The Svalbard paradox

The arctic nature of Svalbard has been fascinating ever since. Its vastness, pureness and extremeness attract many scientists and adventurers. Both the arctic animals like polar bear and walrus and the widely spread glaciers account forits unique appearance. After a period of intense hunting both on sea and land the few people living in Svalbard understood to protect this vulnerable nature effectively. Today there is an outstanding strict law called Miljølova conserving the natural heritage. There are small quotas for hunting wildlife, and to pick flowers is totally forbidden. Striking environmental protection is stipulated in the Svalbard contract from 1920. And yet there is a new threat for the arctic nature: climate change. As the climate heats up the glaciers and the sea ice on Svalbard melt and shrink. This affects all wildlife in the Arctic since it is totally adapted to and dependent from freezing weather and sea ice. The ice edge is the setting for the most productive spring awakening which can be seen in the world. Plankton grown there stands forthe fundament of the complex food chain in Northern Atlantic Ocean. If the ice edge withdraws it has unknown impact on the cuisine of all the animals there. In conclusion the flora and fauna of Svalbard so well protected by tradition and legal provisions on Svalbard is mainly harmed by greenhouse gas emissions of the industrialized world.

The origins of the gas emissions, however, can not only be traced back to North America or other European countries. You must not forget that coal production has part of the responsibility of the emissions. One of the main reasons for people to live in Svalbard is the well paid work in coal mines. More than half of the people of Svalbard are working with coal and nearly all the energy needed is produced in coal driven power plants. This is neither sustainable, nor environmentally friendly. The difference between the use of coal in Svalbard and other places, is that Svalbard has such strict environmental protection laws idealistically contradicting the use of coal and that Svalbard as a part of the melting Arctic should take a leading role in being a greenhouse gas neutral society. Svalbard is a place which should first and foremost be committed to fighting climate change and protecting the environment.

There are arguments though defending the use of coal to produce electricity on Svalbard. Most regenerative energies are hardly adaptive to Arctic circumstances like ice, still air and the absence of sun in winter. A possible nature-friedly solution could be the use of geothermic power plants or the daily discussed CO2 storage. Far more harmful to the environment than the coal from the little mine Gruve 7 nearby Longyeabyen which is used for supplying Svalbard with energy and metallurgy is the part of Svalbard coal coming from the main mine Svea Nord. This is a mine placed about 60 km southeast of Longyearbyen producing coal exclusively for fuel use abroad. By stopping its coal exports Svalbard could help motivate other countries to pursue a greener technology and society. Even if Svalbard’s biggest mining company Store Norske soon opens a new mine called Lyngefjell all coal fields will be emptied one day. Since burning coal is polluting Svalbard natural heritage and no durable solution for gaining energy there is no other reason for the coal mining industry than political laziness, cowardice and easy money on costs of the environment.

The fact that the world market for coal is predicted to grow significantly over the next years and decades cannot cover the fact that coal driven power plants have a CO2 balance even worse than that oil and gas driven power plants. Store Norske Spitsbergen Coal Company is totally owned by the Norwegian State. The State should have more wisdom and political acumen than just to gain dirty money.

– Johannes

1 tanke på “The Svalbard paradox

  1. Firstly: the law is called «Svalbardmiljøvernloven», and the mountain where Store Norske is opening a new mine is called Lunckefjell. Secondly, I could agree with you in principle. However I don’t think that closing down Svalbards coal production would do much in the way of changing the course of climate change, nor do I belive it to be a good idea. Norway has a claim to Svalbard, and needs have a presence there to uphold its autonomy. With Lunckefjell, there is grounds for coal production for another 10 years or so. After that, I do not believe there will be given more concessions for coal production (unless CCC-technology has become so mainstream that the CO2-emissions from coal power is reduced to practically zero). This means that by giving the concession for Lunckefjell, the state has given the Svalbard society time to restructure itself and build the foundations for a coal free economy. I think that is the right way to go.

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