Research by UW-Madison students points to arctic strategies for Norway

Plans for sustainable development in Norway’s arctic region got a boost this month with the release of a study by University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate students.

Research findings by a group of students in the La Follette School of Public Affairs will be delivered to Norwegian officials this week by Thomas Loftus, a former U.S. ambassador to Norway and a member of the UW System Board of Regents.

The students identified five ways a proposed research center in Tromso could focus on the Barents Euro-Arctic Region’s (BEAR) complex and threatened ecosystem:

  • Forming a policy clearinghouse, a neutral meeting place where competing interests such as fisheries, oil drillers and environmentalists could try to find common ground on sustainability issues.
  • Starting an indigenous peoples integrated policy center, where concerns of the native Sami people could be balanced against oil, mining and fishing industries.
  • Beginning a center for integrated maritime transport and technology to target acute oil spills, provide mapping and research shipping activities.
  • Supporting eco-labeling for BEAR fisheries to increase Norway’s share of eco-conscious markets.
  • Founding an international ecotourism partnership to coordinate tourism between Russia and Norway.

The arctic area is threatened by a network of problems. Climate change is allowing for more petroleum extraction and the possibility of new shipping routes. Both developments could potentially jeopardize biodiversity and indigenous peoples, if not handled properly.

The study, the result of a semester’s research by a team of international public policy majors, did not formally endorse any of the five proposals, leaving that for the supporters of the Tromso center to pursue. But the students noted the proposals could be done individually or grouped.

“The United States shares many of the challenges and problems that Norway and other countries encounter with environmental management and resource extraction,” says Britta Johnson, one of the report’s authors. “Issues related to indigenous people, sustainable development and ecotourism are common to many countries around the world.”

Johnson and her co-authors prepared the report as part of a capstone project for their degrees in public administration. The projects enable students to gain practical, hands-on experience and put into practice the Wisconsin Idea, which states that the boundaries of the campus are the boundaries of the state and beyond.

Other projects were done for the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin state government, the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration and other clients.