Managing the Arctic – Norway’s views

Commentary by Erik Lahnstein, the Norwegian State Secretary.

Changes are taking place in the Arctic. We have a responsibility to make sure that the Arctic remains a peaceful region and to conduct our activities in a safe and environmentally sound way to ensure sustainable development in the region. The Arctic Council is the nucleus of the region’s cooperative framework. In Norway’s view, the EU should play a more active role in the Arctic Council. However, a particular responsibility rests with the coastal states bordering the Arctic Ocean.

Predictable frameworks for sustainable development

The Law of the Sea forms the legal basis for all activities in the Arctic Ocean. Norway’s view is that existing international law provides a predictable framework for handling present and foreseeable challenges in the Arctic. The Arctic Ocean is an ocean surrounded by land under national jurisdiction, and the Law of the Sea already provides a relevant legal framework that regulates activities in the Arctic Ocean. Consequently, calls for a specific treaty to regulate activities in the Arctic are unjustified.

There are few unresolved issues of jurisdiction in the Arctic. In the Ilulissat Declaration (28 May, 2008) the five coastal states bordering the Arctic Ocean stated their continued commitment to the legal framework in the Arctic Ocean and to the orderly settlement of possible overlapping claims.

The prospects of increased activity in the Arctic Ocean require stronger presence on the part of coastal states in order to exercise jurisdiction, sovereign rights and authority in a credible, consistent and predictable manner. Norway is increasing its capacity to this end, and participates actively in the negotiations on a legally binding agreement on search and rescue in the Arctic within the framework of the Arctic Council.

The fish stocks mainly stay within the national zones of the coastal states, and large-scale commercial fisheries in the central Arctic Ocean are not foreseen in the near future. Regarding shipping, Norway has been a driving force behind the development of a mandatory polar code in the IMO, and we invite European and other nations to close cooperation on this matter.

Circumpolar and regional cooperation is well developed and steadily increasing. The Arctic Council is the most important forum to address issues related to the Arctic region. The indigenous peoples of the High North have been given their rightful place as permanent participants.

In order to further adapt to new challenges in the region, Norway believes that the Arctic Council needs to make more binding decisions, where appropriate. It also needs to enhance its organisational capacity by establishing a permanent secretariat and to further broaden its discussions by including new permanent observers such as the European Commission.

Integrated ocean management

Norway takes an ecosystem-based approach to resource management. Integrated management plans for all relevant sea areas are among our most important tools. Based on ambitious goals, these plans establish a holistic framework for all activities in the relevant sea areas. Our ultimate ambition is that all activities should be managed within a single context, ensuring that the total environmental pressure does not threaten the structure, functioning or productivity of the ecosystems.

Responsible management of all living marine resources based on scientific knowledge is a key Norwegian objective. Regional cooperation is essential to achieve this. Petroleum activities on the Norwegian continental shelf are subject to the highest safety and environmental standards.
Norway welcomes the development of Arctic strategies by Arctic states and other interested parties, including the EU. We are looking forward to continued fruitful cooperation within a bilateral and a regional context.

More information about Norway’s High North policy can be found on the website of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


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