Managing the Arctic: Norwegian Perspectives

Article excerpt

To most people the Arctic is a distant realm, almost another world, inhabited by polar bears. They may even think the frigid landmasses and icy seas of the Arctic are irrelevant to daily life further south.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

However, the Arctic is changing rapidly. The melting of the sea ice has thrust the region into the global spotlight as world leaders seek to assess both the environmental threats and economic opportunities of a smaller northern ice cap. Norwegians have long balanced a fierce commitment to environmental protection with our substantial Arctic economic interests, and we are eager to help devise responses to the worrying changes we have all observed.

The Arctic encompasses more than 15 million square miles or about 8 percent of the surface of the Earth, equivalent to four times the extent of U.S. territory. But the human residents of this vast area number only about 4 million, and are spread across eight countries--Norway, Russia, the United States, Canada, Finland, Sweden, Iceland and Denmark.

In the past 100 years, average temperature rise has increased twice as fast in the Arctic as in the world as a whole. One could say that The Arctic is the world's scientific advance warning. The changes are predominantly the result of climate forcers and contaminants, like C[O.sub.2] and heat-absorbent soot, that originate far from the Arctic. And the repercussions are global. A warming Arctic may, for example, affect monsoon weather patterns, and may actually cause extremely cold winters in the United States and the northwestern parts of Europe. Scientists project that ice retraction in the polar areas will coincide with rising sea levels and accelerated global warming.

The Arctic ice melt may also bring opportunities, such as shorter trade routes and increased economic activity in northern waters that previously were covered by ice. Moreover, recent discoveries of oil, gas, minerals and diamonds in Arctic areas have made the region attractive to countries situated far away. In recent years, I have seen many misleading news headlines proclaiming a "race for Arctic resources," suggesting a Klondike-style rush that could spark tension and conflict. The resources are, however, mainly thought to be found in areas that are under national jurisdiction or in areas where jurisdiction will be clarified once the outer limits of the Arctic states' continental shelf have been determined. Fortunately, 0 there are few unresolved jurisdiction issues in the Arctic, and most players appear committed to firmly established international rules.

Norway: An Arctic Coastal State

The Arctic has a special place in the hearts of Norwegians. The very name of the country is generally thought to mean "the way north." Our affinity with the Arctic comes from geography, history, economics, and cultural heritage--not the least from the legacy of the Polar explorers, like Nansen and Amundsen.

Half of Norway's territory is north of the Arctic Circle. Thanks to the warm North Atlantic Current, or Gulf Stream, living conditions in the Norwegian Arctic are quite different from those at similar latitudes elsewhere.

Norway is also intimately connected to the sea, with long coastlines on the Atlantic and Arctic oceans. Maritime resources have always formed the basis of our national economy and defined the very identity of our northern coastal communities. In 2005, my government renewed the country's tradition of looking northward by declaring the Arctic our most important foreign policy strategic priority. A major recommitment to the region came in 2011 with publication of The High North: Visions and Strategies. This government white paper presents Norway's long-term plan to address the challenges and capitalize on opportunities emerging in the Arctic.

Our overall aims are to enhance knowledge in and about the High North, increase our activity in the region, pursue sustainable economic and social development, strengthen regional cooperation and ensure geopolitical stability and predictability. …