Norwegian Embassy official spoke about current Arctic policy challenges

Leif Trana, Minister Counsellor for Economic Affairs at the Embassy of Norway
Leif Trana, Minister Counsellor for Economic Affairs at the Embassy of Norway Credit: Vanessa McLaughlin

Leif Trana, Minister Counsellor for Economic Affairs at the Embassy of Norway, delivered a talk on the climate and policy challenges facing the Arctic as part of the Penn State School of International Affairs’ spring colloquium on Feb. 11.

Describing the stereotype of the Arctic, including ice, snow, cold, and polar bears, Trana projected a photo of a large mother polar bear with her two cubs, surrounded by snow and ice on the large classroom screen.

“So, with this stereotype of the Arctic as a vast land of ice, why should the world care about the Arctic?” he asked. “We (Norway) care, because we live there, but there are seven Arctic countries and many others that care.”

Canada, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Russia, Sweden, and the United States make up the seven countries that span the Arctic. The importance of this icy land lies in the issues of climate change, oil, and fishing.

To show why the Arctic is one of Norway’s top policy issues, Trana listed some statistics and facts about Norway and the Arctic:

  • Ten percent of Norway’s population lives above the Arctic Circle.
  • Half the land in Norway is above the Arctic Circle.
  • Eighty percent of the ocean in Norway is above the Arctic Circle.
  • Ninety percent of what Norway exports comes from the ocean.
  • Even though Norway’s coast sits in the Arctic, it never freezes as it gets warmed by the Gulf Stream.
  • Norway is Europe’s largest oil producer.
  • Geographically, Norway is the size of New Mexico.
  • The population of Norway is 5 million people.
  • The country’s biggest export, fish, is a $10 billion industry.

Norway’s largest industries are fishing and oil production. The country began drilling for oil in the Arctic in the 1920s, but production increased dramatically in the 1970s. Today, Norway is the largest producer and holder of oil in Europe, providing the majority of the oil to the continent. The country’s other major industry is fishing, including fish farming, especially salmon and cod, which they export around the world.

As a large geographic part of the country lies in the Arctic, Norway wants to maintain the Arctic as an area of peace. With this in mind, the Arctic Council was established in 1996. Eight countries make up the council, along with several indigenous groups who live in the Arctic. The purpose of the Arctic Council includes sustainable development and research on climate change. Regardless of international politics, the Arctic countries work together and cooperate not just in research, but sharing fishing docks and helping each other in search-and-rescue missions.

“It’s important that we keep it this way,” Trana said. “We don’t want political consequences in the Arctic to impede our cooperation there.”

While the Arctic Council has eight member countries, it has many other countries as participants, even if those countries aren’t thought of as having Arctic connections. Trana explains, these countries -- India and China, for example -- still have an interest in the Arctic and participate in international research on climate change. Researchers study the receding glaciers in the Arctic, as well as the rising temperatures, the thawing of the ground, and the rising waters.

“Russia built the infrastructure in Siberia on the premise that the ground was frozen and would remain that way,” he said. “As the ground thaws, this infrastructure is compromised.”

Outside the Arctic, rising waters will have an impact in places like Miami, Fla. Rising ocean waters from the melting of glaciers will place Miami’s canal system for drainage, flood protection, and water storage purposes in jeopardy. The additional increase of ocean water will throw off the ration of salt water to fresh water between the Miami canals and the ocean, contaminating the drinking water. This is just one of many examples of how climate change will affect areas beyond the Arctic.

“These climate changes will have profound effects on the countries in the Arctic and on the world,” he said.

Before joining the Embassy of Norway in August 2014, Trana served as director of the Section for Organizational Development in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Oslo. In this position, he focused on how to align the resources used at various embassies with Norwegian interests in the corresponding country or organization. Before that, he was deputy director in the same section. He spent five years working on World Trade Organization matters, focusing on agriculture and the National Agri-Marketing Association negotiations in the Doha Development Agenda. Trana is a career foreign service officer who has served in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and Washington. He received his M.A. in economics from the University of Oslo.

Professor and U.S. Ambassador (Ret.) Dennis Jett, organizes the semester-long speaker series as part of his Current Policy Challenges course to bring thought leaders on topics ranging from food security to terrorism. The program features 14 speakers. Colloquium topics vary depending upon the current issues of the day. The course surveys some major transnational social problems confronting the world, suggested by the Copenhagen Consensus, such as: climate change, communicable diseases, conflict and arms proliferation, access to education, financial instability, governance and corruption, malnutrition and hunger, migration, sanitation and access to clean water, and subsidies and trade barriers. The course lectures are open to the public and made available via webcast.

View Trana's full presentation