The Focus on the Arctic and Northern Areas initiative encompasses a wide range of research fields. It also has considerable importance for the establishment of a national Norwegian research infrastructure. In the political context, the initiative reflects Norwegian foreign and security policy, and is an important contribution to promoting industrial development and the effective utilisation of resources in the north.
That was the message of Anne Kjersti Fahlvik, Executive Director of the Research Council's Division for Strategic Priorities, at the High North Conference in November 2009. Fahlvik also emphasised the importance of the initiative for building knowledge and competence and for maintaining settlement patterns in the northernmost part of the country.
Ten per cent of Norway's population lives in the region defined as the northern areas, while the corresponding figure in countries such as Canada and Russia is about 0.1 to 1 per cent.
International dimension crucial
"We attach great importance to the initiative's international dimension," says Fahlvik. "International cooperation is essential if we are to meet global challenges. After all, Norway's northern areas are also the northern areas of the world at large. So we have to think in transnational terms and provide a basis for international cooperation wherever possible."
"Our aim is to secure the involvement of the best international research communities, as many of them as we can. The Norwegian research community can only cover a part of the current need for competence and capacity," states Fahlvik.
International cooperation is already well underway. As of today the initiative has already given rise to extensive international research activity in areas such as climate change and resource management.
By the end of 2008 the Research Council had allocated close to NOK 640 million to research, development and innovation relevant to the northern areas. The funds were distributed to research groups all over the country.
Nearly four-fifths of the research relating to the northern areas is carried out at institutions and companies in the south of Norway and draws on their expertise and international networks. "This highlights the distinctive nature of the initiative as a national effort to promote knowledge in which the country as a whole takes part, and all relevant sectors are involved," stated Fahlvik at the High North Conference.
The greatest proportion of petroleum research is conducted at institutions in the south of the country. "Universities in the south are also well represented in the predominantly basic research-related projects that focus on new research opportunities," explains Fahlvik. Institutions in Northern Norway and Svalbard have acquired a significant role as regards environmental research and marine research, and are responsible for some one-third of the research activity in these fields.
New priority areas
The Focus on the Arctic and Northern Areas initiative has created opportunities for establishing new activities in a number of fields. The research programme Geopolitics in the High North, Norwegian Interests (GEOPOLITIKK-NORD), which was launched in 2008 with a budget of NOK 25 million for a five-year period, is a particularly good example. A new exciting activity is under development in the field of earth observation and extensive research activities related to marine bioprospecting have been established. This falls within the framework of the national strategy for marine bioprospecting, which was presented in autumn 2009.
"The success of the effort in the region is dependent on smoothly functioning cooperation between the research community in the north and local trade and industry," states Fahlvik. "In order to promote such cooperation, we established the Research Initiative for Northern Norway (NORDSATSING) in 2009, with a budget of NOK 35 million per year for a period of eight years."
One strategy ' many activities
The Research Council's Focus on the Arctic and Northern Areas initiative (forskning.nord) was launched in June 2006. The vision behind it was that in 2020 Norway would be a leading research nation in the northern areas, that the country would have earned respect for its sound management of resources in the north, and that Northern Norway as a region would be known for its dynamic, diversified industrial sector and active R&D efforts.
Instead of establishing a separate programme for research relevant to the northern areas based on its Research Strategy for the Arctic and Northern Areas, the Research Council chose to incorporate the northern perspective into all relevant thematic Research Council activities and programmes. This has worked extremely well and has since been used as a model in other Research Council areas of responsibility.
The programmes and activities of the Research Council have shown great willingness to integrate issues connected with the northern areas into their research projects. The greatest increase in activity has been in the fields of environmental and marine research.
"The potential for activities focused on the northern areas is huge," says Fahlvik. "We will continue to provide full financial support for the initiative and have proposed a budget for 2011 of NOK 300 million"