A rare “For Sale” sign is up in Svalbard and countries who want a place to call home in the Arctic Circle will have their chance to buy.
Across the fjord from Longyearbyen with a former mining community and coal mine the Austre Adventfjord is one of two privately owned properties on the Arctic archipelago. The property is over 217 square kilometers and is estimated to hold over 20 million tons of coal.
No price tag has been put on the land, but buyers from all over the world are being courted.
One country observers believe may have the most interest gaining a foothold in the High North is China, reports theforeigner.no.
“China is in constant search of coal and other natural resources,” says Willy Østreng, incumbent president for the Norwegian Scientific Academy for Polar Research, told VG, Tuesday.
“The country could use Svalbard as a platform for a long-term plan for the Arctic Ocean by purchasing this piece of land.”
China has long taken an interest in Arctic affairs; often referring to itself as a “near-Arctic” state.
In the last few years China has poured more resources and funding into Arctic research and has taken an interest in the effect of climate change on water levels and shipping routes through the High North. A polar research institute is now open in Shanghai and an ice breaker dubbed “Snow Dragon” is in operation.
In 2015 China will conduct three Arctic expeditions, reports The Atlantic.
“[The] Arctic belongs to all the people around the world, as no nation has sovereignty over it,” said Rear Admiral Yin Zhou to the official Chinese News Service in March.
“China must play an indispensable role in Arctic exploration as we have one-fifth of the world’s population.”
With the allure of Arctic access, closer proximity to the latest research and a new source of coal the Austre Adventfjord is a tempting opportunity for China – and other competitive buyers.
In light of the interest and the potential for new flags to be raised in the Arctic Circle, Østreng, among other scholars, expressed surprise that the Norwegian government did not put in an offer for the land.
“I’m amazed that the Norwegian government does not want to buy, unless the price is sky-high. It isn’t wise to allow this property to be available on the open market.”
Currently Norway owns 99.2 percent of Svalbard.
Researchers are concerned that an industrious country interested in coal production in Svalbard could destabilize the region’s fragile ecosystem.
Norway’s Miljøpartiet De Grønne (Green) Party has called for closing mining operations in the area entirely.
According to the Svalbard Treaty though the buyer will be able to use the land as they want, including for mining. Both Norway and Russia already make use of this right.
The only thing Austre Adventfjord’s new owner will not be able to do is install any military bases or fortifications, but some critics aren’t convinced this restriction will be enough to keep the peace in Svalbard.
North Energy Chairman Johan Petter Barlindhaug said he is concerned Norway is taking a gamble by not purchasing the land in comments to theforeigner.no.
“Norway should secure the land, both to safeguard Norwegian interests on Svalbard and to avoid the property being used to create more tension in the archipelago.”