Norway and the Arctic region

Norway’s Arctic territory consists of the two counties, Nordland and Troms and Finnmark on the mainland, and the Svalbard archipelago and the island of Jan Mayen. Together, these areas make up almost half the Norwegian land mass and they are home to around 470 000 people or a tenth of the Norwegian population. Norway’s maritime areas in the Arctic come to approximately 1 500 000 km2, which corresponds to the combined area of France, Germany and Spain.

Due to the warming effect of the Gulf Stream, North Norway is much more hospitable than other parts of the world at this latitude. Tromsø is the largest city in North Norway and is commonly referred to as the “Gateway to the Arctic”. It houses the world’s northernmost university, as well as the FRAM High North Research Centre for Climate and the Environment, where 500 scientists from 20 different institutions are engaged in research in the fields of natural science, technology and social sciences. Other important towns in North Norway are Bodø, Harstad, Narvik, Alta, Hammerfest and Kirkenes.

Traditionally, the inhabitants of North Norway subsisted on fishing and livestock husbandry. While these industries remain important, today’s economy is more diversified. Fish farming has a link to the past but also shows promising potential for providing food for a growing world population. In Hammerfest, Statoil operates a processing plant for liquefied natural gas from the Snøhvit field in the Barents Sea. Further south, Narvik is an important port for the export of iron ore from Swedish mines. The Arctic region also attracts a growing number of tourists who come to experience dramatic scenery and largely untouched wilderness.

The Arctic archipelago of Svalbard is located halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. About half the land is ice-covered. The largest island of the archipelago is called Spitsbergen, and until 1925 this name was used for the whole archipelago. The administrative centre of Longyearbyen and the other inhabited areas of the archipelago are located on this island. Svalbard’s main industries today are coal mining, tourism and research.

Indigenous peoples

The Sami are an indigenous people who live in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Because there is no overall registration of the Sami population, no one knows exactly how many there are today; estimates vary between 50 000 and 80 000. The Sami are scattered throughout Norway, but the most concentrated settlements are in North Norway. Since 1989, the Sami in Norway have had their own elected assembly – the Sámediggi – which acts as a consultative body for the Norwegian government authorities.

Norway in the Arctic Council

The changes taking place in the Arctic pose new challenges and give rise to new opportunities. As a responsible coastal state, Norway strives to address the challenges and make use of the opportunities in a safe and environmentally sound way. We will work to maintain the Arctic as a peaceful region of cooperation and sustainable resource management. Norway’s view is that existing international law provides a predictable framework for handling present and foreseeable challenges in the Arctic. The Law of the Sea forms the legal basis for all activities in the Arctic Ocean.

Climate and environmental research

The work of the Arctic Council is producing tangible results. Pollution was the main focus during the first decade of Arctic cooperation. It is still a key issue. We saw unacceptable levels of environmentally hazardous substances and heavy metals documented in the Arctic in spite of the distance from industrialised areas. In our second decade of Arctic cooperation, we turned to climate change. We became aware of the fact that we have front row seats for observing climate change. The comprehensive reports of climate change in the Arctic have been of major importance in highlighting the speed at which climate change is taking place and its implications.

Legal agreements and task forces

In the third decade of Arctic cooperation, we are – in addition to dealing with pollution and climate change – turning our attention to adaptation. In May 2011, the member states signed the first legally binding agreement negotiated under the auspices of the Arctic Council. The agreement establishes a binding framework for search and rescue cooperation between the member States of the Arctic Council.

Norway, Russia and the United States as co-chairs, took a leading role in the work towards a legally binding agreement, signed in 2013, on cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic. The Council has also undertaken comprehensive environmental and scientific studies on shipping in the Arctic, on oil and gas activities and on ocean management, and in 2017 a third legally binding agreement on Enhancing International Arctic Scientific Cooperation.

Norway has the role as host country for the permanent secretariat of the Council, located in Tromsø.

Future challenges in the Arctic

Norway believes that in order to further adapt to new challenges in the region, the Arctic Council needs to make more decisions of a more binding nature.


Government/parliament website

The Norwegian government:

The Storting (Parliament):

Norway in your country:

Norwegian High North policy:

The Governor of Svalbard:

Indigenous/Aboriginal website/policy webpage

The Sami parliament:

Environmental agencies

Norwegian Environment Agency: http://www.miljø

Polar research institutions

The Fram Centre:

Fridtjof Nansen Institute:

Intergovernmental cooperation in the Barents region

The Barents Euro-Arctic Council:

Tourism website

Visit Norway:


Senior Arctic Official

Bård Ivar Svendsen

Ambassador/Special Adviser
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway 

P.O.Box 8114 Dep.
N-0032 Oslo Norway