Historisk arkiv

State of the Arctic – Challenges Ahead

Historisk arkiv

Publisert under: Regjeringen Stoltenberg II

Utgiver: Utenriksdepartementet

5th Arctic Frontiers Conference, Tromsø, 24. januar 2011

We see an increased interest in the Arctic. Countries like China, Japan and South Korea are showing increasing engagement in Arctic affairs. This is a development I very much welcome. Because only through cooperation and joint action can we ensure sustainable development of this region, sa utenriksminister Støre bl.a i sin tale.

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Chairs, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great honour to address such a distinguished and knowledgeable audience. Tromsø is the venue for great moments. I have fond memories of this auditorium. It was here I had the first opportunity to speak about my government’s High North policy – back in November 2005. In April last year, I had the privilege of presenting the results of our efforts so far – including the agreement with Russia on the delimitation in the Barents Sea – as well as the way forward.

Today is yet another milestone for me, as this is the first time I am taking part in the Arctic Frontiers conference. I would like to congratulate the organisers of this annual conference, which has evolved into such an important arena for scientists, policy makers and business representatives for discussing High North and Arctic issues.

But let me add; as we now can complement the list of Arctic explorers with brave women, it wouldn’t have been out of place with a few more women on your list of speakers at this conference. Perhaps you have saved them for next year’s conference?

Let me focus my remarks in one short sentence: The High North is the Norwegian Government’s number one foreign policy priority.

Our goal is to ensure peaceful, sustainable and prosperous development in this region - through increased activity, presence and knowledge.

This is the part of Norway’s neighbouring areas where most change is taking place, where we have the most interests to safeguard, and where we have both a responsibility and the ability to make a difference.

Many countries are becoming increasingly aware of the challenges and potential of this region, generated by the three drives we have identified:

First, climate change – second, developments in our relations with Russia - and third, the region’s resources and commercial opportunities.

I will revert to these three drivers in a few moments, but first, some reflections on the increased focus on Arctic affairs today.

Today, most of the Arctic countries are developing specific High North strategies – the most recent being Iceland, which I am sure my good friend and colleague foreign minister Skarphédinsson will talk about shortly.

We see an increased interest in the Arctic. Countries like China, Japan and South Korea are showing increasing engagement in Arctic affairs.

This is a development I very much welcome. Because only through cooperation and joint action can we ensure sustainable development of this region.           

You have called this year’s conference Arctic Tipping points – or, as some might choose to say, points of no return – be they environmental, economic or social.

As we approach these tipping points it is obviously vital that we have a clear vision of what should be the next step – but it is also a moment for us to look back, to learn from the experiences of others, who in their own time faced equally daunting tipping points, although in another sense – and in stark contrast to today’s situation in the Arctic.

A hundred years ago, large parts of the Arctic – as well as the Antarctic - had not even been explored.

It had not yet been established whether the central Arctic was ice-covered land or ice-covered ocean.

This year – the “Nansen-Amundsen year”, which we inaugurated yesterday - we will commemorate some of those who opened up these regions for us:

  • We will celebrate that Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole 100 years ago, on 14 December 1911. 
  • We will celebrate that it is 150 years since Fridtjof Nansen was born, on 10 October 1861.
  • And we will also celebrate the 300th anniversary of the birth of the great Russian scientist Lomonosov, who made important contributions to the understanding of ice in the polar regions. Yesterday evening, I had the pleasure of inaugurating an exhibition on Lomonosov and Nansen together with my Russian friend Ilya Mikhalchuk, Governor of Arkhangelsk Oblast, who will speak to us later today

Many of Nansen’s and Amundsen’s expeditions had scientific purposes. They used cutting edge technology of their time.

For instance, take Nansen’s Fram-expedition from 1893 to 1896. Nansen and his men succeeded not only in showing the world how successful the new ship construction was, but even more importantly that their hypothesis about the currents of the Arctic Ocean was correct: you could actually drift from East to West by making use of the currents. Mind you, it took three years!

Nansen provided new scientific insight about the Arctic Ocean. But this multi-talented man also made huge contributions as a diplomat, politician and humanist. In 1922 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian efforts.

Amundsen’s contribution to science was not as great as Nansen’s, but he gathered important data during his expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctica, which speak for themselves.

Nansen and Amundsen were always willing to go the extra mile in order to reach their courageous goals. We need to do the same today, by using cutting edge technology and science in order to bridge the gaps in our knowledge of the polar areas - both in the North and in the South. And as politicians we must use this knowledge as a basis for taking bold political action.

* * *

One of the most striking contrasts in the Arctic region when comparing today with the times of Nansen and Amundsen is the extent of the ice cover.

Although Adolf Nordenskiöld had sailed the Northeast Passage as early as 1879, Amundsen was the first to sail through both the Northwest and the Northeast passages, in 1906 and 1920 respectively. Back then, such expeditions took two or three years. They had to spend the winter locked in the ice.

A hundred years ago, nobody would have believed the stories of today’s great adventurers Daniil Gavrilov from Russia and Børge Ousland from Norway.

Last year, they sailed through both the Northwest and the Northeast passages – in the course of only one summer season! As Ousland said while sailing through ice free waters: the expedition would have taken six years in Amundsen’s days – a clear reflection of the dramatic changes in the Arctic region.

I listened to Ousland and Gavrilov yesterday evening; I was very impressed – but also worried.

They saw with their own eyes what we know is an undisputable fact: The ice in the Arctic Ocean is becoming thinner. This brings me to the first of the three drivers for change in the Arctic: climate change.

The extent of the extremely hard multiyear ice is diminishing. In the winter of 2009, less than 15% of the Arctic sea ice was more than two years old. The extent of the sea ice is also changing.

In September of 2010, the whole of the North West Passage off Canada was ice free, compared to only five years earlier [– as you can see here in this picture]. I am aware that a time span of only five years is too small to give a definitive indication of the developments in the Arctic, but we all see the tendency – of what has happened in the span of the five years since I became Norway’s foreign minister in 2005.

Since the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment report was released in 2004, several indicators have shown that climate change in the Arctic is happening faster than previously anticipated.      

There is good cause for worry – because the scientific findings show that we may be at a tipping point. The annual mean temperature in the Arctic has been rising almost twice as quickly as in the rest of the world. We have witnessed the spectacular retreat and collapse of ice shelves.

In the Arctic, the landscape is changing at a dramatic pace, posing serious challenges to the livelihoods of indigenous peoples like the Inuit.

This has an impact on infrastructure, and even more importantly, on the possibility of catching fish and seal, which are migrating to new areas in response to environmental changes.

We also see increased concentration of mercury and more intense UV radiation in the Arctic, causing health challenges that must be taken seriously. The health of indigenous peoples in the Arctic is of course of importance. We should also bear in mind the challenges of indigenous peoples who – due to climate change – could be forced to change their way of life and adapt to a new environment.

The dramatic changes in the Arctic are no doubt having important global effects, although scientists disagree on how strong the linkages are.

But we do know that the melting of the polar ice cap, including the vast Greenland ice sheet, will lead to a rise in sea levels. In addition, the loss of sea ice will accelerate global warming.

In essence, the polar areas are key to understanding global climate change. The ecosystems in the Arctic are particularly sensitive to change. The critical levels, or tipping points, for altering these ecosystems are therefore of great importance. They will have major consequences and have dramatic effects on livelihoods, not only for the ecological regimes in the Arctic, but also on a global scale.

Arctic nations are ideally placed to observe the changes that are taking place. We therefore feel a particular responsibility for staying at the forefront of climate and polar research.           

How can we address the challenges posed by climate change in the Arctic? 

First, we have enough knowledge to act, but we still need more knowledge. The Arctic and Antarctic are still among the areas of the world that we know least about. But we know one thing: science is the key to gaining greater understanding.

When polar scientists from all over the world were gathered at Lillestrøm, outside Oslo, in June last year to conclude the International Polar Year, they concluded that we know quite a lot about the polar areas, but that we also need to bridge certain knowledge gaps. 

One of these gaps was identified in the 2004 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, namely the lack data on Arctic health. It has been a priority for the Norwegian Government to support the gathering of information on the effects of climate change on human health in the Arctic, both nationally under the auspices of the Arctic Council. I very much welcome the Danish chairmanship’s plans for an Arctic Council Health Minister meeting in February this year.         

It is difficult to deliver global responses to global challenges. We left Copenhagen disappointed in December 2009. However, important progress was made at the UN Climate Conference in Cancun in December last year. The goal of keeping the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius was consolidated. In addition, new institutions and a green climate fund will be established to finance climate mitigation and adaption in developing countries. We also made significant progress on specific topics, such as a mechanism to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) - one of Norway’s key priorities in our international efforts to combat climate change.

CO2 emissions are the most important contribution to climate change and melting of ice and snow in the Arctic. But we must also take into account the short-lived climate forcers, which may prove to have significant impacts on the climate, like black carbon and methane.

Regional cooperation bodies like the Arctic Council, the Northern Dimension and the Barents Cooperation are important for addressing the specific climate challenges in the Arctic.

I am very happy to see that these regional bodies are contributing actively to putting Arctic climate change on the global agenda. The Arctic Council has led the efforts on short-lived climate forcers through various concrete projects. The US and Norway are currently heading a task force on short-lived climate forcers within the Arctic Council.

The regional bodies also play an important role in harmonising guidelines for increased human activity in the Arctic as well as engaging the International Maritime Organization in establishing a new legally binding Polar Code on shipping in these harsh and environmentally challenging and vulnerable waters.

I am also pleased to note that the members of the Arctic Council are about to agree on a legally binding search and rescue agreement for the Arctic.

Cooperation between Arctic states is on the rise. And the best illustration of this spirit of cooperation may perhaps be found in the bilateral relations between Norway and Russia – which brings me to the second driver for change in the Arctic: the change in our relations with Russia.

More than a hundred years ago, Stepan Makarov, the Russian admiral who had the world’s first icebreaker built, said that “Russia is a building facing north.” Russia is the largest Arctic state. A glance at the map suffices to see that half of the Arctic coastline belongs to Russia. Well over half of Russia’s proven natural resources are located in the Arctic.

In 1987 President Gorbachev proposed turning the High North into an area of cooperation. Today this is happening.

The agreement between Russia and Norway on maritime delimitation and cooperation, signed in Murmansk on 15 September last year, is based on the well-established legal framework that is the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. And after 40 years of negotiations, we have now agreed on the boundary between our zones and continental shelves in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean. The agreement must be ratified by the two countries’ parliaments, the Duma and the Storting, before it can enter into force. Hopefully we will have the necessary parliamentary approval very soon. Then we can safely say this: Norway and Russia have land borders from 1826. And a sea border from 2010.

The agreement is a clear reflection of the new dynamic in the Arctic. What was once a frozen region in more than one sense is warming up to the prospects of reaping mutual benefits through cooperation and agreements.

The Russian-Norwegian border was where East met West during the Cold War. For 70 years – until 20 years ago – this border was practically closed. Today that is history. In 1990 there were only 3000 border crossings between Russia and Norway. In 2010 more than 140 000 people crossed the border. We have come a long way in making the border more of a bridge than a barrier between our peoples – and we are working together with Russian authorities to facilitate cross-border activities even further.

Last November in Oslo, foreign minister Lavrov and I signed an agreement on a local border traffic regime. Our aim is to simplify travel for border residents, and the agreement will facilitate increased contact between Norway and Russia. This is an important step towards opening the border area for even closer contact and cooperation between our two countries. Let me also add to this picture that in September last year we opened a consulate in Arkhangelsk, reflecting our commitment to further developing the ties between us.

Increased cooperation will provide greater opportunities for economic development in the Arctic – which brings me to the third driver for change in this region: increasing exploitation of resources and increasing transport. Both will have to be managed in a sustainable way if we are to succeed in developing the Arctic.

Promoting sustainable development of offshore petroleum and renewable marine resources is a key element of the Norwegian High North strategy.

Climate change in the Arctic represents a dilemma: On the one hand there are no doubt serious negative implications of global warming that we must fight.

On the other hand, it is important to recognise that global warming will lead to increased activity in the Arctic. You have put it this way in the conference programme: “Less ice, easier access”. Retreating ice opens up new commercial opportunities for shipping and petroleum activities.

Many look to the High North and the Arctic for new business opportunities as the ice retreats.

Petroleum and shipping activities will increase. A journey from Yokohama to Rotterdam via the Northeast Passage is about 40% shorter than the route via the Suez Canal. This provides huge potential for cost reductions although there are also big challenges from the harsh climate. As regards energy, the Arctic could be home to much of the world’s remaining energy resources. According to US Geological Survey (USGS) estimates, undiscovered recoverable petroleum resources in the Arctic could amount to as much as 22% of the world’s total. However, let me add that there is great uncertainty attached to these estimates.

The extraction of petroleum resources in the Arctic may increase steadily as the world’s demand for oil and gas is growing. At the end of last year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that world demand for energy will increase by 40% by 2030.

Our responsibility as politicians is to make sure that this new economic development does not jeopardise the future of this region.

That is why we need to agree on a new binding Polar Code that regulates shipping in Arctic waters.

That is also why we need a new legally binding search and rescue agreement.

And not least, that is why science and knowledge are key in order to secure sustainable development in the Arctic.

New industrial development in the High North will not only take place offshore. There is a huge potential also for new onshore activity in connection with the petroleum industry. We see promising activities such as marine bio-prospecting, and also the development of a mineral industry that can be closer linked to world markets through the Northeast Passage.

It is important that we make good use of these opportunities, but at the same time make sure that we do so in a sustainable way and using cutting-edge technology. Such technology is for example being used in the EISCAT and SIOS projects in Svalbard, which have been set up to monitor the environment and climate change.  

In Norway, we have good experience of ensuring that commercial activities comply with environmental standards. Through our integrated management plans (Integrated Ocean Management) we make sure that resources are harvested in a sustainable way in the sea areas off the Norwegian coast.

When the Government presented its High North strategy in 2006, we made knowledge the top priority.

In September last year the new Fram Centre for environment and climate research was established in Tromsø. This centre will strengthen the city of Tromsø’s role as a leading polar research capital.

Before the summer, the Government will present a white paper on the Norwegian High North and Arctic policy. Although the region is changing at a very fast pace, three objectives remain the same:

  • preserving peace, predictability and stability in the High North,
  • ensuring sustainable management and development of natural resources,
  • international cooperation to meet common challenges in the Arctic.

Knowledge is the key to reaching these objectives – I would like to stress this here today once again. With knowledge, we can meet the challenges and opportunities in the High North. I hope that this year’s Arctic Frontiers conference will be a tipping point in the exchange of knowledge and interaction between us all - in a way that ensures the best possible development of the High North. For it is a region of which we are not only owners – we are its keepers for future generations as well.

Thank you.