Ambassador's Blog: The Arctic – Vibrant but Vulnerable

Ola Elvestuen, Norway's recently-appointed Minister of Climate and the Environment, discussing science-based evidence with a strong panel.
Ola Elvestuen, Norway's recently-appointed Minister of Climate and the Environment, discussing science-based evidence with a strong panel. From the left: Paul Arthur Berkman of Tufts University, Hungary's Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter Szijjártó, Elvestuen, Minister of State at the Office of the Prime Minister of Singapore Sam Tan (wearing Arctic-appropriate shoewear!), and Natalia Kukarenko of the University of Arkhangelsk. Moderator: Steven Sackur of BBC Hardtalk. (Photo: Jon-Åge Øyslebø)

By Kåre R. Aas, Ambassador of Norway to the United States.

Jan. 23, 2018 | This week, international experts and political leaders descend on Tromsø, Norway’s vibrant “gateway to the Arctic,” to discuss challenges and opportunities in the High North.

The Arctic Frontiers conference confirms the city as the place to be for anyone who cares about the future of the High North -- and about the impact events there have on the rest of the planet.

I can easily imagine how, at the time of year when the sun hardly rises above the horizon, the city is now buzzing with life. Three thousand particiants from 30 countries have signed up.

Not that Tromsø is normally a quiet place. With university students accounting for a substantial percentage of the 75,000 inhabitants and a thriving business sector, Tromsø proves that being more than 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle does not necessarily mean isolation and lack of infrastructure.

The city was the hub of a flourishing trade with tsarist Russia as early as the first half of the 18th century, and has since been a natural port of call for fishermen, Arctic hunters and international polar expeditions.

Today Tromsø is the biggest city in northern Norway. Venue for countless festivals, including the No Siesta Fiesta celebrating Latin American music and lifestyle, this is a place with a constant buzz.

All this to say that there is hardly a more natural place to host an annual conference on the challenges and opportunities of the Arctic.

As an Arctic nation, with nearly 10 percent of its population living above the Arctic Circle, Norway will continue to lead international efforts to secure sustainable development in the Arctic, where a green economy can provide the basis for a sound environment and harvesting the resources of the Arctic.

The Arctic is on the receiving end of global climate change, warming much more rapidly than the rest of the planet. The speed of change increases the vulnerability of the Arctic ecosystems.

Pollution from other parts of the planet is transported toward the Arctic. This will require global environmental cooperation, and solutions that put the environment front and center.

This does not mean, however, that we shall abstain from harvesting the riches that the Arctic has to offer. Economic activity and business development should go hand in hand with sustainable, ecosystem-based management. All activities must be based on knowledge and sound scientific evidence.

A main topic at the conference this year is the sea. The Arctic ocean is one of the cleanest oceans on the globe, teeming with marine life. However, increased acidification due to rising levels of CO2, and the spread of microplastics and marine debris are a problem even here. Visible sheets and microplastic are polluting the oceans everywhere, affecting the fish and marine mammals – and thereby also humans.

Last year in Nairobi, Norway was at the forefront of an international agreement to reducing marine littering and microplastics. We will continue to strengthen international efforts on this topic.

Norwegians have for centuries lived both by the sea and off the sea. It would seem obvious that we therefore know the importance of keeping the oceans healthy, in the Arctic and elsewhere.

Achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal number 14 – about conservation and the sustainable use of life below the water – is an important priority for the Norwegian government. That is why Norway has offered to host the 2019 Our Ocean conference, following up on previous initiatives to foster international commitments to ensure safe, secure, clean and healthy oceans.

In the Arctic we see that climate change is happening fast. The ice is melting at increasing speed, opening up some scary scenarios far beyond the Arctic region. Joint action and global cooperation are needed.

Until now the Arctic has been, overall, a peaceful place. Norway wants to keep it that way. Major political, economic and strategic interests come together here. The ever-expanding circle of countries with a stake in the Arctic is not particularly homogeneous.

Yet, differences tend to be dealt with in a smooth way, thanks not least to the success of the Arctic Council, a forum for the Arctic states where more and more countries sign on as observers.

I am happy to say that Norway and the United States work well together on Arctic issues. We share a commitment to dealing with challenges and identifying opportunities through dialogue and transparent international processes.

The Artic Frontiers conference is one of several relevant meeting places for this.

I look forward to continued fruitful cooperation, and I will keep talking about Arctic issues when I meet people throughout the country or interact vitually with students at American universities via Skype.