The North Norway European Office and the Green/EFA party group hosted the ‘Safety at Sea in the Arctic’ seminar in the European Parliament on the 22nd of June. The question of how to best go about when promoting a sustainable development in the Arctic, one that doesn’t contradict the protection of the fragile environment, was particularly relevant.
The purpose of the seminar was to debate the maritime and environmental challenges in relation to increased use of the Arctic waters. The hosts of the event were MEP Keith Taylor (Greens/EFA), MEP Satu Hassi (Greens/EFA) and Eirik Sivertsen, member of the Norwegian Parliament and Deputy Chair of the Arctic Committee.
Green Party MEP Keith Taylor opened the seminar by speaking about how the Arctic region has attracted a great deal of attention the latest years, and that there are many overlapping issues, such as resource extraction, environmental change and increased use of sea routes, on the agenda. Mr. Taylor also pointed out that even though the EU does not have any territory in the area, the union still has an important role to play.
Eirik Sivertsen set the agenda by talking about the nature of the Norwegian Arctic; it’s is “a populated and promising region, with several highly developed university cities”. He also underlined the fact that this areas under Norwegian sovereignty, and not part of the EU, but that it’s still important that all relevant actors contribute to the development and discussion regarding the future of the Arctic. Sivertsen ensured that the Parliament recognizes the right the local population in the Arctic has for a sustainable use and development of their own lands and territory. In accordance with that any oil and gas dialogue will need to be done in collaboration with this regional level, to be based on their interests and needs.
Sturla Henriksen, Director General of the Norwegian Shipowner’s Association, underlined this point by talking about the fact that Norway is a very small country, and the only area in which it is a major player is the maritime field. He also focused on how maritime business opportunities are expected to grow in the years to come. The area is particularly important when it comes to oil and gas extraction, and the possibilities when it comes to the Northern Sea Route, and pointed out how there is need for new infrastructure when it comes to the extraction of the enormous natural resources.
Paal Frisvold, from Bellona, spoke on how several countries are claiming their rights in the Arctic area, and that a strategic geo-political battle is ahead of us. Frisvold agreed with Mr. Taylor in when it comes to how Norway and the rest of the world have a common responsibility in taking care of the fragile and vulnerable eco-system in the area. He called for the need for Europe and the EU in particular to be a part of the legislative process with regards to an international treaty about the waters of the north.
Search and rescue
Albert Shigabutdinov, Head of Maritime Satellite Information System Laboratory, St. Petersburg, focused on the Russian dimension on safety at sea in the Arctic; “the Arctic is an important area to the rest of the world; i.e.: the oil and gas deposits of the Russian north concentrate up to 30% of the world’s hydrocarbon reserve. At the same time the Arctic sea is part of the richest and untouched sea ecosystems in the world, and it is especially vulnerable to human activity and pollution. This is why safety at sea is high on the agenda in relevant Russian ministries”.
Director of the Joint Rescue Coordination Center in North Norway, Anne Holm Gundersen, informed about the technicalities and obstacles of search and rescue operations in the northernmost part of Norway. Her experience is that due to the unique conditions in the high north the Arctic countries need to share search and rescue information and arrange joint exercises and training regularly.
-When you drill, you spill
Hanna Paulomaki from Oceana Baltic, on the other hand, presented Oceana’s view that the Arctic should be permanently closed to offshore drilling, as there are “no current cleanup methods that remove more than a fraction of oil spilled in marine waters, especially in the presence of broken ice”. She added that the extreme climate and the large distances of the Arctic would definitely complicate such a clean-up. Moreover, she spoke on the gaps in international and EU legislation when it comes to offshore installations, and that no one has demonstrated an ability to clean up spilled oil in Arctic waters.
Finally, Josep Casanovas (European Commission DG MOVE, Maritime Transport Policy) summed up the discussion by stating that the European Union already is an important player in the north, and it should be a part of the future plans to protect and preserve the area. He talked about how there is a need to prepare a legally binding agreement on search and rescue, and the EU should be able to participate and play a role in this work. With regards to this last point Casanovas focused on the fast that the union’s application for the status as a permanent observer in the Arctic Council was yet again postponed during the last Council meeting in May, especially since several Non-arctic States have been granted observer status already. Casanovas stressed the fact that the main objectives of a new Arctic policy, whether on the national or international levels, should be protecting and preserving the area. In conclusion Casanovas said that whatever the future may hold for the Arctic, the EU is and should be a part of the development.