Barents-Rune wants environment higher on agenda

Rune Rafaelsen is Secretary General of the Norwegian Barents Secretariat.

ROVANIEMI: “Climate changes, nuclear waste plans and unsolved emission from Nikel are all issues deserving more attention,” says Secretary General Rune Rafaelsen. Barents Ministers of Environment meeting starts this week. Only one minister will attend.


“Finding a way to clean the sulphur dioxide emission from the smelter in Nikel is one of the most urgent unsolved problems in the Barents cooperation,” says Rune Rafaelsen, Secretary General of the Norwegian Barents Secretariat.

The pollution from Nikel is the largest hot-spot of air pollution in northern Europe. Heavy metals and sulphur dioxide have a serious negative effect on the nature in the Russian, Norwegian borderland. The smoke can also be measured in Finnish Lapland and northern Sweden.

“All Norwegian Governments over the last 20-years have said that the air pollution problems from Nikel must be stopped. Why don’t they then send the Minister of Environment to raise the issue in the most relevant forum,” asks Rune Rafaelen, pointing to the Barents Environmental Ministers meeting starting in Inari in northern Finland on Wednesday.

For the fourth time in a row, Norway will not attend the bi-annual Barents Environmental Ministers meetings with a Minister. 

“The Minister was unable to attend,” says Ingrid Lillehagen, Senior Advisor with the Environmental Ministry in Oslo when asked by BarentsObserver.

“Norwegian delegation leader will be a political advisor Jens Frølich Holte,” she says.

Also Sweden’s Minister of Environment skips the Inari meeting. Stockholm sends State Secretary Anders Flanking, while Russia will participate with Deputy Minister Denis Khramov with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

The only Environmental Minister going to Inari is Ville Niinistö. Finland currently chairs the Barents Working Groups on Environment.

“Other Norwegian Ministers give high priority to the Barents Cooperation. In September, our then-Minister of Transport Marit Arnstad headed the Barents Transport meeting in Narvik. In October, our Foreign Minister Børge Brende headed the Barents Council meeting in Tromsø. Even our Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, found time in a busy schedule and gathered with the other Prime Ministers at the 20-years celebration of the Barents cooperation in Kirkenes in June,” says Rune Rafaelsen. He believe the lack of a Minister from Norway can’t mean anything else than downplaying environmental issues. 

“If it was the first time, or if anything urgent comes up, we could understand,” but this is the fourth time over the last eight years that the Norwegian Minister drops out,” says Rune Rafaelsen. 

According to her online calendar, Minister Tine Sundtoft has nothing else on her agenda for Wednesday and Thursday this week

“We can’t aspect to find a joint solution with Russia on how to solve the pollution from Nikel when we don’t turn up at the meeting where such issues belong,” says Rune Rafaelsen.  He argues that Nikel is not the only important environmental issue in the north that should be discussed on a higher level. Last week’s news about possible nuclear repository plans in the Arctic and the news about planed shipping of nuclear waste across the Arctic Oceans are examples of other issues that concern the people living in the Barents Region, according to Rafaelsen.

It is expected that the Ministerial meeting in Inari will adopt the Action Plan on Climate Change for the Barents Region. The plan, drafted during Norway’s chairmanship of the Barents Council, was originally supposed to be adopted at the Foreign Ministers meeting in Tromsø in late October, but was then postponed and delegated to the Environmental Ministers Meeting.