Newsletter: Everyone Wants a Piece of the Arctic

The foreign ministers and the permanent members of the Arctic Council at the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Rovaniemi, May 2019. Photo: Siri Gulliksen Tømmerbakke

Dear reader! 

Rumours abound that the Arctic Council is on the shortlist of candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize 2019. The Council would, in that case, face strong competition. Three young activists from Libya, Somalia and Hong Kong, as well as organisations like Reporters Without Borders and the Control Arms Coalition are on the PRIO Director Henrik Urda’s short list. And ‘our own’ Greta Thunberg from Sweden is also a name mentioned in this context.
However, whether the Arctic Council makes it to the top of the list or not, there is not much doubt that this meeting place for the Arctic is indispensable and constitutes an increasingly important arena for making sure that the top of the world remains a stable and peaceful region.
No-one owns the Arctic
This week, High North News could reveal that France in its brand new defense strategy for the Arctic compares the Arctic to the Middle East and argues that the regions belong to no-one.
While these are serious and partly remarkable statements from one of the most powerful countries in the world, however, they are also sadly a view shared by more countries.
The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spends a vast amount of resources, and have done so for a long time, to inform the international debate about the Arctic, communicating factual information about the High North.
This is quite necessary, as we are flooded with Arctic strategies from various European countries.
Living in the Arctic is kind of like being the most popular girl or boy in class, yet also the one to be chastised the most by the classmates. – The Lord disciplines the ones he loves, as it says in Hebrews”, writes Editor-in-Chief Arne O. Holm in his Friday op-ed this week. Yet, he argues, the debate is more or less absent, despite Norway’s defining the High North as its most important strategic area.
In this week’s longread you can also get better acquainted with the fascinating history of the North Pole; both mythologically, symbolically and politically.
Did you know that the North Pole was once believed to be Paradise? And that powerful Nazis such as Hitler’s close ally Rudolf Hess used this Aric polar-based myth when shaping his national-socialist antisemitic theories in the early 19000s?
The world’s northernmost elections
On Sunday, the polling stations in Longyearbyen, Svalbard open up. And unlike on the mainland, it is hard to guess how the different political parties stand with the population.
Because there are no polls on Svalbard.
And while Labor candidate Arild Olsen feels that people are happy with the job they have done since 2003, his opponent from the Conservatives is sure that the time has come to color the world’s northernmost town blue.
Nevertheless, there are a couple of new factors in the calculations that makes this year’s local elections more exciting than previous ones. The 16-year olds no longer have the right to vote. The mining society is decimated. And the trend on the mainland, as elsewhere in Europe, is that voters flee the governing parties. Norwegian Labor Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre promises to take this seriously. He reveals to HNN that a separate High North project will constitute an important part of the Labor Party’s work on an election program before the 2021 parliamentary election.
Svalbard business plan
Labor and the Conservatives are, nevertheless, of one mind when it comes to the point about focusing on existing business rather than on growth in and of itself.
Thus, both their prayers were heard when the government on Thursday presented its brand new strategy; “Innovation and Business Development in Svalbarrd”.

- We want to focus on quality and sustainability in the Longyearbyen community, not on growth as a goal in and of itself, says State Secretary Magnus Thue (Conservatives) in the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries when presenting the plans.
In addition, the government wants to amongst others map the tourism industry and challenges related to increased cruise tourism, as well as prevent less serious actors from operating in the Svalbard community.
Plastic fantastic
Through a series of articles this week,  High North News has focused on the enormous problem of plastic and waste in the oceans and nature.
In a study from Nordlandsforskning and SALT, scientists have documented that microplastics from ropes and feed tubes from the fish farming industry end up in the ocean.
The exact extent of this problem is not known, and one of the suppliers is critical to the publishing of figures before the method has been quality assured. Research leader Ingrid Bay-Larsen at Nordlandsforskning, hover, argues that it is important to be transparent about method development. And the industry appreciates getting such an overview over the problem with plastics along with a series of suggested initiatives for action. Time will show if they are willing to spend the money required to realize any of them.
Waste voyage
For four weeks in the late summer, two researchers from the Norwegian knowledge start-up Salt sailed with their Russian colleagues to the northern tip of Novaya Semlya in Russia to map pollution.
Last week, High North News told you how Salt in cooperation with GRID Arendal has developed a mapping tool for marine pollution.
This week, we received an update from the scientists about what they found during their voyage; plastic road sticks, household plastic waste and bottles find their way to the northern parts of Novaya Semlya, Russia.
- This tells us how big the problem of marine littering is, says scientist Marthe Larsen  Haarr. However, she says, she was prepared to find more waste than what they did.
Waste also engages people in Northwestern Russia, where conservationists and activists have stood their ground for more than one year in tent camps.
The reason for their protests is the scheduled construction of a giant waste landfill near Shies, deep into the Russian woods.
Last Sunday, some 16,000 people demonstrated on 30 different locations against Russian authorities’ waste management – or lack thereof. The protestors now mobilize for major demonstrations in November. – We are approaching a point where a larger conflict between the parties is inevitable, says Russia expert.
Important meeting place
New sanctions against Chinese shipowners have resulted in insecurity around Novatek’s Yamal LNG shipping partners, which goes to show that the Russian Arctic oil and gas development is still subject to American sanctions.
We also bring an update from the two adventure ladies  Hilde Fålun Strøm and Sunniva Sørby, and one week into their nine-month overwintering stay at Svalbard, access to fresh water and wood has already become a challenge.
Next week, organisations, politicians, researchers and the press gather for the annual Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik, Iceland.

A new organization will find its inception there, the “Arctic Mayors’ Forum”, a gathering of 11 Arctic mayors who intend to give local authorities a bigger say when it comes to Arctic development and through that, make sure that the various local communities’ wants and needs are better met.
High North News will, of course, cover the event in-depth.
All the best for the weekend!
Siri Gulliksen Tømmerbakke
News Editor, High North News