Proposed changes to the regulations in Svalbard
With climate change and increased tourism, the existing environmental policy is no longer sufficient to protect the vulnerable nature in Svalbard.
Rapid climate change has made the nature in Svalbard more vulnerable. Meanwhile, tourism and traffic has increased significantly, both within and outside protected areas. This has left its mark several places in Svalbard.
The number of disembarkations increased from 29 600 in 1996, to 124 000 in 2019. Today, disembarkation from tourism is not well regulated, and can occur almost anywhere across the Svalbard islands. Both climate changes and the growth in tourism are expected to continue.
Based on this, the Norwegian Government decided to investigate new measures to limit the total environmental impact from tourism and other traffic in Svalbard in 2019. The Norwegian Environmental Agency was then given the task by the Ministry of Climate and Environment to propose changes to the environmental regulations in Svalbard and send this out for hearing. The Norwegian Polar Institute, the Directorate for Cultural Heritage, and the Governor of Svalbard have given their professional advice and contributed to the work. Some local actors have also given their input.
The proposal includes, among other, new rules for where tourists can be put ashore in several of the protected areas in Svalbard. For the tourist industry, disembarkation in these areas will only be granted in 42 selected locations. Furthermore, it is suggested that the current limit of 200 passengers for ships sailing in the protected areas on East Svalbard, should apply to all protected areas.
– By regulating where tourists can be put ashore in the protected areas, we can protect more nature against disturbances and damage from traffic. We suggest a clearer distinction between organised tourism and inhabitants/individual visitors. Det distinction between protected areas and areas without special protection also becomes clearer. At the same time, the tourist industry can still utilise large areas across Svalbard, including many of the most popular localities, says Ellen Hambro, Director General of the Norwegian Environment Agency.
The suggestion also includes:
- Strengthening the prohibition against seeking out polar bears and a requirement to keep a distance of at least 500 meters.
- Prohibiting motor traffic on sea ice after 1st of March on selected fjords out of consideration of ringed seal and polar bears.
- Introducing a speed limit of five knots in an area 500 meters from selected bird mountains during breeding season.
- Prohibiting use of drones in protected areas and close to bird mountains during breeding season.
– Today's regulations are not adjusted to the increase in tourism we have seen in Svalbard. When tourism again increases after the pandemic, it is important to ensure that regulations to protect the increasingly vulnerable artic environment is in place, says Hambro.
The proposal has considered the tourist industry and will not limit tourism from increasing back to the pre-pandemic level, nor limit tourism as an important foundation for the community in Longyearbyen. Therefore, there will be no limitations to how many tourists can visit Svalbard, or how many boats that can transport tourists per season.
The deadline for the hearing is 3nd of February 2022. The deadline has been set to five months to give all interested parties the opportunity to thoroughly go through the proposal, and to facilitate for valuable input.
A public hearing, with the opportunity to ask questions, will be held in Longyearbyen in week 46, should the COVID-19 restrictions allow it. We are also open to meet with consultative bodies.
The Governor of Svalbard will summarise the hearing after the deadline has expired and based on this the Norwegian Environment Agency will send their final recommendations to the Ministry of Climate and Environment.
Facts: Environmental considerations weigh heavier in Svalbard
- In Svalbard, there is a law-enforced goal to maintain a nearly untouched environment when it comes to wilderness, landscape, flora and fauna, and cultural heritage.
- It is established that environmental considerations should weigh the heaviest in conflict with other interests.
- Therefore, environmental goals and regulations create an important frame for all industry in Svalbard, whether it be Norwegian actors or actors from other partner countries in the Svalbard Treaty.