Four things to know about Arctic policy and sustainable ocean management in Canada and Norway

The Royal Norwegian Embassy and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society teamed up for two days of talks on the future of the Arctic and the “blue economy” in Norway and Canada

  • Published Nov 26, 2021
  • Updated Apr 19, 2022
  • 1,179 words
  • 5 minutes
Shared interests: Norwegian ambassador Jon Elvedal Fredriksen gives welcoming remarks at a symposium on Arctic Futures in Norway and Canada jointly hosted by the Royal Norwegian Embassy and the Society at Canada’s Centre for Geography and Exploration on Nov. 23. (Photo: Ben Powless/Can Geo)
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What’s good for the Arctic is good for the world. That was an overarching theme of two days of talks hosted by the Royal Norwegian Embassy and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society on the shared interests of Norway and Canada, both Arctic nations with high stakes in the global conversation about the climate crisis. 

The talks, which focused on the future of the Arctic and opportunities in the “blue economy,” were held Nov. 23 and 24 at Canada’s Centre for Geography and Exploration at 50 Sussex Drive in Ottawa and featured a dynamic lineup of speakers from both Norway and Canada, including Jon Elvedal Fredriksen, Ambassador of Norway in Canada; Eivind Vad Petersson, State Secretary for the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Heidi Kutz, Director General and Senior Arctic Official with Global Affairs Canada; Kendra MacDonald, CEO of Canada’s Ocean Supercluster; and Sturla Henriksen, Special Advisor, Ocean at the UN Global Compact. Canadian science journalist and playwright Alanna Mitchell acted as emcee and moderator for the events, which were also streamed live for an international audience. 

John Geiger, CEO of the RCGS, noted the Society and the Norwegian Embassy have a rich, collaborative relationship that reflects both countries’ longstanding diplomatic ties as pioneers in polar exploration and science, and as modern Arctic nations and policymakers. In 2017, the Society, along with Ambassador Fredriksen’s predecessor, Her Excellency Anne Kari Hansen Ovind, was proud to present the first-ever English translation of legendary Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen’s expedition diaries to the speakers of the House of Commons and the Senate in an event held at 50 Sussex. And the following year, the Society hosted Lessons from the Arctic, an important exhibit honouring Amundsen’s accomplishments, which include being the first person to traverse Canada’s Northwest Passage. 

“All these collaborations are fitting connections to our shared interests and priorities, and to our ongoing relationship,” Geiger said. 

Here are four interesting things we heard about Arctic policy and sustainable ocean management in Canada and Norway. 

Canada has an Arctic policy framework that is “for the north, by the north”

The federal government’s Arctic and Northern Policy Framework, launched in 2019, sets out a strategic vision for the sustainable development of the Arctic from now through 2030. The document is unique in that it was drafted not just by federal bureaucrats, but with input from a number of provincial, territorial and Indigenous partners — and it will be implemented in cooperation with those partners as well. The goals and objectives outlined in the framework align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and address social and environmental dimensions of development as well as economic. 

“It’s really an approach for the north, by the north,” said Wayne Walsh, Director General for the Northern Strategic Policy Branch at Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. 

The Arctic is not homogeneous, and its people are its strength

Both Canada and Norway are working to challenge misconceptions of the Arctic as a vast, lawless, largely uninhabited frontier. “The Arctic, for Canada, is fundamental to our national identity,” said Heidi Kutz, Director General and Senior Arctic Official with Global Affairs Canada. Canada is the second-largest Arctic nation by land mass. The region is home to 137,000 people across three provinces and territories, most of them Indigenous. 

The proportion of Norway’s population living in its Arctic region is even larger — nine per cent or around 490,000 people. Both Arctic regions face similar challenges, including high transportation costs, lack of public infrastructure, and security issues related to climate change and increasing international interest. 

Canada’s priorities for the Arctic on the international stage include strengthening the rules-based international order in the Arctic, more clearly defining Canada’s Arctic boundaries, supporting a safe, secure and well-defended north, and focusing on the human dimension of the Far North, such as the importance of Indigenous traditional knowledge and participation in climate change monitoring and adaptation. 

For Kutz, who has only been in her role since September, “There can be nothing more meaningful and slightly daunting than being able to work on the Arctic, where the nexus between the domestic and the international becomes so clear.”

Youth, particularly Indigenous youth, need to have a seat at the table when it comes to Arctic policy

One of the highlights of the two-day event was a panel discussion with two youth ambassadors for the Arctic: Crystal Martin-Lapenskie, formerly of Sanirajak (Hall Beach) Nunavut, and Martin Gamst Johnsen, who resides in Tromsø. Both stressed the importance of involving young people, particularly Indigenous youth, in discussions about Arctic issues. 

“Indigenous Peoples know every nook and cranny when it comes to our lands and waters,” said Martin-Lapenskie. “As Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic, Inuit work collaboratively with our fellow Indigenous Peoples such as the Sámi … and ensure they are recognized and included in the decision-making.”

In Norway, youth democracy is baked into the political system, Gamst Johnsen explained. Every municipality and county in the country is required to have a youth council that can advise on policy and legislation, and there is a tremendous focus on including youth in important conferences like Arctic Frontiers. But this can be taken still further, potentially through the creation of an Arctic Youth Council spanning all eight Arctic nations. 

“If you want us to stay, you need to listen,” said Gamst Johnsen.


In both countries, “the path to a green future is blue”

This month’s COP26 climate conference in Glasgow was the first where ocean health was a formal part of the agenda. That was a welcome development for Sturla Henriksen, Special Advisor, Ocean at the UN Global Compact, who kicked off the second day of talks at 50 Sussex. 

“As [U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate] John Kerry has repeatedly stated, climate is ocean, ocean is climate. You cannot solve one without the other,” said Henriksen. 

Fortunately, both Canada and Norway are working hard to build solutions that address both ocean health and productivity, including investing in research to better understand how our oceans are changing, decarbonizing the shipping industry, and expanding aquaculture.

“Wild capture has been the standard [in seafood] up until now, but the seas are maximally fished,” said Timothy Kennedy, president and CEO of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA). “There’s a human and environmental imperative to grow seafood, and the aquaculture industry can deliver this.”


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