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Sovereignty, Governance, and Infrastructure: Analysis of Svalbard’s White Paper 2023-2024



Sovereignty, Governance, and Infrastructure: Analysis of Svalbard’s White Paper 2023-2024

Changing economy

Svalbard’s long history as a coal mining community has come to an end, with coal production sharply declining over the past three decades. Russian coal production, once dominant in the 1990s, plummeted after the collapse of the Soviet Union, leaving Norwegian mines to produce nearly 90% of coal in the 2000s. Since 2016, both Norwegian and Russian coal production have fallen below 0.1 million tonnes annually.

The state-owned Store Norske, facing falling coal prices and negative revenue, reduced its workforce significantly and shifted its focus to diversified operations, including real estate and tourism. The last active mine, Mine 7, is expected to close by 2025.

Svalbard’s employment landscape in Norwegian settlements has shifted significantly from mining to a more diverse economy. By 2021, mining jobs have drastically declined, and accommodation, catering, and public administration have emerged as major employment sectors. During 2009-20121 there was notable growth in real estate, scientific research, and the arts, indicating a strategic pivot towards broader economic activities.

According to White paper (2023-2024) the surge in tourism from 2012 to 2019, especially the rise in expedition cruise tourism, posed challenges to environmental goals and regulations. In response, amendments to the Svalbard Environment Protection Act were adopted to reduce the disturbance from human activity on wildlife and ensure efficient decision making. New rules, effective from 2025, aim to manage the environmental impact of tourism better.

Tourism in Svalbard is set to shift from focusing on growth in visitor numbers to emphasizing value creation, according to the revised 2022 “Masterplan Svalbard” by Visit Svalbard. This strategy prioritizes quality offerings that attract the right guests at the right time and place, pivoting towards sustainability to benefit the community, and ensuring the industry’s long-term viability.

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