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Political chat en route for Arctic Frontiers

North Norway

Flying in over northern Norway

I have arrived in Tromso after a flight with some spectacular views (until the early dark came down) and interesting company. I was sitting beside Anne-Grete Strom-Erichsen, ex Norwegian Minister for Health and for Defence. She will be co-chairing the health session in the Tuesday high-level segment. She was reading an article on the Arctic in one of the main Norwegian dailies entitled “A Living Region” and summarized the gist of it for me as the need for international cooperation to deal with the challenges ahead for this high Northern region.

She reckons this year’s Arctic Frontiers is very high profile in Norway. The attendance of the Prime Minister shows the extent of Norway’s interest in Arctic development, she said. Although this is not her government, the Social Democrat ex-Minister does not expect anything to change with regard to Norway’s Arctic policies in general because of the key importance of the region putting it high on the list of political priorities. (Of course any politician will tell you their policies are better, but we just touched on that tongue-in-cheek).

I asked her about the environmental and climate impacts. “It’s a dilemma”, she said. “The world needs oil”. So far, she doesn’t really see an alternative, at least not in time and on the necessary scale. She thinks the debate over climate and emissions is growing in Norway though. And like other Arctic politicians I have talked to, she stressed the importance of international negotiations to tackle the emissions problem.

On the way to my hotel I met a representative from the British Embassy in Oslo. She told me several colleagues will be joining her, because the British government allocates great importance to the Arctic and its own Arctic strategy. During the week she will be following sessions on “Search and Rescue” – because of the increasing number of British tourists on cruise boats. Hm. As I said in the last post, there will be a lot of scope for discussion on the compatibility of commercial interests with environment protection up here this week.

Updates on Twitter @iceblogger

Date

January 19, 2014 | 8:32 pm

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Mining fears decide Greenland vote

Greenland ice wall

Greenland’s massive  ice sheet, photographed 2009

Interesting times for the “ice island“. The Greenlanders have voted for a change of government amidst concern that the incumbent government was opening the country too fast to foreign mining companies.

Alequa Hammond’s Siumit party won 42 percent of the votes, up from 26.5 percent. Kuupik Kleists’ Inuit Ataquatigiit took 34.4 percent compared to 43.7 last time. Hammond, who would be the first woman prime minister of Greenland if she successfully forms a coalition with a smaller party, campaigned on a pledge to tax foreign mining companies.

Climate change is opening up opportunities for the mining of rare earth and other raw materials in Greenland, as well as oil and gas exploration. I visited the island in 2009 to report on the effects of climate change. At that time, I could already sense the dichotomy between the desire to gain revenue from mining to fund ultimate independence from Denmark on the one hand, and concern that the changing climate was making traditional Inuit lifestyles more difficult and potentially opening the way for environmentally harmful commercial activities on the other.

Hammond, an Inuit woman who was educated in Montreal before returning to Greenland and working in tourism, told the online edition of the weekly newspaper Sermitsiaq “Too much secrecy surrounding mining projects and problems in the fishery sector, as well as a lack of construction outside Nuuk (the capital), determined the outcome”. There had been a lot of concern about proposals being discussed for a company to bring 2,000 Chinese workers to the island, with a population of just 57,000, to set up a mining venture. China is becoming increasingly interested in Greenland and the Arctic as a whole, both because of its rich mineral resources and the opening of faster shipping routes between Asia and Europe and North America.

It remains to be seen to what extent protecting the environment will have priority over economic considerations as Greenland develops further.

The Arctic Council will be meeting in Kiruna, Sweden in May, the last meeting before Canada takes over the chair. China’s application for observer status will be on the agenda. Hammond says she could support the application but would take a more critical look at Chinese investments.

Interesting times ahead. Watch this space. Related stories to catch up with:

Polar ice sheets melting faster than ever

Business opportunities boom in the Arctic

Sea levels rising faster than expected

China’s Arctic ambitions spark concern

Scientists raise Greenland climate threat

Climate change visible on Greenland

Greenland, Ice Island in Pictures

Date

March 14, 2013 | 11:33 am

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China and the Arctic – “a public area, just like the moon?

ship in icebergs off Spitsbergen by Irene Quaile

Shipping is already increasing in Arctic waters. I took this one off the coast of Spitsbergen

Now who could come up with a statement like that? It has to come from a country showing a growing interest in the region although it has no Arctic territory. The Chinese premier Wen Jiabao is coming to Europe tomorrow and the Arctic is to be a key focus of his trip. He’ll be spending eight days visiting Iceland, Sweden, Poland and Germany.

There are two main reasons for the Chinese interest: energy, and shipping routes. China is the world’s biggest consumer of energy and greatly interested in the resources becoming more easily accessible through climate change. The retreat of the sea ice is also opening up new routes for shipping in summer, which could cut the sea voyage between Shanghai and northern Europe by around 6,400 km. So there are difficult times ahead for those who want to protect the sensitive Arctic environment and wildlife from increasing traffic and risky exploration for oil, gas and minerals. I wrote about this some time ago, and it’s certainly going to keep coming up:

Arctic Regions Eye Nation’s Potential

 

 

Date

April 19, 2012 | 1:08 pm

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