In cooperation with the 2015 High North Dialogue we conduct a series of podcast interviews with some of the speakers and participants of the conference as well as other Arctic voices. This project is a collaboration between the University of Nordland’s High North Center and The Arctic Institute. The podcasts will be available on iTunes via The Arctic Institute, as well as on the High North Dialogue Website.
In our 2nd podcast for the High North Dialogue 2015 we talked with Kristin Halvorsen, Director of CICERO, Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo. Kristin Halvorsen was leader of the Socialist Left Party in Norway from 1997 to 2012 and served as Minister of Finance and Minister of Education from 2005 to 2009, and 2009 to 2013, respectively.
During our conversation Kristin delivered one essential and undeniable message: the global climate is changing and its negative effects on the Arctic region increase alarmingly. Consequently, she hopes that future discussions on matters of Arctic security will first and foremost concern the climate aspect of security. One of the concepts that are often referred to with regard to the future of the Arctic is sustainable development. Kristin explicitly emphasised that in order to not end up with an empty concept of sustainable development, it is necessary to actually live up its very meaning. In that regard, she stressed current discussions in Norway on the most recent decision by the Norwegian government to open the south-eastern Barents Sea to oil and gas explorations. According to Kristin, the main task of climate research is the contribution of knowledge to that particular debate. Only interdisciplinary research can tackle the comprehensive problems of climate change and consequently provide scientific support for decision- and policymakers. She further highlighted the positive bilateral relationship between Norway and Russia in the Arctic, which is currently not affected by the Ukrainian unrest and the related problematic relationship between the EU and Russia.
Andreas Raspotnik: Hello and welcome to this 2nd podcast for the High North Dialogue 2015, a collaboration of the University of Nordland, the University’s High North Centre for Business and Governance, and The Arctic Institute. We are speaking with attendees and speakers about their work, the High North Dialogue and the conference’s themes of security and business in the Arctic. Thanks for joining us. I am Andreas Raspotnik. Today we are talking with Kristin Halvorsen, Director of CICERO, Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo. Kristin Halvorsen was leader of the Socialist Left Party in Norway from 1997 to 2012 and served as Minister of Finance and Minister of Education from 2005 to 2009, and 2009 to 2013, respectively.
Dear Kristin, thanks for joining us today. Let me start with our first question. The theme of HND 2015 is “The Arctic in a Global Perspective – Arctic Business & Security”. Being the Director of a leading research institute on climate change and climate policy, what is your first association when you think of security in and security for the Arctic?
Kristin Halvorsen: Hallo and thank you for inviting me. I just like to explain to you what CICERO is working on because we are an interdisciplinary research institute. We have natural scientists and social scientists and we work on research on climate issues from different angles. The reason why I am at the conference and my role there is that I am going to highlight the consequences of climate change in the Arctic, which is closely connected both to business and to security. We have a lot of information about this area. It is very vulnerable and the IPCC synthesis report tells us that since 1875 the Arctic has warmed at a rate of 1.36 degrees Celsius per century and that is approximately twice as fast as the global average.[i] All the climate scenarios in the IPCC report shows that there will be dramatic reductions in the Arctic sea ice, the same applies when it comes to near-surface permafrost and the global glacial volume is also projected to significantly decrease. There will be similar increases in the global mean sea level by 2100, anything in between 0.25 and 0.8m[ii] and finally the Arctic as a region will continue to warm more rapidly than the global mean. And that means of course that the climate change in the Arctic is far more dramatic than anywhere else in the world and closely connected to security issues and of course it affects all sectors.
Andreas Raspotnik: A term, closely related to Climate security is at least in my understanding sustainable development. In 1987 the Brundtland Report “Our Common Future” prominently defined the term “sustainable development” as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Today, sustainable development has become a buzzword in the Arctic context that contains different meanings when used by different sectors and actors. How would you perceive and scrutinise the nexus of “sustainable development” and the well-known challenges and opportunities of a future Arctic? Has the term become somewhat of an empty concept used only to legitimise certain actions?
Kristin Halvorsen: Well, it’s nothing wrong with the concept but of course we have to live up to it. Otherwise it will become an empty phrase. Of course the change we can see now in the Arctic region is irreversible and not living up to the content of sustainable development. That means that we have to be extremely careful about all kind of business and activity in the region. We need to know more about how different threats or different elements impact the situation in the Arctic. We have to look closely into because there is a lot of pressure – it is kind of a cocktail. Currently it is not what was meant by sustainable development. Maybe I should also mention to you that is a topical issue in Norway right now. The government has decided to open blocks to oil and gas exploration further north in the Barents Sea and the discussion in the Norwegian media and the Parliament is of course if that is according to sustainable development. So, I think we have to be very careful. The phrase “sustainable development” is not empty but we really have to live up to it.
Andreas Raspotnik: Norway’s 23rd licensing round is actually part of my 3rd question. As a long term policy- and decision maker in Norway and now interested observer of the Norwegian political scene, how would you personally see the Norwegian Arctic future, especially related to that topical licensing round and the related opening of the south-eastern Barents Sea?
Kristin Halvorsen: Well, we know from the latest IPCC report that there is a carbon budget and that we have used more than half of it. The situation in the Barents Sea and further north is very vulnerable, so I think that all climate researchers would agree that this is an area that we should not explore, both because of global heating and green house gas emissions and because this part of the world is so vulnerable. But I think there is a lot more attention now connected to the Arctic than it was just 10, 20 years ago. It was important for the government, which I was a member of in 2005 to highlight the situation and pay attention to the development in the north and that has been followed up by the new conservative government. But I think that when it comes to explore oil and gas and to other activities in this region the government should be confronted by the latest IPCC report; that is a part of the political debate and we climate researchers should contribute with knowledge to that debate.[iii]
Andreas Raspotnik: Staying in the Barents Sea region, how do you see the current relationship with Norway and its Arctic neighbour, the Russian Federation, especially if you consider this relationship in terms of businesses, environmental concerns and security?
Kristin Halvorsen: The collaboration between Russia and Norway in the north connected to our common border has increased tremendously. Just some few years back it was really hard for Russians to come to Norway and the other way around. And I think that we are collaborating well in the Arctic Council and about environmental questions too. It is not that much affected by the conflict between Russia and NATO, as we could fear because it is really very important that we have an open dialogue with the Russians in the Arctic.
Andreas Raspotnik: So is it fair to say that Norway and Russia follow a very pragmatic and cooperative Arctic approach?
Kristin Halvorsen: That is my experience so far. We hope that we will continue because we have a lot of common issues that we have to solve. We have a lot of knowledge that is very important to be open both to Russia, to Norway and all the other members of the Arctic Council.
Andreas Raspotnik: During the last years “big data” has become a key term in our digital understanding of data collection and data management. Companies such as Facebook or Google have opened necessary server farms in Sweden and Finland in order to save energy based on the region’s colder climate. But also in Iceland businesses are putting much effort into the development of so-called “green data centres”. According to your opinion, could the Arctic or the broader north in general serve as a blueprint for related global considerations?
Kristin Halvorsen: Well, I think it is interesting. As you know we have the Svalbard International Seed Vault. That is not for business purposes that is more like to store and preserve genetic materials for humanity but it is interesting because it is placed on Svalbard because of the climate. But I think that we have to be very careful when it comes to Svalbard and the most northern part of the Arctic region. It is another discussion when we discuss the north of Sweden, Finland or Iceland. But we have to be careful in this area because all kinds of activities have a footprint and either when it comes to global emission or when it comes to other kinds of activities. Because this part of the world is so vulnerable I don’t think that this is the one solution for business activity in the north; it can be interesting if we do it wisely and consider all consequences.
Andreas Raspotnik: Coming to our last two questions: Can you shortly describe CICERO’s current Arctic engagement and your related plans for the future?
Kristin Halvorsen: We have several applications connected to the situation in the Arctic because we need more knowledge about this very vulnerable region. But we have projects going on now connected to for instances to black carbon in Arctic snow, short-lived climate forces what is really happening connected to shipping and also connected to adapting to the climate changes in the Arctic. So we are collaborating closely with other research institutes to get more knowledge about the situation in the Arctic and we try to connect our different disciplines to look into the challenges because we know if we work interdisciplinary we can see the climate changes from different angles and come up with knowledge that is relevant to those who are making decisions.
Andreas Raspotnik: And final question now, what would you hope to be the main outcome of this year’s High North Dialogue?
Kristin Halvorsen: I hope that when we highlight security in the Arctic the discussion will be about the climate situation because that is really the closest connected to the security situation in the years to come. It is very dramatic what is going on in the Arctic. It is closely connected to the global climate development but you can double the global warming in the Arctic from what is the mean global increased temperature and that makes it a very special situation. So climate issues and security is very closely connected in the Arctic.
Andreas Raspotnik: Well, Kristin. Thank you very much for taking the time to share your perspectives on the Arctic with us. We look very much forward to seeing you at the coming High North Dialogue conference in Bodø.
Kristin Halvorsen: Thank you very much, see you soon.
Andreas Raspotnik: Thanks for joining us for this podcast. Follow along with the series on iTunes or via our websites highnorthdialogue.no and thearcticinstitute.org. In our 3rd podcast we will talk with Alexander Sergunin, Professor at St. Petersburg State University. The music you’ve heard at the beginning and at the end comes from Hebber Zepherin and can be found at ccmixture.org.
[i] Note by Andreas Raspotnik: the numbers can be found in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis, p. 398, an IPCC’s Working Group I report.
[ii] “m” was added by Andreas Raspotnik
[iii] Note by Andreas Raspotnik: Unfortunately and due to some problems with the recording program the last sentence of Kristin Halvorsen’s statement was not sufficiently recorded. Andreas Raspotnik inserted the word “should” in this transcript for matters of better readability.