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Why science matters in the Arctic – a Norwegian perspective

November 4, 2019
By: 
H.E. Anne Kari H. Ovind
Norway’s ambassador to Canada

The Arctic is undergoing immense change. The region is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe. Particles of plastics burnt halfway around the world are carried by winds and end up in the Arctic Ocean. Ships can navigate previously ice-covered waters and access to natural resources and technological development open up new economic opportunities. Increasing knowledge is more important than ever to ensure sustainable development of the north.

The Arctic remains a top priority for Norway. Some 10 percent of our population lives here, and the region contributes significantly to the Norwegian economy. Our future in the region depends on knowledge, bold decisions and our ability to adapt. Norway’s approach is to invest in science, to pursue sustainability, and to strike the balance between protection and sustainable use of resources. To succeed, we need international cooperation.

For these reasons, Arctic research is a prioritized area in Norway’s long-term strategy, which aims at spending 3 percent of our GDP on research and development by 2030. The strategy has already given results. While Norway contributes to 0.62 percent of the world's total scientific publication output, the proportion is 5.6 percent for polar research. Norway is the third largest nation in terms of publications relating to the Arctic, only the USA and Canada have higher numbers. In the period 2012-2014, Norway contributed to 8.3 percent of the global article production relating to the Arctic. Internationalization is essential to ensure high quality, and Norwegian participation in international research cooperation, for example under the Arctic Council and EU research programs, is a priority.

An important part of promoting the development of knowledge particularly relevant to the north, is the strengthening of research infrastructure. The Fram Center in the city of Tromsø opened in 2010 and has become an internationally renowned research center for climate and environmental research. It comprises 21 different institutions, cooperating in an interdisciplinary way on five focus areas. Last year, the center was expanded by its newest addition, the Center for Ocean and the Arctic. This new center’s national mandate is to compile, analyze and communicate knowledge about the blue economy in the north. This will create a solid knowledge base for decision-makers, businesses, the public and academia, both in Norway and internationally.

An important factor is local knowledge and involvement of the people and institutions in the Arctic. Of all the Norwegian published articles on Arctic research in the period 2010-2014, more than one third was published by universities and institutions located in the region. Tromsø is home to the world’s northernmost university, the Arctic University of Norway, a flagship on Norwegian Arctic research. In Longyearbyen on the Svalbard archipelago, the University Centre of Svalbard is the world’s northernmost research and higher education institution, hosting students from more than 40 countries annually.

Furthermore, we must invest to ensure that new generations of Arctic researchers stand ready to produce the knowledge required for tomorrow. Norway has initiated the Nansen Legacy project, which will be running until 2023. The project is not only generating knowledge about the unexplored northern part of the Barents Sea, but also educating a new generation of polar scientists. Over the next five years, about 50 young marine scientists will participate and receive their training. These come from Norway and many other countries, and bring with them different expertise about the marine environment and industry. The new research icebreaker, Kronprins Haakon, had its first scientific voyage this year, and will constitute an important work platform for the project and international collaboration.

The achievement of many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals will heavily depend on science. This is why Norway emphasizes research-based knowledge in order to solve both national and global challenges. The Arctic is important for Norway and for the world as a whole, and knowledge must be the basis of our actions and policies to ensure sustainable development of the north.