Barents regional cooperation model strongly present in Arctic Circle Assembly 2016.
Photo: Institutions represented in the Troms county panel: Troms County
government, Norwegian parliament, Arctic Economic Council, the Arctic
University of Norway, Northern Dimension Partnership on Transport and
Logistics, Arctic Institute and Norwegian Polar Institute
THE ARCTIC CIRCLE ASSEMBLY took place in Reykjavík in 7–9 October 2016. Arctic Circle, the biggest arctic related event in the world, gathered more than 2 300 stakeholders interested in the high north. The assembly is an open platform for participants with a wide range of different backgrounds: decision-makers, corporations, organizations, universities and indigenous representatives.
Barents was in the Arctic spotlight in “Regions as Arctic developers” – a break-out session organized by the Troms County. Northern Norway based experts introduced the strong regional cooperation from various perspectives. The double-layer structure of Barents cooperation makes it strong and unique, and makes it possible to make the decisions on the right level: a cultural project between schools in Troms and Murmansk does not require actions to be taken on the ministerial level, for example. Nowhere else in the Arctic than in Barents the regions cooperate in such an extensive and multilateral level on all the levels of society: public, private and civil society.
Eirik Sivertsen, a member of the Norwegian parliament, stated that the multilevel and cross-sectoral cooperation has made breaking barriers possible in international politics in the Arctic. 30 years ago the iron curtain divided Barents, whereas now the inhabitants of Barents towns Nikel, Russia and Kirkenes, Norway, can visit each other’s cities freely with an affordable border-resident visa. However, he continued, it is vital for the northern regions to cooperate, as they differ from the southern regions in an often negative way with more socio-economic challenges.
The experts regard the future of Barents as bright, since the cooperation is functioning well on multiple levels and spheres. Anne Husebekk, the Director of the Arctic University of Norway, found that the key to development lies in educating Arctic people in their home regions. She pointed out that since the founding of the university, Tromsø has experienced significant growth in population, economy and internationality. Husebekk found that in order to create growth and innovations in the high north, we need to have highly-educated locals as experts and stakeholders.
However, the climate change poses a serious threat to the Barents environment, said Jan-Gunnar Winther from the Norwegian Polar Institute. According to him, it is optimistic to estimate that the climate will warm at least 1.5–2 degrees – in the Arctic, the change will be double that much. On a more optimistic note, he added that the nature in Barents is still pristine, unlike nearly everywhere else in the world. If we set high standards on benefiting from the natural resources in an environmentally friendly and socially sustainable manner, Barents cooperation is on the right track.
Text and photo: Sunna Kokkonen