The game about the future of the Barents Region!

By Nord

Imagine that the Barents Region was a board game! What would the goals, stakes and risks be? What would the rules be, who would the players be? How would one win the game?

The Barents Region's vast deposits of natural resources will be put into play over the next several years, involving many future opportunities for the region but also great risks. The region is challenged by how to develop while at the same time achieving a sustainable relationship between its resources and its cultural values. The region faces a major task in the coming years: it will have to handle the transformation of its natural resources into societal resources.

No other place/player in the world has such a unique combination of interesting and potent elements to offer the game. The Barents Region is a collage consisting of a unique and fragile natural environment, nuclear challenges, original people, new passages for shipping, huge fish stocks, geopolitical interests, and some of the world's largest gas and oil fields. If these identities and powerful images are combined properly, they can together constitute a unique brand for the region.

Exploitation of the Earth's natural resources and particularly oil and gas has ever since the establishment of first fund set the agenda for much of the world's development. This exploitation has fulfilled much of this world’s needs, but it has also brought huge conflicts and disasters. The approach and management of the world's natural resources are often dominated by specific interests. The major challenges are being addressed singularly and not pluraly. The future will call for an expanded resource concept and solutions that try to incorporate diverse challenges within the global resource consumption. Different kinds of resources should be more assimilated and connected so that they become complementary and mutually reinforce one another, thereby creating new synergies. The Barents Region has a unique potential to become the spearhead of this development.

Barents at Risk-Resources at Play, tries to outline a new approach to this challenge and give perspectives on how to play with the resources in the Barents Region.

Oilism. Regionalogy and Nomadic Urbanism
Some of today's biggest global challenges are all in play in the Barents Region: challenges related to extracting and consuming the world’s natural resources in a sustainable way, tackling climate change, maintaining the world's supplies of energy and food and providing the basis for peaceful coexistence between different countries, cultures and peoples.

These large and complex issues are crucially linked with how we perceive and manage natural resources as separate dimensions and not as connected entities. The Barents Region is an exponent of this optic. The Arctic area, which the Barents Region is a part of, contains an estimated 20% of the world’s oil and gas resources. This causes the risk of a unilateral development of the region where a holistic approach to resource management is put under pressure.

The Barents Region must face this challenge by adopting new and bold strategies. If the Barents Region plays out its full potential and manages its resource wealth in a clever way, the region's challenges can be solved in a coordinated strategy for regional sustainable development.

The potential in the paradox!
The Barents Region is in many ways paradoxical. Just the fact that it is in the Barents Sea that the region's greatest assets, resources and future developments occur, while the coastal areas and the land-fixed part of the region are at risk of recession is a paradox. But it is perhaps precisely in the region's paradoxes that its greatest potential is to be found.

It may also seem paradoxical that the region has so much wealth in the form of natural resources and is simultaneously so sparsely populated. The interdependence of the region's demographic, cultural, urban condensation and access to oil and gas are not necessarily decisive. This phenomenon is parallel to what we see all over the world, namely the relationship and dependence between urbanized areas and their hinterland in the form of production landscapes, oceans and areas with natural resources which are no longer relevant. The spatial relationship and proximity between towns and settlement areas, the region’s primary economic core and production areas for food have lost their meaning. It is a development that started back in the era of industrialization. Globalization has confirmed this trend through new technologies and increased transportation and communication possibilities.

The third paradox is that the cause for many of the challenges discussed regionally and locally in the region is not linked to the Barents region alone, but to global mechanisms. It is similar to the climate change, which is caused globally while it has a specific local impact and importance. The region’s primary natural resources, oil, gas and fish are all related to global parameters in terms of regulation, demand and supply. The question is how this relationship between the global flux and the local impact should be handled in the Barents Region.

The fourth paradox is that the premises for the four national states which founded the region as a political construct are very different. Overall, the region does not act as a real body in the globalized world but only as a geographical indication and a concept for a political intention of the four countries. This, however, is worn on a real incentive. The differences between the four countries may be better exploited if the countries actively used each other's differences to trigger each other's total potential.

Sustainable Difference
In recent historic times, the region has been marked by a culture that promoted each nation to perform from the point of view of protectionist silo-thinking within political, economic and resource issues. The culture is characterized by a focus on national interests because the incentive structure and ability to coordinate several factors across economies and social structures have not been present. Issues have often previously been addressed by each country separately and challenges that are associated with multiple factors and complex relationships have been addressed individually.

Finland and Sweden hold natural resources in mining and forestry but their primary interest in the region is based on a cultural affinity and interest in the general potential and development opportunities of enhanced political cooperation. Russia and Norway both have territorial ownership of the Barents Sea and thus of the high incidence of oil and gas. Both Norway and Russia are already among the world's largest oil and gas producers and exporters.

There is a big difference between the two countries' social structure and population density, but they both have a great incentive for an effective collaboration to exploit the region's economic potential optimally. Norway has in this century gone from being one of Europe's poorest countries to one of the world’s richest, because of its oil and gas resources. Norway today has accumulated wealth in the Government’s Pension Fund to ensure the economy against an uncertain future. Despite enormous wealth, Norway does not actively invest in new and coordinated approaches or visions that can bring the country into a new paradigm. That’s the reason why the Barents Region is an important guideline for how Norway's future can be drawn.

Russia has evolved from a superpower status with an inefficient management system of its natural resources. This system was based on the socialist ideal of acquiring the widest possible benefit, while today’s regional power is based on the semi-privatization of its oil and gas sector. Russia's resources are controlled by relatively few stakeholders and companies who still have a close proximity to the state. Russia has a superior capacity in the regional context. The country uses its resources and resource approach to finance its state policy agendas and its oligarchy’s private ambitions. Russia is currently rebuilding its capacity and effectiveness and uses its resource approach as a strategic and political power tool. The Barents Region holds the potential to outline another approach for Russia that can support the development of a better living standard in the region.

The Barents Region is in many ways an example of a paradigm shift when it comes to the link between geography, natural resources, politics, culture and economy. Globally, there are several existing cooperative structures, systems and security policies in transition. The region oscillates between being focused on special interests, national agendas and non- renewable resources, to being focused on all-encompassing interests, sustainability and renewable resources. The Barents Region has the potential to lead this development. In the coming years the Barents Region should seek to provide a comprehensive response to all the major issues in relation to each other and not treat them separately.

The Barents Model
The Barents Region is not only challenged by the need to strengthen the cohesion across borders but also between the coast line, the mainland, the sea and the underground. The Barents Region is at risk of an increasing segregation among interests on the mainland and interests in the sea and underground. It is no longer a technological necessity to anchor the oil and gas to the mainland in order to exploit and export it. Consequently, there is not necessarily a great interdependency between regional development and the region's wealth and local urban communities.

There is also potential in the region´s paradoxial situation, however. If the Barents Region uses its paradoxes intelligently and proactively, the region can become a prototype for how to combine regional development with a new approach to resource management. For that to happen, a broader range of scenarios that combine several approaches to managing natural resources in the region is required. Oil and gas should be thought of in conjunction with the fishing industry, new shipping routes and expanded port activities, urban development and nature protection areas. The region's major challenges should be answered in coordinated innovative solutions. The Barents Region can be a trademark for a systemic model of resource management, a model which demonstrates how resource issues can be resolved in a way that benefits global fluxes, regional development and local communities.

Scenario-based development
The world and especially the Barents Region will need to learn from its history and its contemporary situation. The ability to analyze contemporary dynamics and formulate several options and ways of looking ahead is going to be one of the most important skills in the future. The Barents Region’s overall scenario competencies must be strengthened both within its political organizations and its population. Democratic education and understanding of complex causal relationships is necessary in order to actively participate in community development. The ability to translate research into visualizations of future events, and consider several possible outcomes and their consequences, strengthens decision-making processes. The Barents Region must ask the right questions of its own future. Questions should open up new scenarios and a radical rethinking of future development based on the potential of existing elements.

Questions with regards to how to develop the Barents Region as a cooperation with a radical CSR profile that generates economic, social and environmental profit are essential. Questions as to how to learn from other oil and gas producing countries and look into how they translate their natural resources into cultural values are also crucial. The region could perform comparative studies of Saudi Arabia, the U.S., Venezuela and the United Arab Emirates in order to learn from their strategies and apply them with new cultural values. Questions regarding the creation of a Barents Dubai, a new social apportionment of resources and a more expansive global strategy for the region should be addressed.

Questions could concern building on the region's tradition of nomadic culture and the definition of a new form of Nomadic Urbanism. The original inhabitants of the region have already placed the seeds of the region's identity. There are clear parallels between them and the modern oil and gas workers who come, stay and travel in nomadic patterns due to increased shipping and port activities. The region has a tradition of incentive structures, including regional tax incentives that promote seasonal work and temporary settlements. The framework for a Nomadic Urbanism can form the basis for innovations in temporary cities and communities with radical dynamics.

The Barents Region has the potential to show the world how to tackle the complex processes which take place when a society translates its natural resources into cultural values in a sustainable way. The question is how to balance the risks and how to play this potential most effectively.

NORD – northern office for research and design
NORD is an awarded multidisciplinary design practice based in Copenhagen, Denmark. Established in 2003 by Johannes Pedersen and Morten Rask Gregersen, the studio can be described as a research journey through the intersection of architecture, design, city, culture and all the processes connected to this. The last five years NORD have worked especially within the topics of public buildings, creating new institutions and organizations, learning environments, urban spaces and urban development, process design and research on societal issues. Everything is carried by the ambition to discover and unfold the potentials of the relation between the spatial and the social.

Team: Johannes Pedersen, Morten Rask Gregersen, Maika Moerner Jensen, Moa Björnson