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Knowledge is the key to understanding the changes in the Arctic,
By Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas Gahr Støre
Pleased to be here in Akureyri. Together with my Icelandic colleague and good friend Össur Skarphedinsson. Many thanks to Rector Stefan Sigurdsson and the University for receiving us in these beautiful surroundings.
Last January: Össur and I were together in Tromsø, at the Arctic Frontiers
conference. Today: at another arctic frontier - here in Akureyri. What both
Tromsø and Akureyri – “the capitals of northern Norway and northern Iceland” – can
offer: Front row seats to the developments in the High North.
Look at the
map. Norway and Iceland are joined - not by land, but by sea and continental
shelves; in fact, our waters and continental shelves meet further north-east
between where we are now and Jan Mayen. In a way we can say, thanks to the
Law of the Seas we are geographical neighbours, adding to the many other
aspects that connect us – culture, language common history – and in many
ways a common future, which we will focus on today. The future of our neighbourhood,
the High North.
The geopolitics of the North
The High North is the Norwegian Government’s number one foreign policy priority – goal
to ensure peaceful, sustainable and prosperous development. Iceland shares
these objectives, which were set out in the Government’s recent strategy
paper adopted by the Althingi.
The EU has presented an Arctic strategy – so
did Denmark, just last month. Many others have done the same. A clear reflection
of the increased importance of the High North.
I use to say: there are two
shifts in the world’s geopolitics happening today. One is the
emergence of new players on the international scene from the
East and South; China, India, Brazil and so on. But there is
another shift – here in the North. Growing international interest
in our neighbourhood.
- Three key drivers for this shift, which
also form the point of departure of Norway’s High North policy:
(first) climate change
- (second) the rich natural resources in
the region, and economic opportunities through transport, and
- (third) developments within and in our relationship with
Russia, by far the largest Arctic state
But before I elaborate
on these changes, we should acknowledge the importance of the
fundamental frameworks we have in place
here in the North:
Arctic Council is one of the world’s most successful forums for
multilateral cooperation – the Arctic Council. Norway, Iceland,
other Nordic countries, the US, Russia, and Canada – circumpolar.
Council has a very good track record in developing guidelines
and best practices and producing scientific knowledge – in
particular about pollution and climate change and how to deal
with the consequences of climate
The Arctic Council cooperation has been consolidated and updated
- agreement in Nuuk to strengthen this work even further – for
instance, a permanent secretariat in Tromsø.
Agreement on search
and rescue in the Arctic - first ever legally binding agreement.
priority for Norway – as I know it is for Iceland – to further
develop our cooperation within this framework, consolidating
the undisputed role of the Arctic Council as the leading circumpolar high-level
My observation: Arctic Council also a priority for “big players” – US
and Russia. Secretary Clinton came to Nuuk, with a large US delegation.
Role of observer states: Arctic Council would benefit from the
participation of new permanent observers like China and others
who have demonstrated
a real and sustained engagement in the Arctic and the work of the Arctic
New permanent observers would further strengthen the leading role of the
Council. Share this approach with Iceland.
In addition to the Arctic Council
we also have the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, the Baltic Sea
Cooperation and the Northern Dimension, and traditional
cooperation = Here in the north, we have the most successful, pragmatic
and solution-oriented sub-regional pattern of cooperation in the world!
There have been claims that we need new legal instruments for the management
of the Arctic. We disagree.
In the Arctic we have states with sovereign
rights in sea areas off their coasts in accordance with international law.
This is no “terra nullius”, and “flag planting” is
Existing international law provides a predictable
framework for dealing with any foreseeable challenges in the Arctic.
and Iceland have, for obvious reasons, a strong and shared interest
in upholding the principles and provisions of the UN Convention on the
Law of the Sea. This is also one of the priority objectives of Iceland’s
High North strategy, and rightly so. The UNCLOS provides a clear framework
for national measures and international cooperation in the Arctic, including
shipping, environmental protection, science, delimitation of the outer
limits of the continental shelf and the exploitation of resources.
these two fundamental structures in place – both of which we will have
to preserve and develop further – we are in a good position to address
challenges and opportunities ahead; How to address climate change, increased
economic activity – and
a framework for our relationship with Russia and the other big players
in the High North.
Key driver 1: Climate change
The extent of the extremely hard multiyear ice is diminishing. In the
winter of 2009, less than 15% of the Arctic sea ice was more than two
The extent of the sea ice is also changing.
A few weeks ago, German scientists
claimed that the Polar ice cap was smaller this summer than ever before
since recording started in the 1970s.
The main reasons for the climate
changes in the Arctic happen elsewhere. The most severe effects
may happen elsewhere. But the changes are first
seen here – that is why, as I mentioned in my introduction, that we – Iceland
and Norway – offer
front row seats to the developments in the High North.
In essence, the
polar areas are key to understanding global climate change. The ecosystems
in the Arctic are particularly sensitive to change. The
critical levels, or tipping points, for altering these ecosystems are
They will have comprehensive consequences and lead
to dramatic shifts in livelihoods, not only for the ecological regimes
but also on a global scale.
Arctic nations are ideally placed to observe
the changes that are taking place. We therefore feel a particular
responsibility for being at the
forefront on climate and polar research – as you do here in Akureyri.
Key driver 2: Natural resources.
But climate change and the melting of the polar ice cap will also lead
to increased economic activities. Because the Arctic contains vast natural
resources – renewable as well as non-renewable - and business opportunities.
the need for food for an ever growing world population will continue
to increase and put pressure on remaining productive soil. We
need to secure
the supply of marine proteins such as fish.
Some of the world’s richest
fisheries lie in the Arctic. They must be preserved and enhanced as one
of the world’s
most important sources of food. Shared interest of Iceland and Norway.
Prospect for the Arctic as petroleum province - perhaps the main reason
for the increasing interest in the Arctic
Possibly more than 20% of the
world’s total undiscovered petroleum resources,
but estimates of the amounts involved are highly uncertain.
already - primarily onshore in Russia - also in Norway and in
several of the other Arctic states. The Snøhvit field in the
Barents Sea is the world’s
northernmost offshore gas field.
Iceland is about to start exploration
activities in the Dreki area between Iceland and the Norwegian
island of Jan Mayen, and Norway has similar
plans for its side of the maritime boarder. The Norwegian and Icelandic
are already in close contact about these developments. If exploration
leads to production at a later date, our agreements provide for close
Transport. New opportunities for international shipping -
may have important commercial implications. Shanghai - Hamburg
via the Northern Sea Route
along the coast of Russia is 6 400 kilometres shorter than Strait of
Suez Canal - saving 40 % time - close to 20 % fuel.
Keyword is safety
of navigation - maintain effective search and rescue services
in such a large sea area. Arctic Council Foreign Ministers in
binding Search and rescue agreement.
Together with Iceland and other partners
we work in the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to develop
a mandatory polar code for ships
in the Arctic region. We need new regulations and standards for the design
and equipment of ships operating in ice-filled waters including in the
Arctic, in addition to guidelines for the training of personnel.
shipping and hydrocarbon activities could lead to greater risk
of oil spills. At Nuuk we agreed on establishing an AC special task force
- international instrument for prevention, preparedness and response
to boost search and rescue, shipping standards, health, environment
and safety standards and oil spill prevention are vital to enable the
orderly, safe and secure use of the Arctic marine areas.
Key driver 3: Russia.
Russia is by far the largest Arctic state - 50% of the coastline, at
least 50% of the resources. Influential player in shaping Arctic policies.
Arctic used to be a “cold war theatre”.
Today - a peaceful region. No
military threats in the classical sense of the word, actual or perceived.
Greater interest in the region is not
in more conflict.
And there is no “race for the Arctic” either.
This is why I
often speak of “High North – low tension”. Our priority – as
it is Iceland’s
priority - is to ensure that this continues to be the case in the North
despite the changes that increased human activity is bound to entail.
bilateral relations with Russia: we have lived in peace for over 1000
Whereas our land border with Russia has remained fixed since
1826, our boundary at sea had been disputed – up to last year.
Agreement on maritime delimitation in April 2010.
into force on 7 July 2011 – after 40 years of negotiations.
175 000 square kilometres divided into two parts of roughly the same
size, based on modern principles of international law.
clarity for exploitation of natural resources. Confirms the
longstanding Russian-Norwegian fisheries cooperation, regulates
on the management of transboundary hydrocarbon deposits.
how good neighbours in the North can, peacefully and with patience, resolve
overlapping claims in accordance with international
Because of close and extensive cooperation over decades in the
fisheries sector at all levels – research, catch quotas, combating
illegal fishing, etc. – the
cod stocks in the Barents Sea have grown steadily in recent years. Today:
one of the best managed stocks in the world.
Through this agreement: We
have demonstrated how good neighbours can resolve complex issues
in the Arctic by means of peaceful negotiations. “Big player – smaller
player cooperation” through agreed principles and international
Important for Norway – as
it is important for Iceland.
Concluding remarks – knowledge is key
Knowledge is the key to understanding the changes in the Arctic.
is why knowledge is at the core of our Arctic Policy and High North Strategy.
We need knowledge for management and to provide a basis for
new and existing industries. This is why I am happy to address you here
Akureyri, where you have students and researchers of excellence in science
of the High North regions.
Through our knowledge, our presence and our
activities here in these regions we aim to address the challenges
and opportunities ahead. We
have a legal
and institutional framework in place – the Convention on the law of the
seas and the Arctic Council. It is in both Iceland’s and Norway’s
interest to develop and make best use of these frameworks in the future
development of our common neighbourhood.
At the end of this meeting, Össur
and I will sign a Memorandum of Understanding on strengthening our cooperation
on Arctic scientific research. It is
of course no coincidence that we are doing this here in Akureyri. I am
that the University of Akureyri will benefit from closer cooperation,
as will many of you present here today, and also researchers and students
One of the elements of the MoU is the establishment of a visiting
professorship here in Akureyri, named after the Norwegian polar
and humanitarian Fridtjof Nansen. Among his many achievements are several
beyond the arctic frontiers – as in June 1888, when he set out from Ísafjörður
here in north-western Iceland, towards Greenland and the first crossing
of the Greenland archipelago.
We are celebrating the 150th anniversary
of his birth this year, and you will have an opportunity to acquaint
yourselves with his life and
at the exhibition which we will be opening in a few minutes.
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