Norwegian–Russian environmental cooperation in the Barents Sea. Toward development of a coordinated ecosystem based management




  • John Richard Hansen (Senior Advisor, Norwegian Polar Institute)
  • Oleg Korneev (Deputy Director General, JSC Sevmorgeo) and
  •  Julia Tchernova (Advisor, Norwegian Polar Institute)

Russia and Norway are strong maritime nations that share enormous natural resources available in the Barents Sea. During millennia, these riches have contributed to shaping the development of the countries’ society, and both, Russian and Norwegian, trade and economy are strongly linked to the Barents Sea, from fisheries, aquaculture, maritime transport and shipbuilding to petroleum activities. However, as the demand for exploiting the prosperous marine and geological resources increases continuously, it has become more and more essential to manage and balance the exploitation of the resources, to safeguard the Barents Sea ecosystem function and productivity.  The Joint Norwegian-Russian Commission on Environmental Protection has recognized these realities and endorsed joint working groups to prepare the scientific basis required to make plans for ecosystem-based management for the whole Barents Sea and to propose development and harmonization of joint monitoring to examine environmental changes and management effects on the environment.

Successful integrated ecosystem-based management of the Barents Sea will comprise area-based management where the properties of specific areas determine activities and measures. The plans aim to protect the Barents Sea ecosystem and, particularly, the most valuable and vulnerable areas against negative impacts; to reduce the influx of environmental toxins; to strengthen fishery management; to ensure control of development in the area through more coordinated and systematic environmental assessment and monitoring; and to strengthen the knowledge base through better mapping and expanded research programme. Successful Norwegian–Russian cooperation in environmental management is a tool to leverage resources and to maintain and secure environmental assets throughout the Barents Sea.

Norway has already developed and implemented their management plan while Russia is working towards the development of such a plan.  The root of the current environmental management plans for Norwegian part of the Barents Sea dates back to 2002 when the government presented the White Paper “Protecting the Riches of the Sea”. The paper heralded the start of the work on the management plan for the Barents Sea and the Lofoten Islands. An important step was the initial creation of a steering group composed of relevant sectorial authorities with responsibility for environmental protection, fisheries and coastal affairs, oil and energy, and foreign policy. While the structure of industry in the Barents Sea was changing because of the increasing petroleum activity, the work, which led to Norway’s first comprehensive environmental management plan in 2006, was carried on. The plan was subsequently updated in 2011, nine years after its inception.

Developing the Norwegian environmental management plan for northern waters was a rather time-consuming exercise. This was no surprise, as the 2002 White Paper had identified clear challenges in terms of managing marine resources, marine environment, risks and societal aspects. The time had come for meticulous coordination of the sectors and the introduction of “ecosystem-based management”. Several working groups were established and background reports describing the environment and resources, industries, livelihoods and communities were produced. Furthermore, studies of the effects of the petroleum activity, fisheries, shipping and other external pressures were essential, as well as assessment of the need for environmental goals and management objectives. In addition, knowledge gaps were identified.

However, it was clear that the Barents Sea is shared between two nations, its resources and environmental challenges transcend borders. That meant that the ecosystem-based management has to involve the entire marine area if it is to be effective, targeted and successful in the long term. Under the auspices of The Joint Commission, Russian and Norwegian governmental and scientific experts were asked to cooperate to develop a common knowledge basis and understanding of the whole Barents Sea environment.

In addition, President of the Russian Federation issued directives (Pr-1530) on June 5th 2014 concerning environmentally safe and effective development in the Arctic, ordering the Government to  “Draft a pilot project on integrated management of marine resources in the Arctic seas for following implementation in the Russian part of the Barents Sea”, to “Draft measures to conserve the biodiversity, including prevention of wildlife demise during the accidental spills of oil and oil products”, and to “List species that are indicators of sustainable marine ecosystems in the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation”. As a result, Russian scientific experts from Sevmorgeo, MMBI, PINRO, AARI, VNII Ecologia and WWF Russia presented the status report of the Russian part of the Barents Sea at a workshop in Moscow, on April 16th 2015. This report, covering environment, resources, risks and societal characteristics, serves as a basis for the development of the ecosystem-based integrated management plan for the Russian part of the Barents Sea. Furthermore, the report is partly based on the Joint Norwegian-Russian Status Report on the Barents Sea Ecosystem which these days are in progress to be updated, and will be published in the joint web application in autumn 2015. The draft of the pilot project is under preparation.

During these efforts, Russian authorities and stakeholders have been kept well informed about the Norwegian experience in the development of their management plan – not least through the Joint Commission working groups. As part of the Commission’s three-year work programmes, the Russian JSC Sevmorgeo and the Norwegian Polar Institute have played coordinating roles in the marine cooperation and the development of foundation and ideas for the integrated management.

Norway faced huge challenges in developing sectoral cooperation and a shared understanding of the integrated management of the Barents Sea. Russia is encountering challenges just as great. It is evident that resource utilisation in the Russian part of the Barents Sea is sectoral in character and needs coordination, particularly given expansion of activities.  Not least, some new federal laws need to be adapted, and regional and local authorities need deeper understanding of integrated environmental management – a realization that the Norwegian authorities had to face.

In addition to development of the common scientific basis, environmental monitoring will be a key element in the environmental management plan for the Barents Sea as a joint marine area. In 2015, a joint report was produced as a result of bilateral ongoing project financed by Russian and Norwegian authorities that started in 2011. This project developed a list of environmental indicators intended for implementation in the joint Norwegian–Russian monitoring programme for the Barents Sea.  A major part of the proposed programme is based on indicators already used by The Joint Norwegian –Russian Fisheries Commission. The results from monitoring will contribute to evaluation of the future management needs of our common marine area. During the next three years a joint Norwegian – Russian project will focus on identifying gaps in the current Russian and Norwegian environmental monitoring, and determining how these gaps can be eliminated. Furthermore, initiatives will be taken towards harmonization of the monitoring methods, joint monitoring activities, and development of environmental quality objectives.

It is therefore important that Russian and Norwegian authorities, through the joint environmental commission, continue to have focus on the ongoing processes and develop goals for ecosystem-based management of the whole Barents Sea as one shared ecosystem with great resources and potential.