OPINION

From the Third pole to the North Pole

Climate change is a global challenge. But the impacts of climate change are also local. The effects of climate change were first seen in polar regions such as Svalbard, and the effects there are more radical than anywhere else. There are strong indications that changes in the Arctic could have direct impacts on the Indian monsoon. This highlights the importance of Indian research in Svalbard, which dates back to 2008.

Research in Svalbard

Science is the backbone of Indo-Norwegian cooperation in the Arctic. Indian scientists are conducting important research at the Himadri Station in Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago situated halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. For example on July 23 this year, Indian scientists deployed India’s first sub-surface ocean moored observatory 192 metres below sea level in the Arctic waters of Svalbard. Through the activities at the Himadri Station, and drawing on their experience from both Antarctica and the “third pole” in the Himalayas, Indian polar researchers are contributing significantly to scientific advancements in this field. Norway and India have benefited from scholarly exchanges for many years. One example is the close collaboration between the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research and the Norwegian Polar Institute in Tromsø and the Fridtjof Nansen Institute in Oslo. Further, Norway’s Institute for Defence Research and Analysis is a key partner in the research project AsiArctic. Our well-established Joint Working Group on Science and Technology is also discussing new opportunities for increased scientific cooperation.

The melting of the polar ice cap has opened new possibilities for commercial activity. With oil, gas, and mineral fields becoming accessible, and shipping lanes opening up from Europe to Asia, offshore traffic in the Arctic is already growing. It is crucial that shipping in the Arctic Ocean complies with the highest safety and environmental standards. Norway has played an active role in the International Maritime Organization in promoting the development of a mandatory polar code. We would welcome the active participation of India in these efforts. It is in our common interest to work towards international standards and sound management of one of the planet’s most fragile ecosystems.

In recent decades, Norway’s maritime industries have developed cutting-edge knowledge and technology, which is being used by Indian yards building ships for Norwegian owners. Innovation and technology development in this sector may well make it possible to address the offshore challenges ahead. Working together, Norway and India are well positioned to make substantial contributions in this area.

Although Norway’s oil industry is accustomed to operating in cold climates, a broader orientation towards the north makes it necessary to take a more integrated approach. Environmental concerns, as well as the need to safeguard the health and safety of personnel and ensure adequate search and rescue systems, are posing new challenges to the industry. This is already driving technological innovation.

We need to strike a balance between exploiting economic opportunities and meeting our environmental responsibilities. In Norway, we have developed an integrated management framework for sustainable use of natural resources that ensures that the cumulative effects of various activities do not threaten the marine environment. Norway is willing to share its experience of developing and implementing integrated ocean management plans with other nations facing similar challenges in their waters. India, with its impressive coastline and substantial coastal shipping, would be an ideal partner in international efforts on integrated ocean management and environmental protection.

The age of the Arctic

With strong Norwegian support, India made a successful bid for permanent observer status to the Arctic Council last year. In June 2013, India was the first of the new observer states to make a ministerial visit to Svalbard and the Arctic Council in Tromsø, which was headed by the former Minister of External Affairs, Salman Khurshid. The Arctic Council has become the most important political arena for discussions of shared challenges in the Arctic. It is the only body that brings together all the Arctic states as well as representatives of indigenous peoples. Cooperation in the Arctic Council needs to develop in line with the changes taking place in the Arctic, changes that could have potentially dramatic consequences for both our countries. Norway looks forward to Indian scientific participation in the working groups on climate change under the Arctic Council. Norway is very pleased that President Mukherjee is visiting Norway, and proud to be India’s trusted partner in Arctic matters. The ongoing cooperation between our countries will be presented to the President during his visit. In addition, he will open a research and business seminar for Indian and Norwegian scientists, academics, business representatives and government officials. The President also met the Indian researchers and students in Svalbard on video link.

It will be important to bring the results of our joint climate research efforts to the global stage. Cooperation between two countries that lie thousands of miles apart underlines the truly global reach of climate change. Our collaboration in the Arctic could be a crucial contribution to the global effort to address these global challenges.

(Børge Brende is Foreign Minister of Norway.)



India would be an ideal partner in international efforts on integrated ocean management and environmental protection



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