Historisk arkiv

Perspectives on the Arctic and Norway’s High North Policy

Historisk arkiv

Publisert under: Regjeringen Stoltenberg II

Utgiver: Utenriksdepartementet

Arctic Frontiers Conference, Tromsø 19. januar 2009

I utenriksminister Jonas Gahr Støres sykdomsfravær holdt statssekretær Elisabeth Walaas denne åpningstalen under Arctic Frontiers Conference i Tromsø.

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Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to address this important conference on behalf of the minister of foreign affairs.

First of all, being in Tromsø today has a special meaning. Tromsø and Gaza are sister cities. The people of Tromsø therefore feel personally involved in the events that are unfolding, and feel a particular grief when they learn about the loss of civilian lives and the destruction in Gaza. Last week you marched through the streets here in Tromsø calling for an end to all hostilities. I join you in your call, and I assure you that Norway is making every effort to help put an end to the violence we are now seeing every day.

I also want to mention professor Mads Gilbert of this university. We are all glad to see him back in Tromsø, in good health, while we thank him and his colleagues from NORWAC for their efforts to save lives in Gaza.

The special relationship between Tromsø and Gaza is a reminder to us all of how the world is “shrinking”, and that human suffering is a concern to each and every one of us. “Worlds apart” is no longer a meaningful expression. Even here at the shores of the Arctic Ocean, events in the Middle East are on everyone’s mind.   

The Arctic Frontiers conference is an outstanding illustration of Tromsø’s position as an international hub for High North activities. And this university is a key element of this hub. Rector Aarbakke, you wrote an article in Nordlys last month in which you stated that the University of Tromsø is a success story. I couldn’t agree more! One point from your article I want to mention is that in relative terms, the University of Tromsø is Norway’s most international university. The audience here today clearly reflects this.

The ongoing High North activities here are currently being reinforced by the establishment of Tromsø High North Cluster (ThinC), a project organisation lead by the University of Tromsø. The cluster now includes four high-ranking research institutes and private companies. In my opinion, the High North Cluster will contribute significantly to the implementation of the Norwegian Government’s High North strategy. Our aims are increased opportunities, activity and presence in the North, and a knowledge-based future for the northernmost parts of our country.

We have come together here in Tromsø on the very last day in office of the Bush administration, represented among us by Assistant Secretary James Slutz, who will speak to us later today. On his last day in office! Let me take this opportunity to commend President Bush’s team for the Presidential directive establishing the policy of the United States with respect to the Arctic region, which was presented earlier this month.

We very much welcome the directive’s focus on the implementation of the international Law of the Sea and on full utilisation of the existing cooperative frameworks to successfully meet the future challenges in the High North. And it is with great expectations that we look forward to cooperating with the Obama administration in the Arctic, as well as in all other areas, starting from tomorrow.

I also welcome the European Commission’s communication on the Arctic region, aiming at increased awareness in the European Union of Arctic matters and sound development of human activity in this area. Commissioner Borg, also present among us here, will play a key role in the follow-up of the Commission’s policy on the Arctic.

Russia is soon expected to publish an Arctic strategy, called “Strategy for the Exploitation of the Arctic 2020”. We hope that the Russian strategy will lead to even closer cooperation. Deputy Minister Donskoi will tell us more about Russian activities in the Arctic later this morning.

With melting ice and growing prospects of increased human activity the vast Russian areas in the north cannot be left without a sufficiently strong presence and an adequate level of activity. Russia has legitimate interests in the Arctic region and a lot of knowledge and capabilities, expertise and opportunities to offer. For instance, the Russians have more icebreakers than the rest of the world combined.

I would like to highlight some of the legal aspects and the existing cooperative frameworks that regulate activity in the Arctic, and then move on to say something about three key areas of human activity where developments may significantly change the picture in the Arctic – transportation, energy and science. But first of all: a main reason why interest in the Arctic is growing is, sadly, the environment and climate change.

Climate change is the biggest challenge facing humanity. The international financial crisis will pass, but the damage to the environment will be with us for generations.

The Arctic climate is warming rapidly and much larger changes are foreseen. The sea ice is retreating, the Greenland ice-sheet is melting and the permafrost is thawing. The impacts will be dramatic and they will affect the rest of the world through further global warming and rising sea levels. Long-term preservation of the Arctic as we know it today depends on a strategy to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases to a sustainable level.

The effects of climate change on the Arctic Ocean are dramatic. All states, and in particular the Arctic states, have a shared responsibility to protect the Arctic Ocean against irreversible damages to its ecosystems.

Due to the climatic changes, opportunities to exploit formerly inaccessible resources are now arising. However, exploitation entails inherent dilemmas. The eco-systems in the Arctic are particularly vulnerable. Any future exploitation of natural resources in these areas must be based on the best available scientific knowledge and thorough environmental impact assessments, to ensure safe and environmentally sound activities at all times.

These climatic changes may also lead to changes in the migration patterns of important fish stocks. Commercial fisheries may expand into the Arctic Ocean. Wherever commercial fisheries take place, an effective management regime is imperative in order to prevent depletion of stocks.

Norway will therefore take the initiative to discuss the possible establishment of a regional fisheries management organization or arrangement with the other coastal states of the Arctic Ocean to supplement existing mechanisms. Norway stands ready to share its experience from developing and implementing the integrated management plan for the Barents Sea and believes that this plan could serve as a model for the management of other maritime areas – including the Arctic Ocean.

The Arctic Council, which is playing an increasingly significant role, is the only truly circumpolar organisation. Norway is presently chairing the Council until its 6th Ministerial Meeting here in Tromsø in late April, when chairmanship will be handed over to Denmark. In preparing for that meeting, Norway has stressed the need to focus on Arctic climate change and topics related to the Arctic Ocean.

We would like to see the Arctic states send a clear message on the extent of the Arctic ice melting to the COP-15 meeting on climate change in Copenhagen in December. We need to strengthen the Arctic Council itself, too, in order to address the impacts of climate change, particularly on the Arctic Ocean.

The continuing work under the Arctic Council to develop environmental standards for the exploitation of natural resources is extremely valuable. In addition, we must increase the impact of the Arctic Council as a provider of guidelines, best practices and knowledge to other international forums.

Lately, China, Italy, South-Korea, Japan and the European Commission have increased their focus on the Arctic region and applied for observer status in the Arctic Council. I firmly believe that the Arctic Council has an unreleased potential for cooperation between the Arctic states and non-Arctic observers.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As reality changes in the Arctic Ocean, we are fortunate to already have in place a robust framework of international law. In particular the international Law of the Sea provides the necessary framework to ensure responsible management of the Arctic Ocean and its resources. But rules are not enough. We need to continue to effectively implement these rules, both nationally and in cooperation with neighbouring coastal states and others.

In Ilulissat in Greenland, the five Arctic coastal states (Canada, Denmark, Russia, the United States and Norway) agreed that challenges in this region have more to do with lacking implementation of existing rules, than with a lack of rules. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea provides a comprehensive legal framework for the peaceful use of seas and oceans that is also fully applicable to the Arctic region. Let me add that I hope we will se the United States joining this legal framework as soon as possible. Incoming secretary of sate Hillary Clinton stated in the congressional hearing last week that this is something she will work for.

This provides a solid foundation for responsible management by the five coastal states and other users of the Arctic Ocean through national implementation and application of relevant provisions. There is no need for a new comprehensive international legal regime to govern the Arctic.

Scarcity of fish and the potentially vast petroleum resources in the Arctic have led to a stronger need to draw maritime boundaries. Resolving boundary issues could open up new possibilities for long-term cooperation between neighbouring states. Our own experience in the North Sea is a good example.

Clarifying our respective areas of responsibility through the delimitation of maritime areas will help ensure long-term energy supplies and vital energy security. Reaching agreement on the outstanding delimitation issues in the Barents Sea will be vital for the development of the energy sector in the area.

Norway has put a lot of emphasis on mapping the outer limits of its continental shelf, in accordance with the Convention on the Law of the Sea, and on trying to resolve all outstanding delimitation issues with our neighbours. As I said, these areas are undergoing important changes due to the melting ice. Mapping the limits of the continental shelf and settling outstanding boundary issues will therefore be an increasing priority. We have made progress with Russia in this field, after more than 30 years of negotiations. An agreement on a small area in the southernmost part of the Barents Sea was signed in 2007 and ratified last year.

The first area where we can expect radical changes in the human activity is maritime transport. We are already experiencing a sharp increase in cruise tourism, and if the ice disappears we may soon see a manifold increase in shipping, with intercontinental transportation of goods being rerouted across the North Pole.

Last week we had a dramatic incident in the area when the Russian trawler “Topaz A” with a crew of 19 started to take in water off Bear Island, and eventually sank. We were able to save everyone except the captain, but we have no guarantee that we will be able to prevent such, or even larger, tragedies, given the vast distances and the increasing activity. Our search and rescue capacity must be enhanced to meet future needs.

Closer regional cooperation on search and rescue in the Arctic Ocean is needed, as regards both capacities and procedures, , and the Arctic Council is seeking to develop such procedures in accordance with the rules of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). This must be followed up actively.

As a nation with a large shipping industry, Norway has strong interests in the safety of navigation. The increased navigation in the Arctic Ocean must be met with appropriate international regulations, and I would strongly advocate that the IMO put Arctic waters with related topics higher up on the organisation’s agenda. The ongoing work of revising the voluntary Guidelines for Polar Navigation must be completed as soon as possible, to meet the challenges related to security and environmental issues in Arctic waters in a satisfactory manner. In Norway’s view these guidelines should be made binding once the revision has been completed.

The prospect of developing the Arctic petroleum province is perhaps the single factor that more than anything else has triggered interest in the High North over the past few years. Some estimates indicate that the region holds deposits of significant importance in the overall global perspective; perhaps more than 20 per cent of the world’s total of undiscovered resources.

However, stake-holders are moving slowly. The prospects for offshore oil and gas activities in the region are more uncertain today compared to the situation a year ago, due to the sharp drop in energy prices following the financial crisis, coupled with the development costs. It took four years for oil prices to move from USD 35 per barrel in 2004, to USD 147 in July 2008, but only six months to return to USD 35. Given the magnitude of the investments needed, companies naturally have to think more than twice.

In the government’s strategy for the High North, there are two dimensions that cut across all sectors:

One is the aspect of international cooperation in any given field of activity. The other is knowledge, education and research, which are fundamental in any efforts to create good living conditions for people in the north, and also for laying the foundations for a sound and environmentally safe economic development in the future.

Showing a presence in areas where we have interests to defend – and I mean both areas of expertise and geographical areas – is important. Geographically, these areas extend beyond Svalbard, to Jan Mayen and the mainland in Northern Norway. Because of the small population spread over a vast area, it is difficult to create the “critical mass” required to establish a good research and educational environment in several places at the same time.

However, ladies and gentlemen, there is a solution: Network-building and cooperation across institutions and national borders. The University of the Arctic, which is a network of higher education institutions at high latitudes (but spread over many longitudes), is a good example. The network offers courses in Arctic studies based on harmonised curricula, irrespective of whether students are located in Alta, Fairbanks or Yakutsk.

We also have to focus our energy on areas where we can play a leading role globally, where we can make a difference. One example is knowledge of the Arctic, of ice conditions and climate, an area where we have a long-standing expertise and unique research capabilities. We are well underway in establishing Tromsø as a leading centre in this field.

Another example is expertise on indigenous peoples – not just knowledge of their language, culture, traditional livelihoods and history, but also expertise in the fields of legislation, administration, rights and education related to indigenous peoples living in a modern society. I might also mention the maritime sector.

Let me also underline the importance of mobility. Here I am talking about exchanges of researchers, teachers and students that go beyond those provided automatically by a free international education and labour market.

From my point of view, this is particularly important regarding exchanges between Norway and Russia. Several institutions in North Norway, such as the university colleges in Bodø, Harstad and Alta and others have made great efforts in this area, with remarkable results. Visiting these university colleges is like visiting a miniature High North, where Russian students who speak fluent Norwegian are studying for their degrees.

The most important element of the knowledge structure we want to build in the north is scientific research in priority areas:

1. Environmental research and monitoring, where Svalbard is in a unique position,

2. Energy, both oil and gas and renewable energy,

3. Fisheries and fish farming, including the new, exciting field of marine bio prospecting. Earmarked funds have been allocated both last year and this year. Marbank and Marino have been established in Tromsø and the new Marine Resources Act provides a new legal basis.

Our scientific efforts must go hand in hand with further research in the social sciences, economics, law and humanities. These disciplines are important for understanding the operating parameters and room for manoeuvre – both the possibilities and the limitations – that apply when developing new economic activities and new areas of cooperation. An example is the research project Geopolitics in the North, which we have funded with 26 million Norwegian crowns. The underlying premise is that foreign policy is developed through interaction between the authorities, other foreign policy actors and experts - such as researchers - and interest organisations.

Encouraging public-private partnerships will be very important. In November, we launched a chair in the field of maritime logistics in Kirkenes, co-financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and private interests. We are also in the process of establishing a similar scheme in the field of earth observations and satellite remote sensing in association with the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Tromsø, initially involving particular collaboration between French, Norwegian and Russian scientists.

Svalbard is a particular priority area for us when it comes to encouraging scientific development and cooperation in the north. We have invested considerable efforts and resources to build up a unique infrastructure for inter­national research activity in Svalbard, with its unique Arctic conditions. Currently 13 nations have permanent research bases in Svalbard and scientists from more than 20 nations carry out research here.

In December 2008, Svalbard was officially put on the priority list for large European research infrastructures, a roadmap that now includes 44 important research installations in Europe for the future.

The Svalbard Integrated Arctic Earth Observing System will invest 400 million NOK over the coming years to upgrade and coordinate the current facilities, both at UNIS and in Ny-Ålesund, making Svalbard a truly European platform for monitoring the Artic climate, but also including partners from other parts of the world.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There are plenty of crucial issues to discuss when the High North is on the agenda. Climate change is our most demanding challenge, which will require massive efforts on our behalf to counter. Concerning the other questions I have touched upon, it seems to me that the international community is about to mobilise to take the necessary joint action, and define the necessary policies - in time.

The High North has traditionally been a region with low tension, and with common challenges to the livelihoods of its people. The climate for cooperation is very favourable. All Arctic nations must join forces to assure the best possible future for the multicultural and multiethnic mosaic which is the High North.

I wish you all an interesting and fruitful conference. I congratulate the organisers and thank you for your attention.


* Talen ble holdt av statssekretær Elisabeth Walaas - på vegne av utenriksminister Jonas Gahr Støre pga utenriksministerens sykdomsforfall.