Norwegian perspectives on international cooperation in the Arctic

By Signe Brudeset Source:Global Times Published: 2019/11/13 21:38:40

 Photo: VCG

This year, Norway is proud to celebrate 65 years of diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China. The Anniversary comes at a time of growing ties within a broad range of political, societal and global issues. 

In recent years, one of the many areas where both sides have expressed an interest in developing our cooperation is Arctic issues, especially within the fields of climate change and polar research. We will have a bilateral dialogue on Arctic issues later in November. As the Norwegian Ambassador to China, I would like to offer some of our perspectives on the state of the Arctic.

The Arctic is a region characterized by peace and stability. For decades the eight Arctic states (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States of America) have successfully cooperated on specific issues based on common interests and respect for international law. Unlike many other regions in the world there are no significant territorial disputes in the Arctic. 

This is the result of political choices. Norway and other countries have worked hard to achieve this, and it is something we will work hard to maintain. For Norway, the Arctic is not a remote and desolate place. Ten percent of our population live north of the Arctic Circle and it is where some of our most innovative industrial areas are located. Norwegians have lived by and of the sea for centuries. We will continue to utilize ocean resources to ensure sustainable economic development in the Arctic, based on the best available science and the highest environmental standards. 

An extensive legal governance framework already applies to the Arctic. Most resources and activities fall under the sovereignty and national jurisdiction and sovereign rights of one of the eight Arctic states. Consequently, these resources and activities are managed by the host country on the basis of national legislation and international law. In all sea areas, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea applies. UNCLOS - often called the constitution of the oceans - establishes clarity and predictability with regards to duties, rights and jurisdiction for all countries. Non-Arctic states take part in the management of activities in international waters through relevant fora such as the International Maritime Organization, the International Seabed Authority and regional fisheries mechanisms. Norway welcomes activities in the Arctic from all countries within this established legal framework. 

For more than 20 years, the Arctic Council has been the primary arena for addressing international issues in the region. This was reconfirmed by the Foreign Ministers of the eight Arctic countries at the recent Ministerial meeting in Finland. The Council - firmly supported by its member states, indigenous peoples and observer countries - has been instrumental in setting the agenda, developing new knowledge and building trust across borders. 

As rapid climate change has opened new prospects for increased human activity, Arctic states have responded quickly and have agreed legally binding agreements that strengthen cooperation in specific areas. Examples include search and rescue, marine oil pollution preparedness and response and science collaboration. In a separate but related development, the five coastal states in the Central Arctic Ocean in 2015 agreed a declaration against unregulated fishing in international waters. The declaration was later developed into a legally binding agreement which, as prescribed in the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement, also includes relevant distant fishing actors such as China, in addition to the coastal states. 

In addition to our commitment to the Arctic Council, Norway has a broad bilateral cooperation with many states. We welcome the fact that China and several other Asian countries take an active interest in established institutions in the Arctic in particular on matters related to climate change and polar research where they have relevant expertise and resources. The melting of the ice cap and rising sea temperatures in this region affect weather and climatic patterns in many parts of the world. However, this is mainly due to activities outside the Arctic and solutions must thus generally be addressed where emissions originate. Future climatic and environmental challenges should be dealt with through international research cooperation and processes under the Paris Agreement

To deal with the challenges and to take advantage of the opportunities in the Arctic, Norway continues to believe in effective multilateral cooperation within the framework of international and national law and well-established governance structures. 

The author is Norwegian Ambassador to China.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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