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High North Strategy Lifts Prospects for Tromsø

The Norwegian government has made the High North its number one foreign policy priority. Troms is one of the country’s three northernmost counties that stand to reap the benefits from this northern strategy, with the city of Tromsø gaining a new national centre on climate research and national initiatives for marine bio prospecting and cod farming.

The history of Norway’s High North strategy dates back to 2004/2005 when the Bondevik government delivered the country’s first White Paper on the High North. However, it was the following government under Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg which took the strategy even further and made it part of its Soria Moria policy platform. Here it stated that the High North would be Norway’s most important strategic priority area in the years ahead.

The original thought behind the strategy is that such a resourceful region for fish, petroleum, minerals, and competence among people should be used for the good of all in the nation. The strategy is a way of creating to make a difference, to contributing to international discussions, and to stating Norway’s sovereignty in the High North.

Since the launch of this strategy in December 2006, the government has followed up with the document “New Building Blocks in the North.” As part of the updated plan, Norway has several specific targets: the climate and the environment in the High North; monitoring, emergency response and maritime safety systems; offshore petroleum and renewable marine resources; onshore business development; infrastructure in the north; sovereignty and strengthened cross-border cooperation in the north; and the culture and livelihoods of indigenous peoples.

“It is now time to take our High North activities further,” said Stoltenberg in connection with the announcement of the New Building Blocks strategy last year. “We have outlined a stronger focus on business development.”

Jonas Gahr Støre, Norway’s foreign minister, presents his lecture “Most is North” on Norway’s High North strategy at the University of Tromsø in April 2010.
©Marte Kopstad/UD

Developing Marine Industries

Tromsø has benefited in many ways from the High North strategy. One of the most concrete examples was the launch of a new national initiative for marine bio prospecting in 2009. This entails facilitating commercialization and developing Marbank in Tromsø into a national marine bio bank that can be used to provide research communities and others with effective access to marine biological material.

Located at Tromsø Science Park, Marbank provides an accessible national repository of frozen and extracted marine biological samples, such as genetic and biological material from marine organisms, plankton, algae, invertebrates and vertebrates. Tromsø Science Park is also home to the Marbio laboratory, the MabCent centre for research-based innovation and MABIT, an industrial R&D programme for northern Norway focusing on bio prospecting that also organizes BIOPROSP, the international conference on marine bio prospecting in Tromsø.

The government believes marine bio prospecting could become an important area within biotechnology and could have commercial potential in a number of areas. This could include applications such as medicines, flavours and nutrients in food and feed, and industrial processes for the production of textiles, cellulose and biomass, renewable energy, as well as the oil industry.

“Since we presented our High North strategy on December 1, 2006, we have increased budget allocations for specific High North-related measures by NOK 1.5 billion,” said Jonas Gahr Støre, Norway’s foreign minister, in his speech on the High North strategy at the University of Tromsø this April.

“An example of this kind of support is the development of marine bio prospecting in Tromsø, including research on living resources in deep waters and their potential use. It is likely that something like 10,000 species have been poorly investigated, and some of these could have properties that could be used to develop new medicines and materials. A new era may be opening up in this field.”

The government’s High North Strategy plans a separate national drive to develop cod farming, which has much of its competence located in Tromsø. In recent years, the research infrastructure there has been upgraded via the addition of the Norwegian Cod Breeding Centre, the Tromsø Aquaculture Research Station and the Fish Health Laboratory at Kårvika.
The Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture Research (Nofima) and a branch of the Institute of Marine Research (IMR) are also situated in Tromsø.

The High North Strategy calls for a new national initiative for marine bio prospecting that will stimulate activity around Tromsø. Pictured here is starfish with ice crystals.©Bjørn Gulliksen/MABIT

Climate Focus

Another key impact on Tromsø from the High North Strategy will be climate and environmental research. In its New Building Blocks document, the government stresses the increasing international focus on environmental and climate change, polar ice melting and the subsequent challenges. It believes making Tromsø a focal point on climate and the environment will strengthen Norway’s role and influence in international cooperation in the north, and therefore help ensure Norway’s interests are safeguarded. As a result, the government is helping establish a leading international centre for environment and climate research in the High North by developing existing knowledge institutions in Tromsø, including the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI), University of Tromsø, IMR, Akvaplan-niva, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Norwegian Institute for Air Research, Nofima, and Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority.

The centre will be organized as a network with a joint secretariat, established in conjunction with the Polar Environmental Centre’s secretariat. One of the elements in the development of this centre was the establishment of the Centre for Ice, Climate and Ecosystems (ICE) in 2009 at the NPI. The NPI is the largest organization at the Polar Environmental Centre, which is currently being expanded into a new national centre of research on climate change and environment.

“First there is Russia… The second driving force (in the High North) is climate change,” said Støre. “The High North offers a front row seat for observing climate change.”

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