US Secretary of State John Kerry landed on Svalbard Thursday as he continued his hectic visit to Norway this week. He has said he wants to see the effect climate change has had in the Arctic, after earlier dealing with issues from the war in Syria to preserving rain forests.
Kerry and Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende arrived on Svalbard after a whirlwind day in Oslo that started with talks with his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who had arrived in Oslo himself on Monday. It’s been a busy week with foreign dignitaries visiting Norway.
Both Zarif and Kerry spoke at the annual Oslo Forum for peace mediators at Losby, where Kerry made the first of many flattering comments about Norway. “I’m grateful for everything Norway does for the world,” Kerry said, suggesting that many other countries should follow Norway’s example of traditionally allocating large budgets for foreign aid and being quick to answer calls for both humanitarian aid, peace broking and military support around the world. The two countries seem to have their own mutual admiration society, both willing to offer help to one another, and expecting to receive it in return.
Despite the war in Syria, the migration crisis and constant threat of terrorism, Kerry said he sees a lot of progress in the world. There’s actually never been as little war in the world as today, fewer people live in poverty, health care has improved, there’s less hunger and the world’s nuclear arsenal has been reduced, he noted. The number of countries with democratic rule has increased and never have so many people had access to education. “And the good news is that there have never been so many who have worked for peace and development as today,” he told his audience of mediators.
From there Kerry headed for a “working lunch” with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, where Kerry also talked about the struggle against extremism and terrorism, before he headed to a rain forest conference where he and Norway’s environment minister, Vidar Helgesen, signed an agreement for closer cooperation on the preservation of rain forests to help fight climate change. Delegates seemed to welcome the agreement, but some said it won’t work unless indigenous populations and cultures living in rain forests are included and consulted on preservation measures.
Conferring with researchers on Svalbard
Kerry then headed to the Royal Palace to meet King Harald V and on Thursday morning, he and Brende flew north to Svalbard, where they intended to spend most of the day speaking with researchers in Ny Ålesund. Kerry stressed that climate issues have long been important to him.
“Svalbard is the area where the greatest climate changes occur, and it’s here where the greatest evidence is found on climate change,” Kerry told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “So I thought it was important to come here to listen to researchers, and learn from them who have first-hand information.”
Kerry and Brende also went on a boat tour of the Kongsfjord, to the Blomstrand Glacier, one of those that has retracted considerably in recent years. What used to be known as the Blomstrand Peninsula is now an island. The guide for Kerry and Brende was Jan-Gunnar Winther, director of the Norwegian Polar Institute. Winther said he told Kerry about the reduction in fjord ice, how glaciers are shrinking and that there also are changes in the ecosystems of the surrounding seas.
Climate change, Kerry told NRK, “is an important issue for both our countries, and we have a good partner in Foreign Minister Børge Brende and Norway.”