Photo: Utenriksdepartementet

Arctic State

Last updated: 06/04/2011 // 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.

We welcome the growing awareness of the challenges and potential of the Arctic region. Only through cooperation and joint action can we ensure sustainable development of this region.

Our High North policy identifies three drivers of change.

First, climate change and its impacts, such as melting ice, the emergence of new trade routes and easier access to hydrocarbon resources. The ecosystems in the Arctic are particularly sensitive to change. Such changes can have major consequences and have substantial effects on livelihoods, not only for the ecological regimes in the Arctic, but also on a global scale.

Circumpolar cooperation in the Arctic council, and regional cooperation in the northern dimension and the Barents euro-Arctic council are important for addressing the challenges we are facing in the Arctic. I am very happy to see that these bodies are contributing actively to putting Arctic climate change on the global agenda. They are also playing an important role in harmonising guidelines for increased human activity in the Arctic.

The international maritime organisation is playing an important role by working to establish a new legally binding polar code for shipping in these harsh and environmentally challenging and vulnerable waters. I am also pleased to note that the members of the Arctic council have agreed on a legally binding agreement on search and rescue cooperation in the Arctic to be signed at the Arctic council ministerial meeting in Nuuk, Greenland in May.

Second, our broad and close relations with Russia and our other regional partners. The agreement between Russia and Norway on maritime delimitation in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean was an historical milestone, establishing the maritime boundary between Norway and Russia after nearly 40 years of negotiations. The agreement reached, including the course of the delimitation line, is in full accordance with the international law of the sea. 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 based on agreements. As stated in the Ilulissat declaration of May 2008, all the Arctic coastal states agree that existing international law provides a predictable framework for handling present and foreseeable challenges in the Arctic.

Third, 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. There are no doubt serious negative implications of global warming we have to mitigate. On the other hand, retreating ice opens up new commercial opportunities for shipping and petroleum activities.

Our responsibility is to make sure that this new economic development does not jeopardise the future of the region. And that is why science, knowledge and cooperation are key in order to secure sustainable development in the Arctic. The Arctic council has proven to be an effective instrument for developing guidelines, best practices and knowledge. Norway believes that in order to further adapt to new challenges in the region, the Arctic council needs to enhance its organisational capacity by establishing a permanent secretariat and to further broaden its discussions by including new permanent observers such as the EU. I welcome the EU’s increased engagement in the Arctic and the development of an EU Arctic policy. Our European partners have a lot to contribute as regards research and science, industry, trade and financial power. The EU has legitimate interests in the region.

I welcome the balanced approach which prevails in the policy documents made by the European institutions, most lately and notably in the report from the European parliament from January this year. I look forward to the progress report by the European commission.

By this summer, the Norwegian government will present a white paper on Norway’s High North and Arctic policy. Although the region is changing at a very fast pace, three objectives remain the same: to preserve peace, predictability and stability in the High North, to ensure sustainable management and development of natural resources and to engage in international cooperation to meet common challenges in the Arctic.

Knowledge is the key to reaching these objectives. With knowledge, we can meet the challenges and opportunities in the High North. We are this region’s custodians for future generations.

This arcticle was first published in The Parliament Magazine, Issue 325 – 4 April 2011

Source: Jonas Gahr Støre, Minister of Foreign Affairs   |   Share on your network   |   print