NORWAY’S 2020 BUDGET UNVEILED: Svalbard gets more for avalanches and research, less for ‘normal’ government stuff

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It might be said Norway’s government is now giving Svalbard lots of change come budget time every year, as next year’s proposed spending plan continues to increase funding for emergency-related expenses such as avalanche protection and large-scale shifts in society such as an emphasis on scientific research.

But the government is being more frugal with everyday expenses, reducing slightly the allocation to Longyearbyen’s municipal government and rejecting upgrade requests such as an energy conservation plan for the town’s mostly coal-fueled power supply.

The national budget released Monday features a slight increase in overall funding for Svalbard and, while there are no jaw-dropping increases or reductions from a year ago, there are continuations of some major shifts that have occurred in recent years. Avalanche protection funding for Longyearbyen, for example, has increased from seven million kroner in 2017 to 38 million in 2018 to 45 million in 2019 to 60 million in 2020. Furthermore, the allocation for unforeseen incidents in Svalbard is 46 million, up from the previous one million.

Meanwhile, the proposed operating budget for the municipal government next year is 160 million kroner, five million kroner less than the current year.

Highlights of the proposed 2020 budget, according to a summary published at the Norwegian government’s website Monday:

• An additional 12 million kroner to Kings Bay AS for research operations in Ny-Ålesund. “The government states that Ny-Ålesund will be a platform for world-class international research cooperation, where Norway has a clear hosting role,” the summary notes. “Ny-Ålesund will also be an attractive research station that will meet the needs of the future. This means that long-term planning and investment in infrastructure must be planned and good management of the settlement is carried out.”

• An addition 15 million kroner for polar research by the Norwegian Research Council. “Much of this research will be related to Svalbard and the surrounding areas,” the summary notes.

• An additional 12.1 million kroner for Svalbard Folk High School, which began operations earlier this fall.

• An extra five million kroner for The Governor of Svalbard’s transportation budget in order to permanently allow the Polarsyssel research vessel to operate in the archipelago for ten months instead of nine.

• An extra six million kroner to upgrade communications coverage in northern marine areas all the way to the North Pole. Communications bases will be established in Svalbard and Hammerfest.

The budget also contains extras for Svalbard such as two million kroner to promote “business initiatives” – another area the government has bolstered in recent years – but denied funding for a battery-based storage upgrade at the power plant as part of an longer-term effort by some local politicians to reduce emissions.

This story will be updated with details and reactions.

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