An Arctic vision

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Photo:flickr.com/Allan Hopkins

Over the last 100 years, temperatures in the Arctic have been rising twice as fast as the global average. According to some estimates, the Arctic summer ice cap will completely vanish by the year 2050. This will bring enormous changes and challenges not just to the Arctic states, but also to the world. The Norwegian Ambassador to India, Nils Ragnar Kamsvåg recently addressed a captivating gathering at the prestigious National Defence College in New Delhi, explaining geopolitics and geoeconomics of the Arctic and Norway’s role as a safe keeper of one of the most vulnerable regions of the world.

Norway is, with its ocean and polar territories, among the 10 largest countries in the world. We are the only nation with territorial claims in both the Arctic and the Antarctic regions. Our Arctic presence is not only a result of large parts of the mainland being north of the Arctic circle, but also the Svalbard archipelago, a group of islands mid-way between Norway and the North Pole, in the midst of what can potentially develop into a new important trading route between Europe and Asia. 

Norway and India, meanwhile, have a strong research and higher education cooperation on Arctic and Polar issues. Since 2008, Indian researchers have been present in Ny-Ålesund on Svalbard, collecting data from the glaciers and under the sea. There are Indian students at the University of Svalbard and Indian researchers at the Norwegian Polar Institute. Five polar related Indo-Norwegian research projects were chosen to receive funding in 2016, following an MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) signed between Indian Ministry of Earth Science and the Norwegian Research Council in 2014. For India, the main driving force behind a strong polar research program is to find connections between changes in the Arctic, Antarctic and the Indian Monsoon. 

“The Arctic has become an arena for cooperation between Europe, North America and Asia. It presents us with new opportunities. The Arctic Council would like to see observer states, like India, more engaged in the working groups”, highlighted Ambassador Kamsvåg at the session. “As the ice retreats, the Arctic countries will no longer be divided by the ice, but connected by the ocean. The sea will become a highway, not a barrier. For the first time in history, the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean will be connected through a sea passage around the North Pole. The North East Passage between Europe and Asia – can potentially be ice free in 2050. It will open up new possibilities for trade and transport; mining and minerals; oil and gas; research and education”, he added. 

At the same time, the global effects of the climate change observed in the Arctic are serious – and potentially very damaging. The rise of sea levels opens up a plethora of challenges, not least in South Asia. There is growing evidence for temperature swings in the Arctic influence snow melting in the Himalayas and the monsoon.  Climatic developments in the Arctics may thus have direct repercussions for India, explaining to some extent India’s strong focus on Arctic research. 

The Ambassador stressed that there is no race for natural resources in the Arctic. Activities in the region are thoroughly regulated both international and nationally, and most resources fall within clear national jurisdiction. Ambassador Kamsvåg highlighted that for Norway, like the other Arctic states, it is of great importance to protect the High North. 

Knowing that Defence’ issues would be of interest to the audience, the Ambassador informed that routine and day-to-day military presence is an important element in safeguarding these interests and to maintain security and stability for everyone operating in this demanding environment. He underlined that the High North is Norway's most important strategic area of responsibility. “Our High North policy is designed to safeguard Norwegian interests, increase our cooperation with other countries that have interests in the High North, and facilitate business and social development in the north”. 

In the years to come, we will see an increasing demand for Arctic resources. A growing global population will need more food, more energy, more minerals and more goods will need to be shipped between continents. We need even closer regional cooperation and we must make sure the institutions we are setting up are robust enough to handle the rapid changes taking place in the Arctic. 

In his closing remarks, he stressed that our vision should be for the Arctic to be the best-managed region of the world. “If we succeed, we will not only ensure the prosperity and well-being of millions of people who depend on Arctic resources - we will also contribute to a safer, more stable and more sustainable world.”