena for discussing the common challenges. It’s important that the observer states – both old and new – contribute to this work and that the engagement is on the Arctic countries’ terms. The observers play an important role by bringing their expertise to the Arctic Council’s working groups.

The Arctic is not Antarctica. The Arctic is an ocean surrounded by nation states as opposed to a continent surrounded by sea. The United Nations Law of the Sea applies.

There are few unresolved jurisdiction issues in the Arctic. And there is agreement and a will to solve disagreements. In sum: The Arctic is a peaceful region at the top of the world.


Alarming rate of climate change
The defining issue with regard to the future development in the Arctic is climate change

 
It determines the access to resources and transport routes.

A melting Arctic has global implications:

It increases global warming, accelerates sea level rise and could change weather patterns throughout the northern hemisphere.

The only responsible way to approach Arctic climate change is to try to limit it by effectively reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

We must speed up our mitigation efforts and strive to reach a global climate agreement at the Paris summit in 2015 that puts us on track for achieving the two degree target.     

An average global temperature rise of two degrees Celsius means a temperature rise of four degrees in the Arctic.

It is in the Arctic that we will see the physical changes first. Changes that will have serious consequences for the whole world.  

The Arctic is a barometer of global climate change. Research in the polar regions is therefore crucial for understanding changes that are taking place in other parts of the world. 

This is why Norway has invested heavily in research capacity on Svalbard.

The research community in Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard, offers a unique opportunity for international scientific cooperation in the Arctic.

Norway and the UK have enjoyed close cooperation on polar research for more than a hundred years. British scientists are in the Norwegian Arctic as we speak, at NERC’s research station in Ny-Ålesund.

Of course, research alone is not enough. We also need responsible action. I am rather disappointed by the meager results from the Climate Summit in Warsaw last week. We have to do more.

In the Arctic we face a paradox: On the one hand, global warming is alarming – and bad news for all of us. On the other hand, the melting ice cap is opening up new commercial opportunities.

Just look at the transport sector.

New sailing routes – bringing the continents closer together
In 2010 there were only four transits of the Northern Sea Route between Novaya Zemlya and the Bering Strait. This year the number of transits has already passed 71.

An ice-free Arctic could shorten distances between the North Atlantic and East Asia by about 40 %.

However, most current reports indicate that the Northeast Passage (the complete transit from the Barents Sea to the Bering Sea) will continue to be just a supplementary route for certain types of products.

The main increase is expected to be in traffic to and from petroleum activities in Arctic waters, rather than in transit traffic.

There is also increasing interest in the Northwest Passage. But climate conditions and shallow waters still make this part of the Arctic difficult to navigate.

Why is the development of new sailing routes in the Arctic important to us?

Almost all the maritime traffic in the Arctic today is in Norwegian waters – 80 % in the summer and 90 % in the winter.

Norway is an Arctic flag state and coastal state.

We have jurisdiction over large sea areas.

Let use an example to illustrate how we take responsibility for ensuring safe shipping in these cold waters.

Together with Russia, we have taken the initiative to establish a ship reporting system for the Barents area under the International Maritime Organization (IMO). This has increased safety in the region.

Another example is the ongoing work in the IMO to develop a mandatory international code of safety for ships in polar waters, the Polar Code. This will increase safety in both polar regions.

Energy – a new energy region is opening up
Another commercial opportunity arising from the thawing Arctic is the increased access to new energy resources. It is estimated that about one fifth of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas resources may be located in the Arctic, according to the US Geological Survey. Petroleum activity is expanding northwards. 

Demand for energy will continue to rise. At the same time, production from existing fields will fall and the need for new fields will increase. The share of fossil fuels in the energy mix will remain substantial for many years to come, also under a 2 degree Celsius scenario. As the cleanest of the fossil fuels, natural gas can and should play a central role in our transition to a low-carbon future. In 2012, 55 % of UK gas imports were from Norway. We will continue to be a reliable supplier of natural gas in the years ahead.

Some have advocated that the Arctic should be closed to further commercial activities. 

We believe that it is possible to manage economic activities soundly so as to ensure environmental protection and sustainable development.

We have sought to strike a balance between different user interests in the sea areas and at the same time safeguard the environment.

Due to the Gulf Stream, our Arctic Areas have always been accessible for petroleum activities. We have had oil and gas activities in the Arctic since the early 1980s.

At the same time, we have been able to further develop our fish resources.

Fish stocks are taken into account in areas that have been opened up for petroleum activities.

With its high environmental and safety standards, Norway has developed a successful petroleum industry that at the same time allows for coexistence with sustainable fisheries.

Furthermore, the Norwegian authorities set strict limits on emissions to air.

Emissions of greenhouse gases from the Norwegian continental shelf are significantly lower than the international average. The CO2 tax and the NOx (Nitrogen oxides) tax are important in this context.

These taxes have encouraged companies to develop new environmental technology on the Norwegian continental shelf.

Innovation and the development of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology is also important for contributing to reducing emissions.

Sustainable resource management – how to take responsibility
Along with the new commercial opportunities come major responsibilities.

Back in 1989 the Northeast Arctic cod stock was at an all-time low. Today it is estimated to be ten times larger than it was 25 years ago. 

This development would not have been possible without the close and constructive fisheries cooperation between Russia and Norway

The results of this cooperation are literally being harvested by the fishermen. The catch value of the fish resources managed by Russia and Norway alone corresponds to more than two billion dollars (GBP 1.23 billion).  

This is an example of good cooperation. But it is also an example of how different industries, like the petroleum industry and fisheries, can coexist and thrive together. It illustrates the importance and the potential of sustainable resource management.

Hence: In the Arctic we need to go forward gradually – step by step – based on the highest environmental and safety standards.

This requires both money and expertise.

But it is the most important investment we can make in the future of the Arctic.

Conclusion
To conclude: Common to our approach in all of these areas – climate change, new sailing routes, energy, and resource management – is the need for responsible action based on knowledge.

Without knowledge we cannot carry out the tasks before us. Nor can we fully understand the complexity of the Arctic.

Research and science will be essential in developing solutions for the Arctic in the future. Developing these solutions is in our common interest.

It is our responsibility. Not only the responsibility of the Arctic states, but for all who claim a stake in the developments in the Arctic.

Protection against human activity is not a goal in itself.

The goal is to seize the opportunities while at the same time ensuring sustainable management of the natural environment and resources in the Arctic.

Thank you.