United on Arctic challenges

27/04/2010 // Although there are those who have warned that increased activity and unresolved boundaries in the Arctic would raise tensions, developments in the region are bearing witness to just the opposite.

At the five-nation Arctic summit in Ottawa this March, government ministers of Norway, Russia, Canada, the USA and Denmark discussed how to address the common challenges stemming from increased human activity in the polar region. The five Arctic coastal nations are in remarkable accord. 

New opportunities – and new challenges

Climate change and receding polar ice are opening up new opportunities in the Arctic. Fisheries resources are moving northward, while sea routes and petroleum resources are becoming more accessible.

But the increase in human activity also gives rise to a number of challenges. The polar region’s inhospitable climate and vulnerable ecosystem make it essential to ensure that adequate preparedness measures are in place for dealing with oil spills and search-and-rescue operations. Dealing with a larger oil spill or cruise ship accident may require more resources than any one country has on hand. Moreover, the region’s remoteness and dispersed rescue resources mean that cooperation across national boundaries is crucial.

Cooperating on solutions

The five Arctic coastal nations all share this viewpoint. The representatives at the Ottawa summit concur on the need to strengthen cooperation on search-and-rescue preparedness. They also agree that the Arctic Council is an important arena for promoting this cooperation. In 2011 the Council aims to enter into a legally binding agreement on cooperation in search-and-rescue preparedness in the Arctic. Moreover, Norway is coordinating an Arctic Council initiative vis-à-vis the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to introduce mandatory standards for ships navigating in the Arctic. Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia have been cooperating on search-and-rescue and oil-spill preparedness in the Barents region for a number of years. Norwegian helicopters have helped to rescue seamen in Russian waters.

Norwegian-Russian joint exercises for search-and-rescue operations in the Barents Sea, September 2009. Photo: Harald Hermansen Eie / MFA


Agreeing on the rules

The unresolved boundary issues and unexploited resources are not expected to bring turbulence to the Arctic. Most of the region’s known petroleum resources lie in undisputed areas, as does most undiscovered resource potential, according to US Geological Survey estimates.

Although the Arctic coastal nations may disagree on the specifics of where certain lines should be drawn, they all agree on how the process should be conducted. There is consensus that international regulations such as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and negotiations between the countries involved should be applied. Documentation relating to continental shelf extension has been submitted to the UN for assessment and recommendation, and bilateral negotiations are underway concerning areas under dispute.

Joint management and development of resources

The coastal nations are already working together to manage Arctic resources, as illustrated by developments in the Barents Sea, where Norway and Russia cooperate well with regard to the world’s most sustainable cod stock. Natural gas resources in the Barents Sea are also being developed jointly. Norske Statoil and Gazprom of Russia plan to collaborate on further developing the enormous and technologically complicated Stockman gas field.

Source: The Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs   |   Share on your network   |   print