Both locals and representatives of the tourism and business community argued that the environmental regulations, proposed to tackle climate change, were too encroaching, and interfered with the life on the archipelago.
In an unprecedented event, a torchlight procession has been held on Svalbard as an expression of popular discontent with environmental regulations that will tighten tourism and outdoor life on the polar archipelago.
Remarkably, the march held in protest against the Norwegian Environment Agency in the settlement of Longyearbyen with a total population of some 2,000 gathered over 450 people, national broadcaster NRK reported.
It was the previous government led by Conservative Erna Solberg which in 2020 proposed a set of measures to reduce the impact on nature on Svalbard amid climate change.
The suggestions included limiting the ships in protected areas to a maximum of 200 passengers on board, traffic restrictions to prevent wear on terrain and the disturbance of wildlife, local bans on motor traffic on ice for wildlife conservation, speed limits, permission mandates for camping and field activities, as well as a ban on the use of drones in protected areas.
However, neither the local population, nor representatives of the tourism and the business community on the archipelago feel they have been included in the work on new environmental regulations.
“These are intrusive proposals that interfere with the lives of us who live up here at 78 degrees north. We will send the entire proposal in return. They have to start over,” Ronny Brunvoll, general manager of Visit Svalbard, told NRK.
The core of the dispute is about how encroaching the regulations should be. The restrictions were proposed in an era when mining is closed down, taxes are rising and the residents of the archipelago have suffered substantial losses of income as a result of the COVID pandemic.
Per Brochmann of the coastal route Hurtigruten, who also participated in the torchlight procession, emphasised that Svalbard already is “the most regulated area” and the current restrictions are enough. He also emphasised that neither the locals, nor the business community have been consulted.
“The proposal should be sent back, and then they should establish a dialogue with us who live up here,” Brochmann told NRK.
Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean located halfway between the northern coast of Norway and the North Pole and is home to a population of under 3,000. A free economic zone and a demilitarised area, it is sometimes referred to as a place where polar bears outnumber humans. It is also home to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a long-term seed storage facility built to withstand the test of time and preserve the world’s largest collection of crops.