High North Policy Part III
5: High North policy after the turn of the millennium
After the turn of the millennium, Norwegian High North policy has primarily been linked to the opportunities for petroleum development in the Barents Sea. The Norwegian gas field Snøhvit was – despite protests from the environmental movement – in 2002 decided to expand. However, the highest hopes are related to Norwegian participation in the development of the Russian Shtokman field . If it is put into production, it will be the largest operational gas field in the world.
According to LOCALBUSINESSEXPLORER, a number of foreign companies have in recent years been relevant as partners for the Russian gas company Gazprom in the development of the Shtokman field, and for a long time it looked like the project would become a Russian-American affair. In this situation, there were many in Norway who feared that we would end up on the sidelines in foreign policy in our own neighborhood.
An expert committee for the High North (Orheim Committee) presented the report Towards the North! in 2003. The committee proposed to downplay the major initiatives of the 1990s – Barents co-operation and the nuclear action plan – in favor of strengthened bilateral co-operation with Russia and participation in the Arctic Council. This has not been followed up in practical policy.
The Bondevik II government presented a report to the Storting on High North policy in 2005. In it, High North dialogues with other western countries were the most important measure. The Stoltenberg II government, for its part, launched the Barents 2020 program in 2006 and linked it in particular to petroleum technology. The appropriations for the program have been gradually stepped up in the years since. Competence building is strongly emphasized in the Norwegian investment.
Both in appropriations and in practical measures, the High North policy of the 1990s has been continued after the turn of the millennium. The appropriations for the nuclear action plan and the Barents cooperation have admittedly been somewhat lower than in the peak years of the mid-1990s, but they have been relatively stable and large enough to be called major investments in Norwegian foreign policy.
Fisheries management is still one of the most important areas of cooperation between Norway and Russia in the north. During the 1990s, the Norwegian-Russian Fisheries Commission expanded its work significantly, e.g. to include fisheries control. The climate of cooperation between the parties was difficult some years around the turn of the millennium. Then Norway wanted to follow the marine scientists’ advice to reduce quotas; the Russians would not.
In 2002, the parties agreed on an action rule which, among other things, said that the cod quota should not be changed by more than 10% from one year to another. Norway also believes that it can document that the Russians have fished far more than their quotas for several years in a row. Here, too, there has been improvement in recent years.
6: New challenges in the north
Recently, new challenges have been identified in the High North, and more and more states are showing interest in developments there. Energy needs have probably been the most important driving force, also beyond Sjtokman. By the way, StatoilHydro eventually joined a development project together with French Total.
According to a widely cited, but uncertain and imprecise, forecast from the US Geological Survey from 2000, as much as 25% of the world’s undiscovered petroleum deposits may be in the Arctic. Many western countries, and especially the United States, will be interested in replacing imports of petroleum from the Middle East with supplies from the “North Atlantic energy basin”. Who owns the petroleum resources on the Arctic seabed? This was a question many asked themselves when a Russian expedition in the summer of 2007 planted the Russian flag on the seabed under the North Pole.
Other challenges follow from climate change. The average temperature in the Arctic has risen almost twice as much as in the rest of the world in recent years. The result is extensive melting of glaciers and sea ice. What is happening in the Arctic is an early sign of the effects of global warming, and many are concerned about the vulnerable Arctic ecosystems. Others see opportunities, e.g. for transport over an ice-free North Pole or at least the opening of the Northwest and Northeast Passage. Again, some are asking: Do we need international regulations for the Arctic?
The answer is really quite simple: We have an international set of rules, the Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982, which also applies to Arctic waters, and to which all parties involved relate. The Russian expedition in 2007 was not primarily due to increased accessibility as a result of climate change and ice melting. The Russians were in the process of completing their geological surveys of the seabed in accordance with the rules of the Convention on the Law of the Sea. These require that information on the extent of the continental shelf be provided to the UN within a certain period of time before the outer limits for this are finally determined. Norway has done the same for its sea areas and submitted such information in 2006.