What comes to mind when you think of the Arctic? A cold and remote place, largely void of life and opportunities?
Or have you joined the growing number of world leaders, scientists and corporate executives who see the Arctic as a promising, prosperous and increasingly vibrant region? One where responsible and joint management is the key to unlocking a vast potential?
The United States is now wrapping up its two-year leadership of the Arctic Council. This high-level forum has for two decades brought together governments of Arctic states, and kept the door open also for Arctic indigenous communities.
When ministers and other representatives get together in Fairbanks, AK, on May 11, they will review and approve what has been achieved under the U.S. chairmanship. One thing that they’re sure to agree on is that the Arctic has become an increasingly hot topic.
Why? Because of the many opportunities – but also the challenges and the vulnerabilities – that can be found north of the polar circle.
Norway has a front-row seat to these developments. One third of Norway’s land mass and 80% of its sea areas are in the Arctic. No other country has a higher proportion of its total population – nearly 10% – living in the Arctic.
Because of its strong national interests, Norway wants to continue playing a leading role in managing and developing the Arctic. Norway also recognizes the global importance of ensuring that the Arctic remains an area of peace, stability and international cooperation.
Most of the Arctic is ocean. Coastal communities all over the Arctic region traditionally benefit from the rich fisheries of the north. In Norway, we have a long and strong tradition of generating wealth from the sea, through fisheries, petroleum activities and maritime services.
The ocean is the very foundation of our economy and prosperity.
High potential in a vulnerable area
Fish accounts for about 12% of the total exports of goods from Norway, providing approximately 35 million meals of fish worldwide on a daily basis. A substantial amount of this comes from northern waters.
For the oil and gas industries too, we have seen a gradual shifting of focus northwards. Around half of the remaining undiscovered Norwegian petroleum reserves are in the Arctic, hidden under the Barents Sea. And one-fifth of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas reserves may be located in the Arctic.
Other industries with a strong Arctic potential are mining, tourism, and maritime transportation.
These activities take place in a vulnerable environment. The Arctic is a catalyst for climate change. Areas with permafrost are declining, glaciers are melting and new species are moving into the Arctic ecosystems. This has wide-ranging consequences, because – unfortunately – what happens in the Arctic doesn´t stay in the Arctic.
Global weather patterns, for instance, are affected by reduced sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. Climate change is a global challenge. Global solutions are therefore required.
One very important result from the Fairbanks Ministerial is the adoption of an agreement on strengthened international scientific cooperation in the Arctic. A significant portion of scientific Arctic research is located on Svalbard in Ny Ålesund, a former coal-mining town that has been devoted to science since 1968. Currently, ten countries have researchers stationed there to carry out missions in a broad range of sciences.
Norway’s closest Arctic neighbor is Russia. We have a direct and pragmatic cooperation in areas such as search and rescue at sea, oil spill prevention, nuclear safety and cleanup after the Cold War, and maritime safety. Environmental cooperation has been in effect since 1980. And a Norwegian – Russian fisheries commission, established in 1975, manages some of the world’s most important fish stocks.
One should not underestimate the importance of this fabric of multifaceted cooperation in a broader security perspective.
In all areas of Arctic activities, we must ensure that they do not come at the expense of the Arctic environment. At the same time, we must make sustainable use of the economic opportunities that are opening up. I believe it is possible and necessary to do both.
The overall goal for Norwegian Arctic policy is to ensure that the Arctic remains an area of peace, stability and international cooperation.
Norway has demonstrated that it is possible to combine ocean-based industries such as fisheries, aquaculture, shipping and energy, with a healthy marine environment.
As Finland is now taking over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, Norway is looking forward to continued cooperation with the United States and the rest of the Arctic family. Keep an eye on what’s going on – the Arctic is the future!