Arctic Frontiers Conference Wraps Up in Tromso

The fifth-annual Arctic Frontiers conference, which promotes dialogue and cooperation in the Arctic, recently convened at the University of Tromsø in northern Norway. Over 1,000 attendees from 20 different countries attended the conference, this year entitled “Arctic Tipping Points,” and heard lectures and presentations on both Arctic policy and science topics.

Jonas Gahr Støre, Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, gave a speech on the challenges that lie ahead in the Arctic, particularly for Arctic. He named three: adapting to climate change, continuing to build good relations with Russia, and sustainably increasing exploitation of resources and increasing transport. The full text of his speech is available here.

Ilya Mikhalchuk, the governor of Arkhangelsk, a largely Arctic oblast in Russia, echoed Støre. He said, “The main task is to prevent the Arctic from turning into a battlefield for natural resources. On the contrary, the region should be a grounds for constructive cooperation in all the areas, including industry, scientific research, and ecology.”

The foreign ministers for Iceland and Finland also spoke, along with the Canadian Ambassador to Norway. Several high-level policymakers emphasized the need for new and stricter shipping rules in the Arctic. Iceland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Össur Skarphéðinsson, observed, “The geographical situation of Iceland makes her very vulnerable to any change in the marine system.” Yet according to at least one source, global warming has in a way been good to Iceland. Warming waters have pushed more fish into the country’s surrounding waters. In 2010, the fishing nation used this as an excuse to unilaterally increase its mackerel quota from 2,000 tons to 130,000 tons. [1]

Of course, the opening up of commercial shipping routes in the Arctic is a major cause for concern for Iceland. Several possible shipping routes would go near the country. Skarphéðinsson added, “We are a bit afraid as well…It would put a lot of responsibilities on our shoulders for search and rescue.”

Rear Admiral David Titley represented the U.S. at the conference. He also visited the U.S. Embassy in Oslo, which posted a video of a brief interview with him. He commented about the Arctic,

“While it’s not a crisis right now, it is a strategic challenge. So you have the important work of tomorrow competing against the tyranny of today. One of the ways we work on this is by going to places like Arctic Frontiers, talking to policymakers, to think tanks, and to other government officials, and to our friends and partners in the other militaries. That kinds of builds momentum, or builds a buzz if you will, and gets more people interested and gets people thinking about what the future of the Arctic may and may not be.”

Science talks at the Arctic Frontiers Conference ranged from the obscure, such as “Pelagic amphipod patterns in the eastern Fram Strait as indicators for a warming Arctic? – A time series from 2000 to 2009,” to the more accessible, such as “Tipping points in the oil and gas exploitation in the Arctic.”

Highlights from the conference can be seen on the Arctic Frontiers’ YouTube Channel, while several full-length videos of speeches are available on their website, here.

News Links

[1] “EU set to block mackerel landings from Iceland,” Common Fisheries Policy Reform Watch

“Med på Arctic Frontiers,” Kystverket (in Norwegian)

“Arctic Frontiers Conference is crucial for region,” The Voice of Russia

“New shipping rules urged to avoid Arctic Titanic,” Reuters

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