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Innovation in the urban Arctic

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This article originally appeared in The Circle 03.17. Find back issues here.

The Barents is the most populated Arctic region. As LARS GEORG FORDAL writes, along with its unique geographical position and fragile environment, it is the perfect laboratory for innovation and sustainability.

WHEN the Norwegian National Bank chose a new design for the most popular Norwegian banknote – the 200 kroner – it opted for an image of the skrei. This Norwegian Arctic cod lives in the Barents Sea and derives its name from the Norse word “skrida” which means “to wander or walk”. When the skrei reach maturity at about five years old they migrate to the Norwegian coast to spawn. Fishermen catch the mature skrei from January to April, and since the time of the Vikings the migrating Norwegian skrei has been synonymous with life, wealth and survival. The absence of the skrei would spell disaster. Considering cod stocks around the world are dwindling and threatened, the Norwegian skrei fishing industry is now considered one of the best managed and sustainable cod stocks in the world.

This story illustrates the dynamics of innovation in the Barents Region. The future of the Barents must be about the need for people to thrive and make a living while protecting the fragile Arctic environment. It underscores the importance of international cooperation. Currently, Norway and Russia successfully share responsibility for maintaining the skrei stocks, which are certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.


Sparsely populated with approximately 5.3 million inhabitants living within its geographical territory, the Barents region is nonetheless the most populous area in the Arctic. At just 10 percent of the Arctic landmass, this is where approximately 55 per cent of the total Arctic population resides. This relative density in population is why we call it the “urban Arctic” and why it is an Arctic hotspot for innovation and technology.

For more than a year, the world’s first all-electric commercial fishing vessel, Karoline, has been operating daily from the Norwegian city of Tromsø.
The vessel is emissions-free, producing no greenhouse gasses including carbon dioxide and generates less noise and vibration compared to a standard diesel-powered fishing vessel. The Karoline is built by Selfa Arctic AS, a manufacturer based in the Norwegian city of Harstad.

In the land of both eternal darkness and light, Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish researchers are collaborating to prove that solar power in the far north is possible and profitable. The cold climate in Nordic countries pushed researchers to find solutions to problems caused by snow and icing. It seems counter-intuitive but the frigid Nordic temperatures are an advantage in solar energy production because the efficiency of the solar panels increases
with lower temperatures. A solar energy project in the Swedish town of Piteå is now expanding.


The tourism industry is an important sector for innovation, new jobs and growth in the north with ongoing efforts to make it as environmentally friendly as possible. In the Norwegian town of Kirkenes, for example, dog sledding is an alternative to cars and taxis when tourists need transportation to and from the airport.

The architectural project Biotope combines the best of contemporary Norwegian design with dramatic nature experiences. Innovative designs for bird hides – shelters used to observe wildlife – nature trails or outdoor amphitheaters provide new ways of experiencing nature. Attempts to make this a cross-border project are funded by the Norwegian Barents Secretariat.

The Barents region needs to balance challenges such as infrastructure, harsh climate, NATO borders and large socio-economic differences. The key to success will continue to be respectful and frequent cross-border dialogue, and good relations with neighboring countries. This is how we have carefully managed the most sustainable stock of cod since 1816. Through cooperation and innovation, we hope to keep this busy corner of the arctic safe, sustainable and a good place to live for future generations.

LARS GEORG FORDAL is head of the Norwegian Barents Secretariat.

« Conservation in the Barents Region | Driving sustainable economic development in the Barents »

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