Governing the Blue Economy in Alaska and Northern Norway
The 4th meeting of the AlaskaNor project took place in Tromsø, Norway on January 23, 2019. Photo: Trine Jonassen
The Arctic is changing, and it is changing rapidly. So far, we are still learning about these changes, which can be environmental, technological and social in nature. With so much of the Arctic made up of oceans, the region’s potential is highly dependent on the ‘blue economy’. This means using ocean resources for the benefit of the world population, Arctic states and local communities. The obvious lessons about resource use and local adaptation, however, are rarely shared across Arctic regions. We need to strengthen the dialogue between the different Arctic stakeholders, openly share and discuss knowledge and experiences internationally.
That’s what the AlaskaNor Project undertook to do, among other things, in view of the blue governance structures of the Arctic of the United States (Alaska) and Northern Norway. Both regions share similar characteristics. Their reliance on maritime industries and their potential for the blue economy stand out. A key part of the project has been to map potential areas for expanded collaboration. What are the opportunities for cooperation and collaboration between Alaska and Northern Norway? Are there best practices and relevant lessons across all regions?
The first step in such an endeavor is to provide an overview of how the blue economy is managed and regulated in Alaska and northern Norway. Global ocean law gives the coastal state relatively free reign in regulating its blue economy, but several international and transnational norm-setting processes influence the regulation of Arctic coastal states and govern ocean activities. The most important is the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which codifies customary international law relating to the use of the oceans and provides the basic legal framework for the management of all marine activities, in the Arctic as elsewhere. It distributes regulatory powers differently between coastal states and flag states, depending on the type of activity and the distance from the coast. However, the predominant mode of governance for Arctic maritime activities will remain unilateral management by each of the five coastal states. Thus, international, national and local legal and policy frameworks need to be mapped.
In the AlaskaNor project, we – the Fridtjof Nansen Institute with the support of our Work Package partners – presented how five important sectors for the development of the blue economy is governed: offshore oil, maritime transport/shipping, offshore wind power, fishing and aquaculture. How are these areas governed as activities increase in Arctic waters and where can coordination and cooperation be strengthened? It is important to recognize that there are a number of differences between the management systems of the two Arctic regions. For example, when looking at aquaculture, comparing Alaska and Northern Norway is like comparing apples and oranges. Alaska has banned offshore fish farms except for shellfish, and Norway is one of the world’s leading salmon producers and exporters. With respect to offshore oil, we find that Alaska and Northern Norway have very developed and complex regulatory systems. An important distinction is, however, that the US system is primarily prescriptive, requiring industry standards through regulatory incorporation, setting specific technical and procedural requirements. In Norway, there are few mandatory technical requirements and can be characterized as a performance-based regulatory system. When it comes to navigation, however, international and regional regulations such as the Polar Code are more relevant.
The main point of our study – which can be downloaded below – is that despite the differences between different regulatory domains and systems, we need to strengthen dialogue among Arctic governance stakeholders by sharing and by openly discussing knowledge and experiences on how the blue economy is regulated. Although the law of the sea provides the basic legal framework for the region, Arctic citizens and policy makers still have much to learn from each other. This is already happening in forums such as the Arctic Council and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, but this work should be strengthened with a focus on sharing experiences and best practices. A comparison between Alaska and northern Norway is one contribution in this regard, and the AlaskaNor project is a necessary first step.