“The Green Shift will be the new engine in the Arctic”, says Norwegian Climate and Environment Minister Espen Barth Eide (Labor). Now, the Norwegian government directs its eyes towards cooperation with the EU and wants to enter into dialogue about the EU’s ban on exploiting oil and gas in the Arctic.
“With the launch of the Barents cooperation in 1993, we expected Russia to become a country with which we could cooperate both economically as well as politically. We also expected the region to develop into a key oil and gas region. The idea was for these two factors to lay much of the foundation for further growth in the region. However, none of these factors apply today”, Espen Barth Eide (Labor) says to High North News.
Climate cooperation in the Arctic continues without a key part of the High North, and the climate minister says the development in Russia has taken a quite different turn from what the government was hoping.
“The world is about to enter an extensive energy transition in which demand for fossil fuels will decline over time. The Green Shift and strengthened cooperation with Arctic EU countries will be the key driver for Norwegian High North policy”, Barth Eide says.
The image of the Arctic as a key oil and gas region, which was dominant 15-20 years ago, has changed.
Dialogue with the EU
How will Norway relate to the EU’s ban on oil and gas exploitation in the Arctic?
“We do of course have to relate to the fact that the market for what we are producing cares about where it has been produced. Claiming otherwise would be futile. And then we have to enter into dialogue with the EU about what we think about this. What is the Arctic? If it refers to vulnerable areas, we couldn’t agree more. Is it a line on the map, or is it something else?”, Barth Eide says to High North News.
The future of the High North does not lie in oil and gas.
New High North policy
The climate minister believes the High North policy should be reviewed in light of the Green Shift.
“The High North policy is still to develop Northern Norway, however, it has to be done in light of what is now emerging, such as hydrogen and battery factories, green shipping, and modern sea farming. That is the future of the North, and we are to do that in close collaboration with our neighbors Finland and Sweden towards to green initiative currently leaving its mark on all of Europe, Barth Eide says.
Norway is in a particular situation, with a neighboring country at war and where cooperation with Russia about the Arctic has been put on hold. Is it possible to maintain parts of the climate cooperation with Russia?
“Cooperation is continued in essential areas such as search and rescue, and nuclear incident alarming. There is some researcher-to-researcher cooperation that is still working, and some cooperation about weather forecasting, the Climate and Environment Minister says to High North news.
It will take quite some time before the situation returns more or less back to normal again.
“However, there will clearly be no new dynamic with Russia in this situation. The crisis and the invasion of Ukraine are far too serious for that”, Barth Eide says.
“It is really sad, though I can hardly see that we could have acted differently in the current situation.”
Fisheries cooperation remains
How does the Barents cooperation with Russia work today?
“We are still neighbors and therefore, we have maintained the important fisheries cooperation about allocating quotas from our shared fish stock. This is a cooperation we had with the Soviet Union too, and there is agreement about continuing it”, the climate minister says.
The alternative would be for an interruption to have consequences for the health and volume of the joint Norwegian-Russian fish stock.
“So there has to be some cooperation. And we all hope for better days, though we should be realistic about it having to take a while before the situation returns more or less back to normal again.”
Extreme weather more frequent
Climate changes happen fast in the Arctic. What is the government’s most important effort in the coming time?
“The professional Arctic cooperation has provided us with much knowledge that is important for the climate politics of the whole world. The ice melts the fastest here, and the same goes for global warming”, Barth Eide says.
He mentions the ocean currents as something they are keeping an eye on.
For many years, we have succeeded in shielding Arctic cooperation from geopolitical changes.
“This does not only have regional, dramatic repercussions. It also has a global effect, as this affects the weather systems all over the world and contributes to our having more frequent extreme weather; that is, heat waves, floodings and draught”, Barth Eide says.
He says understanding the Arctic is necessary to understand the planet.
“That is why what happens up here in the North is so incredibly important.”
Regrettable, but necessary
What is the current status on researcher-to-researcher cooperation between Russia and Norway today?
“I understand that already established relations between individual researchers is continued. That is good. But it is obvious that big, international meetings and new political initiatives will not take place in the current situation” Barth Eide says and refers to the situation as regrettable, yet necessary.
“For the first time since 1939, we have seen a big power violate public international law through attacking another country with the purpose of invading and occupying it. We cannot allow that to happen, and it must have this kind of consequences”, the climate minister says.
Strongly regrets that it has turned out this way.
“For many years, we have succeeded in shielding Arctic cooperation from geopolitical changes observed elsewhere. We even managed to do so during the Crimea crisis in 2014 and onwards. Now, however, it is impossible to uphold that stance and this is now business as usual. It will remain so for a while”, Climate Minister Barth Eide says in closing.
This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.