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Home* News and Stories → New rules in the making

New rules in the making

New and stric­ter regu­la­ti­ons have been in the legis­la­ti­ve pro­cess now for years. The­se rules will not only, but main­ly con­cern tou­rism. A prop­sal for a new set of rules was made public and went through a public hea­ring in ear­ly 2022. The num­ber of sub­mis­si­ons in the public hea­ring – 92 – was unu­sual­ly high, and also bey­ond that, the­re was and is an ongo­ing, rather con­tro­ver­si­al public dis­cus­sion about the new regu­la­ti­ons.

Now the pro­cess had taken a major step. The respon­si­ble tech­ni­cal aut­ho­ri­ty, Mil­jø­di­rek­to­ra­tet (the Nor­we­gi­an natio­nal envi­ron­men­tal agen­cy) has gone through the pro­po­sal in the light of the input from the public hea­ring. This took more than half a year. The result? Prac­ti­cal­ly non-exis­tent – the Mil­jø­di­rek­to­rat has pas­sed the pro­po­sal on, back to the govern­ment, almost wit­hout chan­ges, as for exam­p­le NRK wro­te.

The most important chan­ges include:

  • Landings in the major pro­tec­ted are­as will be rest­ric­ted to 43 sel­ec­ted sites. The lar­ge remai­ning part of the­se huge are­as will then in prac­ti­ce be clo­sed for the public. Are­as out­side the natio­nal parks and natu­re reser­ves are not con­cer­ned. Also the natio­nal parks in Isfjord shall remain acces­si­ble in the same way as today.
  • Also on the west coast, pas­sen­ger (crui­se) ships are limi­t­ed to a maxi­mum of 200 pas­sen­gers on board, as alre­a­dy in the natu­re reser­ves which com­pri­se the who­le eas­tern part of Sval­bard. This would, in prac­ti­ce, mean that lar­ge, inter­na­tio­nal crui­se ships can not visit Spits­ber­gen any­mo­re. Until now, Spits­ber­gen has been a regu­lar desti­na­ti­on for some of the­se ships, alt­hough rest­ric­ted to Isfjord (main­ly Lon­gye­ar­by­en) in prac­ti­ce due to legis­la­ti­on that is alre­a­dy in force, main­ly the ban on hea­vy oils in the natio­nal parks.
  • A gene­ral mini­mum distance of 500 met­res to polar bears. Mini­mum distances are also pro­po­sed for wal­ru­ses: 300 m for boats from res­t­ing places (ori­gi­nal “lig­ge­plas­ser”) and 150 on land.
  • Fur­ther regu­la­ti­ons include, among­st others, a ban on brea­king fjord ice (this is alre­a­dy for­bidden), a ban on moto­ri­sed traf­fic (snow mobi­les) on fjord ice (also not­hing real­ly new) and a ban on dro­nes in pro­tec­ted are­as (so far alre­a­dy regu­la­ted, but not gene­ral­ly for­bidden).
Neue Regeln für Tourismus auf Spitzbergen: Wanderung, Nordaustland - künftig verboten

Hiking in a remo­te part of Nord­aus­t­land:
not pos­si­ble any­mo­re when the new rules are in force.

This means that the ori­gi­nal pro­po­sal will now be pas­sed on to the govern­ment for fur­ther legis­la­ti­ve pro­ces­sing almost wit­hout chan­ces. Espe­ci­al­ly the idea to limit the quan­ti­ty of tou­rism, espe­ci­al­ly the num­ber of ships, rather than their ran­ge, was in prac­ti­ce igno­red. A repre­sen­ta­ti­ve of the Mil­jø­di­rek­to­rat told Sval­bard­pos­ten actual­ly that the­re are “seve­ral pos­si­bi­li­ties to sol­ve this”, refer­ring to “con­ces­si­ons”, which would effec­tively redu­ce the num­ber of ships. But this is still not part of the pro­po­sal, as the eva­lua­ti­on of such pos­si­bi­li­ties “was not part of the man­da­te”, accor­ding to the repre­sen­ta­ti­ve inter­view­ed by Sval­bard­pos­ten.

Now the who­le packa­ge will go back to the govern­ment for fur­ther con­sul­ta­ti­ons until it is tur­ned into a law that can be pas­sed by the par­lia­ment and then tur­ned into valid law by the signa­tu­re of the Nor­we­gi­an king. This may still take some time, and the­re may still be chan­ges. But the pro­ba­bi­li­ty that the final law will look very simi­lar to the ori­gi­nal pro­po­sal has now stron­gly increased.

The ori­gi­nal sche­du­le included 01 Janu­ary 2023 as the day when the new laws should enter force, some­thing that has obvious­ly not hap­pen­ed yet. The­re are tho­se insi­ders in Lon­gye­ar­by­en who are cer­tain that the new rules will not effec­tively come befo­re 2024, but the­re is no real­ly relia­ble infor­ma­ti­on publi­cal­ly available.


Good to hear: the­re would have been other – bet­ter! – ways of deal­ing with the key pro­blems. Too bad they were just not part of the job of Mil­jø­di­rek­to­ra­tet as orde­red by the envi­ron­men­tal minis­try. Nice to hear that they knew this. It would have been even nicer if they had done any­thing with it. This oppor­tu­ni­ty pas­sed unu­sed, at least as far as Mil­jø­di­rek­to­ra­tet is con­cer­ned, a play­er on the lower levels of the legis­la­ti­ve pro­cess, but a key play­er. It would pro­ba­b­ly have been nai­ve to expect some­thing dif­fe­rent, con­side­ring how other legis­la­ti­ve pro­ces­ses went in recent years, the most pro­mi­nent one pro­ba­b­ly being the voting rights issue. The Mil­jø­di­rek­to­rat didn’t have any­thing to do with that one, but it indi­ca­tes a remar­kab­le con­sis­ten­cy of Nor­we­gi­an law-giving in recent years in this regard.

Most peo­p­le will agree that the grown and still gro­wing num­ber of crui­se ships is a mat­ter of con­cern. The­re were about 80 pas­sen­ger ships in Sval­bard in 2022, and that num­ber is expec­ted to grow unless some­thing hap­pens. A focus of the growth is on ships with a capa­ci­ty bet­ween 100 and 200 pas­sen­gers: small enough to sail below the inten­ded limit of 200 pas­sen­gers (inten­ded on the west coast, alre­a­dy in force in the east, to be pre­cise), but lar­ge enough to lea­ve more of a local foot­print, for exam­p­le in shape of ero­si­on, than the real­ly small ships, most of which car­ry 12-30 pas­sen­gers.

One may ask: if the num­ber of ships is the main pro­blem, why not do any­thing with the num­ber of ships? A per­mit sys­tem could effec­tively limit – and redu­ce – the num­ber of ships to a sus­tainable level. But this is not the plan. Not part of the job, sor­ry. Too bad.

On top of the­se con­cerns comes the impact of cli­ma­te chan­ge on arc­tic natu­re, as no serious voice can deny. It is gre­at to hear that poli­ti­ci­ans in Oslo are con­cer­ned by cli­ma­te chan­ge. Even bet­ter if they want to do some­thing about it. Plea­se, go ahead – today, not tomor­row! It is not my inten­ti­on to pre­tend that Nor­way is not doing any­thing about cli­ma­te chan­ge. But as a coun­try that has been making fabu­lous money with oil and gas for deca­des, Norway’s cre­di­bi­li­ty within the fight against cli­ma­te chan­ge is limi­t­ed, to put it mild­ly. Yes, Nor­we­gi­an pro­duc­tion of oil and gas reacts to demand in other Euro­pean count­ries, who have not done their home­work with regards to making their ener­gy mar­kets gree­ner and rather bought cheap Rus­si­an oil and gas which needs to be repla­ced now on short noti­ce. That is all well unders­tood. Still, Norway’s cre­di­bi­li­ty is limi­t­ed and intro­du­cing mea­su­res that won’t make a dif­fe­rence for the fight against cli­ma­te chan­ge, but will hit an indus­try hard – obvious­ly an indus­try not con­side­red rele­vant on a natio­nal level in Nor­way, and part­ly even an inter­na­tio­nal indus­try – will not make any posi­ti­ve con­tri­bu­ti­on. The pri­ce is paid by others, but who cares as long as it looks good in some way, almost if they’d actual­ly real­ly do some­thing. In this last sen­tence, empha­sise almost, not real­ly.



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last modification: 2023-01-16 · copyright: Rolf Stange