18th Apr 2021

Commission backs Norway's Arctic vision: no new treaty

No new treaty is necessary to protect the Arctic, according to the European Commission. The current Law of the Sea is sufficient.

Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Wednesday offered the European Union's support for Norway's position that the melting pole does not mean that the region requires a document similar to the Antarctic Treaty, which set aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve, banned territorial claims and prohibited military activities.

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  • The Norwegian PM and the president of the EU Commission in the Arctic (Photo: European Commission)

"As a matter of principle, we can say that the Arctic is a sea, and a sea is a sea. This is our starting point," Mr Barroso told reporters on Wednesday after a midday meeting with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, while underscoring that he could not go into any detail ahead of the release of an EU communication on the Arctic, expected to be issued next week.

"It's important to both Norway and the EU that the [UN Convention on the] Law of the Sea applies," Mr Stoltenberg added. "Of course there is a need for more regulations from the International Maritime Organisation, but the fundamental approach must be the Law of the Sea."

In October, the European Parliament overwhelming passed a resolution demanding the European commission to push for international negotiations that would lead to the adoption of an international treaty for the protection of the Arctic. The chamber does however support the commercial development of high north resources so long as done in a sustainable manner.

Environmental groups too support the passage of an Antarctic-Treaty-like framework, although they vary in their perspectives on fossil fuel extraction in the region.

Later, speaking to EUobserver, Mr Stoltenberg said of the parliament's resolution: "What we were told today was that the European Commission agrees that the Law of the Sea applies for the Arctic."

"The Arctic is a sea with ice on top," he insisted. "It's completely different from Antarctica."

With six ministers in tow, Mr Stoltenberg headed his country's largest, most high profile delegation ever to the EU, arriving in Brussels yesterday for a series of meetings with President Barroso and a slew of commissioners that continued on Thursday. The talks cover almost all aspects of EU-Norway relations, from energy and development of the Arctic to the transposition of the EU's service directive.

Norway is not a member of the EU, but with its direct land and sea access to the Arctic that the union lacks and to the rich stores of oil and gas that lie beneath, Oslo is increasingly playing a central role in Brussels' plans for energy security.

The prime minister said the reason for such a high-profile trip to the EU capital by much of his cabinet was "an expression of the very close relations with the European Union."

"No other country in the world has closer relations with the EU than Norway."

Norway to increase gas exports to EU

Separately, Mr Stoltenberg announced a rise in exports of natural gas to Europe.

"You can count on Norway when it comes to energy supplies to Europe," he said, adding that he expected exports to increase from 100 billion cubic metres per year to between 125 and 140 billion cubic metres by 2020.

He also warned against an armed scramble for resources in the region between the polar powers.

"It is important to avoid a militarisation of the Arctic," he said. "We are in favour of disarmament and we will do whatever we can to avoid an arms race in the Arctic."

"Russia has increased its military activities in the Norwegian Sea and the Barents Sea. That's just an expression of a stronger economy, more presence of Russia in many different areas."

While in the European capital, Mr Stoltenberg's his foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Støre met with met with Jap de Hoop Scheffer, the general secretary of NATO and the EU's chief diplomat, Javier Solana.

West coast CCS project should be EU project

The Norwegian leader also tried to allay environmental concerns about further development of high north fossil fuel resources. The Arctic is home to as much as a quarter of the globe's remaining undiscovered oil and gas reserves.

"The paradox, the challenge of the world today is that we need both more energy and a better environment, plus the world needs fossil fuels to fight poverty. Hundreds of millions of people really are in need of more economic growth and development.

"For that we need more energy. At the same time, we need to reduce greenhouse gases. So the question is not to choose between energy and environment, development or tackling climate change, but how can we reconcile them?"

Mr Stoltenberg said that the way to square the circle was through the use of controversial carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology - scrubbing power plant emissions of their carbon and storing the CO2 underground or under the seabed.

"Carbon capture allows us to access fossil fuels, but reduce emissions. We are developing the first full-scale carbon capture facility on the west coast of Norway for a gas-fired power station."

During his meeting with the commission president, he said that one of Norway's key messages for the EU was to push further on carbon capture and storage. "Without CCS, Europe will not manage big enough reductions in CO2 emissions."

"We want our climate capture project on Norway's west coast to be an EU project."

As well as his foreign minister, Norway's finance, energy, environment, fish, transport and communications ministers accompanied Mr Stoltenberg on his trip.

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