Last private land in the Arctic archipelago was put up for sale due to climate change

Last private land in the Arctic archipelago was put up for sale due to climate change

In the High Arctic, a piece of land the size of Manhattan with geopolitical implications has hit the market for 300 million euros ($323 million).

The sale comes as the Arctic experienced its warmest summer in 2023, and the Svalbard region has had less sea ice, more rain and higher temperatures due to climate change. The loss of sea ice is a plus for Russia, which has been gaining access to new shipping routes and energy reserves as the territory has opened up.

“It is the only chance for a buyer to gain a foothold in the High Arctic and establish a strategic foothold”said Per Kyllingstad, a lawyer representing the sellers, exclusively for Bloomberg News via Zoom from Oslo. He says it is the last privately owned parcel in Norway's nine-island archipelago.

Svalbard is one of the northernmost settlements in the world. It is east of Greenland, halfway between the Scandinavian continent and the North Pole. Approximately 60% is covered by glaciers, and is home to polar bears and arctic foxes. It has become a destination for travelers in search of adventure and for scientists who ensure the survival of the human race. (The famous “Doomsday” Seed Vault is buried here.)

The private plot is being marketed by Knight Frank globally. Norwegian and Russian state companies own the remaining land in Svalbard.

In 2014, controversy erupted when another private property in the region was put up for sale. When it was reported that a Chinese buyer was interested in land for coal mines, people feared that the plot would fall into foreign hands. Two years later, the Norwegian state bought it instead.

“We have offered the property to non-conflicting buyers. No conclusion was reached,” says Kyllingstad, who says they were in talks with the Norwegian government about a sale. “Now we are offering the same thing to all buyers, controversial or not. Sellers will sell to the highest bidder,” she says. A Norwegian government representative has not responded to a request for comment.

The 14,830-acre site is located about 40 kilometers from the inhabited town of Longyearbyen (2,400 inhabitants)., on the island of Spitsbergen. It includes more than 5 km of coastline and is full of mountains, fjords and arctic fauna. From April to August, it is under constant sun; October to February is the dark season.

Known as Søre Fagerfjord, the plot located in the southwest of Svalbard has belonged to the Norwegian holding company Aktieselskabet Kulspids for more than a century.. The company was founded by wealthy Oslo families interested in the area for its natural resources (they wanted to extract asbestos), but shares have changed hands in the last hundred years. The names of the shareholders have not been revealed, although they are all Norwegian, Kyllingstad says. The sale is for 100% of the shares.

“In recent years there has been great interest in the Arctic, and that has to do with climate change, because it is opening up possibilities that we have not seen before,” he continues.

The Arctic is estimated to hold 13% of the world's undiscovered oil resources, according to a study by the United States Geological Survey. Kyllingstad says the only geographic study they did was originally looking for asbestos (none was found), and they are not aware of any other resources on this land.

The UK had looked at purchasing another area in the Svalbard archipelago to boost its post-Brexit fishing waters in 2017, with former foreign minister Tobias Ellwood saying Svalbard offered a “serious piece of real estate.”