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Environmental Crime Legal Framework in Svalbard

Svalbard’s constitution contains provisions for the protection of the environment. The Svalbard Environmental Protection Act (No.79 ) was enacted on 15 June 2001. It contains measures relating to the protection of the environment; specifically, the purpose of this act is to preserve a virtually untouched environment in Svalbard with respect to continuous areas of wilderness, landscape, flora, fauna and cultural heritage. Within this framework, the Act allows for environmentally sound settlement, research and commercial activities. It was amended by the Act of 20 April 2012 No. 20 (in force from 1 July 2012 in accordance with the Royal Decree of 20 April 2012 No. 332).

For the purpose of this Act, the following definitions apply:
1. pollution: the introduction of solid matter, liquids or gasses to air, water or ground; noise and vibrations; as well as light and other radiation as decided by the environmental protection authorities, where such factors may cause damage or nuisance to the environment;
2. waste: discarded articles of personal property or substances. Surplus objects and substances from service industries, manufacturing industries and treatment plants, etc., are also considered to be waste, but not waste water or exhaust gasses;
3. harvesting: hunting, trapping and fishing;
4. flora: photosynthesising single-celled organisms, algae, lichens, fungi, mosses, ferns and vascular plants that naturally occur in the wild in Svalbard;
5. fauna: single-celled animals, invertebrates and vertebrates that naturally occur in the wild in Svalbard;
6. cultural heritage: all traces of human activity in the physical environment, including localities associated with historical events. A cultural environment is defined as any area where elements of the cultural heritage form part of a larger entity or context;
7. structures and sites: any element of the cultural heritage that is physically attached to the ground or associated with a specific locality;
8. movable historical object: any element of the cultural heritage that is not defined as a structure or site;
9. permanent resident: a person whose name is validly entered in Svalbard’s population register;
10. visitor: any person other than a permanent resident;
11. motor vehicle: engine-powered mode of transport, for use on or off roads;
12. motorized craft: aircraft, hovercraft, ships, boats and other craft propelled by engine power;
13. motor traffic: the use of motor vehicles or motorized craft;
14. activity: single-instance, recurring or continuous undertaking of a commercial or non-commercial nature;
15. head of undertaking: a person that directs an undertaking, or on whose account or in whose interest it is being operated.

Featured Legislation

1977: Regulation No. 6 (on fishery protection zones around Svalbard) was passed.  A fisheries protection zone in the waters off Svalbard has been created for the conservation of living marine resources by regulating fishing and hunting activities. This Regulation ensures that the outer limits for this protected marine area is at a distance of 200 nautical miles from the established baselines connecting the outermost points of the archipelago. The protected area is furthermore limited by the outer limit of the exclusive economic zone off the Norwegian mainland. The Department of Fisheries shall determine method, vessel access and size, authorized total allowable catch, by-catch and fishing vessel equipment.

1983: A Decree relative to nature conservation on Svalbard was enacted.  This Decree of the Ministry of Environment consists of 25 sections divided into 6 Chapters: Scope and applications sphere (I); General rules (II); Activities which shall be communicated (III); Rules for all activities (IV); Supervision and control (V); Miscellaneous provisions (VI). The scope of this Regulation is to prevent pollution and other events in Svalbard and its territorial waters which may cause harm to the fauna and flora and the natural environment. Section 5 prohibits discharge of waste which may cause harm to the environment. In section 6 all activities which require notification to The District Governors of Svalbard are listed. Sections 12 and 13 concern measures to prevent spreading of pollution and to counteract Pollution.

2002: Regulations relating to a requirement to keep dogs on a leash in Svalbard were created. The purpose of these regulations is to protect people and the fauna in Svalbard from dogs that are not on a leash.

2002: Regulations relating to motor traffic in Svalbard were approved. The purpose of these regulations is to regulate the use of motor vehicles and aircraft on the basis of overall considerations of the public interest, including opportunities for the general public to experience the wilderness in Svalbard, and with a view to protecting Svalbard’s natural environment. Adopted by the Ministry of the Environment (now the Ministry of Climate and Environment) on 24 June 2002 under sections 80, 81, 82 and 83 of the Act of 15 June 2001 No. 79 relating to the protection of the environment in Svalbard (Svalbard Environmental Protection Act).

2003: Regulation No. 1190 (concerning the protection of the fortress geotope on Svalbard) was established. The purpose of this Regulation is to ensure the protection and preservation of the geological deposits located in the northwest corner of the Nordenskiöld Land in Svalbard, including sites with elevated soil temperature and karst phenomena, sites with deposits of fossil archeological imprints, and other areas with special scientific value. The protected area covers an area on the northwest corner of Nordenskiöld land between Grønfjorden and Lewin Odden and marine areas 300 meters from the low tide line shore.

2010: Decree No. 1524 of 2010 (to prohibit fishing for Greenland halibut in the fisheries protection zones of Svalbard) was instituted. This Decree completely prohibits the fishing for Greenland halibut as main catch as otherwise provided in the areas defined in Decree No. 6 of 1977 concerning fish protection zones of Svalbard. It applies to Norwegian and foreign commercial fishing vessels of any type and support vessels including vessels for experimental fishing and exploration. Norwegian and Russian vessels may fish for Greenland halibut in the fisheries protection zone of Svalbard according to an established fish quota scheme. Article 4 allows for 12 percent bycatch in single catches and 7 percent mix of Greenland halibut in landings of other species. Infringement, caused by either intentional or negligent behavior, shall be punished in accordance with sections 61 and 64 of the Marine Living Resources Act. Assistance in fishing or attempting to fish shall be regarded as fishing.

2014: Regulations No. 377 (relating to large nature conservation areas and bird reserves in Svalbard) was introduced. Svalbard consists of South Spitsbergen National Park, National Park and Northwest Spitsbergen National Park since 1973. The Regulation sets geographic boundaries of these parks with the purpose of protecting and preserving large, contiguous and substantially undisturbed natural areas on land (highly developed rock glaciers and soil frost forms) and at sea for an intact habitat and ecosystem with species (birds listed in under article 29, polar bears), natural ecological processes (whaling areas, winter hunting, geology and associated carbonate deposits, mineral exploration), landscape and cultural heritage sites (mining and tourism). The areas to be preserved may also be used for research purposes of Svalbard's natural and cultural heritage. Waste and hazardous substances damaging animal and plant life in the defined areas, introduction of new animal species are not permitted. Vessels arriving at Svalbard reserves shall not use or have on board fuel other than the quality of DMA in according to ISO 8217 Fuel Standard. Violation of the Regulation’s provision shall be subject to fine or imprisonment up to one year, with a maximum imposition of three years, in the case of significant environmental damages.

Featured Case Studies: Transnational Environmental Crime, Human Security, and Biosecurity

Scientists have concluded that glaciers in Svalbard are expected to lose ice at roughly double the current rate by the end of the century.The islands are home to one of the world’s northernmost permanent settlements – many of which bear the burden of climate change. The nation has warmed at a rate of 1.7°C per decade since 1991, which is seven times the global average for the same period. Svalbard has over 1500 glaciers and using 1930s photographs from across Svalbard to understand how the archipelago’s glaciers respond to climate, climatologists have called for a strategy they called a space-for-time approach. Information in the photographs is used by scientists, in conjunction with historical temperature and precipitation data, to model rates of ice loss across Svalbard between the 1930s and 2010. Environmental activists found that the rate at which glaciers thinned between 1936 and 2010 will increase at least 1.9 times under modest warming, to 0.67 meters a year. Svalbard, considered the “canary in the coal mine”, gives us a glimpse into the future for other regions.

References and Further Reading


Ministry of Climate and Environment: