The High North is often referred to as Norway’s most important foreign policy area of interest. At the same time, the Arctic policy is about developing a region. This is where local and big politics meet and this crossroads is the focus of the government’s new Arctic strategy, which is to be presented in the autumn of 2020. What should it contain?
This is the theme of one out of many debates about the Arctic during the Arendal Week, which takes place next week. The debate will gather representatives from politics, business, academia as well as environmental organisations.
Wants a more progressive High North Policy
One of the participants is Eirik Sivertsen, Labor MP. He says to High North News that he has clear expectations of a more progressive High North policy than what has been the case so far. Eight years have passed since the government presented its first whitepaper on the High North.
- This government has pursued a rather passive High North policy and taken a long while to get there, so I both look forward to and have expectations of a thorough whitepaper about the Arctic, he says.
He hopes that the High North whitepaper will answer three major challenges:
- It has to be about the people who live in the Arctic and facilitating their getting an even better life. In order to achieve that, the government must demonstrate the will to use political tools to release the potential that lies in the High North and make sure the values remain there. The High North cannot and should not only be a supplier of resources, having to stand by and watch values trickle south. Value creation has to be reinvested in society and in order to achieve that, one has to invest in knowledge institutions, infrastructure and communication solutions and also compensate for disadvantages through e.g. differentiated employer taxes and more efficient transport solutions, he says.
Local solutions to global challenges
According to Sivertsen, the second main challenge lies in finding local solutions to a global challenge: The climate crisis.
- Climate changes hit the Arctic the hardest and constitute a major threat to all value creation that happens here, in particular in fisheries. A warmer and more acidic ocean will destroy our prime competitive advantage. Thus, the whitepaper has to respond to how we can work to strengthen the cod stock in the Barents Sea, which is the true foundation of the Lofoten fisheries, and must also tell how we can work towards international efforts to tackle the climate challenges, he says.
The third and final item on his wish list for the upcoming whitepaper on the Arctic is for it to contain ambitions about Norway's reassuming its role as a key player and agenda-setter in the Arctic.
- In order to get there, we must demonstrate political will and ability to set the agenda and take the lead internationally. The Arctic policy we have seen for the past six years has, in my opinion, been more defensive than progressive and I expect a far more progressive policy to be presented on Monday, he says in closing.
Focusing on national development
Rune Jensen at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign affairs coordinates the work on the whitepaper about the Arctic. He says to High North News that the work has been ongoing for the past year.
- I have toured Northern Norway together with a group consisting of colleagues from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Local Government and Modernization and from the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries in order to receive input on issues important to the region, in particular when it comes to international issues, business development, knowledge and competence, infrastructure, security and preparedness, climate and environment. We are now entering into a more intensive writing phase, he says.
A broad inter-departmental group has been established to work on the whitepaper. Jensen says the various ministries also will remain in dialogue with county councils, local actors as well as the Sami parliament.
The main outline of the upcoming whitepaper is to be introduced on Monday. Jensen says it will cover both international issues as well as focus on the national development.
The previous Arctic whitepaper is nearing its 10th anniversary and the world has changed a lot since then. This will be reflected in the next Arctic whitepaper, which is to be presented in 2020, Jensen says and closes:
- Just like the foreign minister and others have stated in various fora already, there is a need for an updated situation analysis.
For instance, State Secretary Audun Halvorsen gave a speech at a seminar about security politics and big power interest in the Arctic, a seminar organized by the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, where he described the High North as the government’s most strategic area of responsibility.
His talk also mentioned the many challenges we are facing both when it comes to the relationship with Russia, the USA and China, as well as Brexit. Domestic issues such as demographic development and centralization were also mentioned.
“The Arctic Policy is to be presented in the fall of 2020 and will describe the government’s ambitions for a continued strong and competent Northern Norway. This will also build on dialogue with the northern counties, the Sami parliament and other actors in business and research”, Halvorsen stated.
You can read his talk here. (Norwegian only)
Expects clear ambitions about the High North
UiT Norway’s Arctic University has actively contributed in providing input to the High North whitepaper, which is to be presented by Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide (Conservatives) and Minister of Local Government and Modernisation Monica Mæland (Con.) on Monday and to adopted in the fall of 2020.
Rector Anne Husebekk has in a High North News op-ed (Norwegian only) pointed out that scientists for the past eight years have developed new knowledge about the consequences of climate changes and the significance of changes in the Arctic nature and societies to the global world. “The economic development of the High North is growing increasingly important for Norwegian economic growth and employment numbers are high. There is a significant ripple effect of the oil and gas industry in the Arctic. Fisheries and fish farming, tourism, construction are sustainable industries that are in growth and carry a significant potential for growth”, she writes.
However, Husebekk is nevertheless worried about the demographic development that can be observed in the Arctic; strong centralization, indigenous peoples under pressure, and lack of work power and seed fund resources. “We expect the upcoming whitepaper to express a clear ambition for the High North in these areas”, she argues.
She also writes that the Universit of Tromsø (UiT) contributes actively in the work to develop a more climate-friendly infrastructure both when it comes to railways, ports and aviation. And she argues that the cooperation between academic communities and businesses provides gains that strengthen business development in the Arctic with both research results as well as well-educated candidates. “The new whitepaper on the Arctic should be clear that building competence is a precondition for economic and sustainable development in the Arctic”.
She says in closing that there are high expectations to the whitepaper on the Arctic and that there is a great will to contribute in the work leading up to it: “The High North is important, beautiful and rich in resources, and it must be developed with caution and wisdom”.
Participants in the debate, which takes place on Tuesday 13 August at 12 noon, are:
- Eirik Sivertsen, Labor MP, Stortinget
- Anne Husebekk, Rector, University of Tromsø
- Even Aas, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility, Kongsberg Group
- Bård Vegard Solhjell, Secretary-General of WWF Norway
- Sigrid Ina Simonsen, County Councilor of Culture and Trade, Troms County
- Ole Øvretveit, Direcor, Arctic Frontiers Open
This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.