TROMSØ, Norway – Prime minsters and foreign ministers of Nordic countries are convening in this city to balance economic interests and environmental harm in the Arctic at talks that began Monday.
But Norwegian environmentalists are apprehensive that big money projects in the region frequently derail political statements of ecological good faith.
Climate change, melting ice and nearly monthly new record high temperatures are hardly the stuff of science fiction, but a daunting reality. The message of leaders of many countries bordering on the Arctic has been focused on balancing economic development with environmental priorities.
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said climate change is happening too fast and Arctic countries should make decisions that would be damaging to the Arctic environment.
“Today, the world is looking to the oceans and their potential for development of shipping routes, bio-resources, and energy,” Solberg told the gathering. “In order to feed the growing population of the planet, we need a healthy and productive ocean in which there is a balance between consumers and preservation of ocean resources.”
As the ocean is Norway’s breadbasket, the Solberg administration this year is presenting its strategy for handling water zones.
“The aim of the strategy is in using existing experience and technology in working on the Arctic shelf and the transition to environmental and more effective technology,” she said. She added that climate change should force the switch to a fuller embrace of green innovation to balance the search for Arctic resources.
“Unify shipping traffic, energy, the fishing industry and aquatic health is possible. The balance must be maintained,” said Solberg.
Margot Walhström, Sweden’s foreign minister, supported Solberg’s statement and said the Arctic is now the at the epicenter of the global climate crisis.
“Being an Arctic country isn’t only advantageous because of the possibility of exploiting the rich resources of the region,” said Walhström. “It’s also the huge obligation to find a balance between economic growth and environmental sustainability. We have to improve life in the Arctic region not only for ourselves but for future generations.”
She said a special focus should be devoted to issues of ocean development. Temperature rises are threatening the worldwide marine system.
Many of the leaders appearing at the conference said in one way or another that the region’s countries have an obligation to leave behind a sustainable and developing Arctic to future generations.
But Nature and Youth (Nature I Ungdom) Norway’s biggest youth environmental movement, took a measured response to politicians’ assertions, and said economic development routinely comes before environmental stewardship.
“Over many years, not one month in the year passes without setting new temperature records,” said the group’s Ingrid Skjoldvær. “We understand that you have to pay for any development. It what we are paying now proportional? I represent the generation that will have to live with climate change.”
Skjoldvær said politicians are making decisions that don’t take the environment into account, and that will directly affect the future. She said oil exploration in the Arctic was unreasonably ramping up.
“What kind of development to you want for your children?” she asked the gathered leaders. “On what foundation do you want to build future societies, on a foundation of limited or renewable resources?”
She said that parliamentary elections in Norway were coming up in four years but that the decisions today’s politicians were making “would last far longer than their terms of office.”
“Future generations will have to deal with the consequences of these decisions,” she said.