Country profile (Norway)
What distinguishes the country?
Kingdom of Norway (Kongeriket Norge)
Population: 4 908100 (01 January 2010)
Norway has a long rugged coastline which stretches over 2.500 km, broken by fjords and thousands of islands. Norway is also a mountainous country with many glaciers and some of the highest waterfalls in the world. The mountains draw Arctic terrestrial species all the way from the north to the southern part of the country.
The climate is mild considering its high northern latitude, and Norway is the northernmost country in the world to have open waters. This is due to the Atlantic trade winds and the Gulf Stream. The latitude also results in great seasonal variations in daylight. The high mountain ranges, running north-south, also play an important part in shaping the Norwegian climate.
The Norwegian economy is open and mixed, with a combination of private and public ownership. The public sector has considerable ownership in key industrial sectors, such as in the oil and gas sector, hydroelectric energy production, aluminium production, banking, and telecommunications. Norway maintains a Scandinavian welfare model with universal healthcare, free higher education and a comprehensive social security system.
Much of Norway's economy depends on the use of its natural resource base. For this reason, Norway is dependent on governmental regulation in order to balance economical and environmental interests. The country is rich in natural resources, including oil and gas, hydropower, fish, forests and some minerals. The development of the hydroelectric energy sector at the beginning of the 20th century triggered industrial growth, particularly within the aluminium and ferroalloy industry, and fertilizer production. The discovery of large reserves of oil and gas in the late 1960s, gave further boost to the economy. Norway is the third largest shipping nation in the world, and aquaculture is the second largest export industry. Other important sectors include oceanicfisheries and forestry.
In 1972, Norway was the first country in the world to have a ministryat cabinet levelwith special responsibilty for environmental matters. National environmental governance in Norway is organised in a hierarchical manner. At the top is theMinistry of the Environment which is the leading government institution regarding environmental issues. Much of the work is delegated to a set of subordinated directorates:
The directorates generally buy services from research institutions and consultants to cover environmental monitoring and assessments. Much work is, furthermore, delegated to the County Governors, of which there are 19, and the 430 local municipalities also play an important role in the implementation of environmental polices.
What have been the major societal developments?
Norway is a member of the Council of Europe, was a founding member of the Nordic Council, and joined EFTA in 1960. In 1994, Norway entered into the European Economic Area Agreement with the EU, involving participation in the common market and in many EU programmes, and making EU acquis part of national legislation in many policy areas such as environmental management.
After the Second World War, economical focus moved from primary to export-based industries. However, despite a halving of man-labour years in both agriculture and fisheries, there was a doubling of production in both sectors, thanks to improved technology and management. In the 1960s and 1970s, Norway moved from an economy influenced significantly by government involvement towards a more free market based economy. However, the government initiated many industrial ventures and had considerable ownership in these. This resulted in a substantial increase in public sector employment, particularly in health and education.
Due to offshore industry and fish farming, Norway is still a considerable producer of raw materials. Therefore the balance between exploitation of natural resources and conservation of natural values is an important challenge for the Norwegian government.
In 1969, exploratory drilling in the North Sea revealed rich resources of oil and gas, which led to extensive oil and gas production. In 1973, Norway established an Oil Directorate and the state-owned oil company, Statoil. In 2004, Norway became the world’s third largest producer of crude oil and natural gas. Norway’s role as oil nation has resulted in an increased standard of living for the great majority, and has played an important part in shaping Norwegian society since the 1980s. Today, Norwegian oil and gas production is far larger than the hydropower production, and also many times higher than the energy consumption of the country.
Norwegian business life after 2000 has seen traditional industries, particularly the energy-demanding ones such as metal refineries, on the decline, while companies in shipping, oil and IT have grown in numbers. A change in industry focus has resulted in a population flux from the countryside to towns and cities. Efforts to counteract this trend have been initiated, but have proven less efficient than hoped for.
Norway has not been noteworthy affected by the recent financial crisis. The country has been able to cover its deficits through money from the country's pension fund, which is of significant value due to Norway’s oil and gas production.
Environmental awareness became a factor in Norwegian management at the end of the 1960s. Local environmental problems due to hydro power generation were seen as some of the challenges the country had to face. There was focus on establishing protected areas, and cleaning up local sewage and eutrophy problems in the Oslo fjord and someinland waters,including Mjøsa, Norway’s largest lake. Industry and point source pollution also became more strictly regulated under the Pollution Control Act, particularly in areas where there were health implications.
Restrictions within the 100-meter belt were enacted in 1965 under the Plan and Building Act, prohibiting construction too close to rivers and the coastline. The rate of dam construction slowed down in the 80s, and selected rivers were protected as a result of several protection plans.
From the middle of the 1970s offshore activities emerged as an environmental challenge, and the Norwegian state is heavily involved in regulations to protect marine resources and the environment along the coast from oil spills and emissions of hazardous substances.
In the 1980s, the focus changed to transboundary and global issues, such as acidification and other issues linked to long-range air pollution, hazardous substances, the loss of biodiversity, degradation of the ozone layer, as well as global warming.
In the 1990s, it became more evident how the Norwegian economy influenced the environment in other parts of the world. In response to this, Norway has formulated ethical norms related to environment and human rights, to be used in governmental investments abroad.
Because Norway is situated downstream of main air and ocean currents, the country is a recipient of large amounts of transboundary pollution. In addition, the effects of global warming are particularly evident in the Arctic. Therefore Norway actively participates in international environmental cooperation.
What are the main drivers of environmental pressures?
Household consumption in Norway has almost tripled since 1958 measured in total consumption expenditure. Households spend increasingly less of their budget on food. Today, a modest 11 per cent is spent on food; compared to 40 per cent in 1958. Housing and transport accounted for 14 and 7 per cent of Norwegians’ budget respectively in 1958, compared to 31 and 17 per cent today.
Not only does food absorb a smaller share of the budget – Norwegians also buy other types of food. The consumption of fish and potatoes has fallen considerably since 1958, while the amount of meat consumed increased rapidly from the fifties till the seventies when the trend levelled off to be quite stable.
Because Norway is a long and narrow country, it has extensive transport needs. The use of private cars has increased fivefold over the past 40 years. Journeys by public transport only accounted for 8 per cent of the population’s travels in 2005. Norwegians also fly more frequently and further, especially abroad. Emissions from journeys abroad are not included in the Norwegian emission inventory. The total goods volume has more than doubled since 1965, while the transport performance measured in goods kilometres has increased fivefold. Because of global warming, which results in more fairways, there is an increased risk of oil spills along the Norwegian coast.
Tourism in Norway is mainly nature-based and an important contributor to the country’s economy. Tourism is also an important tool to counter centralisation, through the creation of livelihoods in the districts. Tourism accounts for approximately 4 per cent of Norway’s GDP and employs 7 per cent of the work force. Much of the tourism is nature-based, and there are some environmental concerns related to the consequences of tourismfor wilderness areas.
On the production side, Norway’s economy is to a relatively large extent based on exploitations of natural resources and to a considerable extent export oriented. Examples of this, relating to the terrestrial and freshwater environment, are hydro-electric power generation and forestry, whereas fishery, aquaculture and off-shore oil and gas extraction are examples in the marine environment. Furthermore, our abundant energy resources is fuelling processing industries in the mineral and chemical sector that are still of some environmental concern.
Norway has relatively large areas of undisturbed countryside, which are an important part of the Norwegian identity and natural heritage. However, more and more of this heritage have been lost through piecemeal development, particularly in the last 40 to 50 years. Approximately 144 400 square kilometres or 45 per cent of Norway’s area (excluding Svalbard and Jan Mayen) was per January 2008 defined as areas without major infrastructure development.
The shore zone in Norway is also under pressure from development. Despite a reduction in construction activities, the accessible areas within the coastal zone are still shrinking. During the last 10 years, the accessible areas for outdoor recreation in the coastal zone have gone down by 2.1 per cent on a national scale. In the south of Norway this figure is 3.7 per cent in the same period. However, during the last two years the yearly decrease of accessible areas has declined.
Even though Norway is a relatively sparsely populated country when judged in terms of average population density, the population is very unevenly distributed. This can be explained by distinct climatic and geographic features which, as previously mentioned, distinguish Norway from many other countries. Therefore the pressures of population and economic activity are concentrated in certain regions and landscape types of limited space, whereas large areas are much less affected.
One finds prime examples of such concentrations in many fjords and valleys in the southern half of the country. Where population pressures are an issue, prime land such as agricultural and recreational areas are threatened. Fjords are often subjected to pollution loads that are incompatible with their slow rate of water exchange with the adjacent open sea waters while valleys in many cases are heavily affected by intensive agriculture and transport.
Urban noise and air pollution
Norwegian cities are relatively small compared to many other European countries. Only four cities have a population of more than 100.000 inhabitants. A large part of the Norwegians affected by local air pollution and noise live here. The capital Oslo, with suburbs and satellite towns, is the dominating urban area with a population near one million people.
The large areas less affected by nationally generated pollution, suffer relatively more from long range transboundary air pollution. The situation is aggravated because these regions and landscape types host ecosystems that are particularly vulnerable, like the Arctic region in the northern part of the country and mountainous landscapes in the middle and southern parts. Extensive areas of southern Norway are still recovering from acidification as a result of atmospheric transport of air pollutants from the European continent in past decades. The deposition of hazardous substances being transported from as far as the Asian continent is of considerable concern.
What are the foreseen developments?
Major environmental pressures in Norway are likely to include, at least in the short term, a continued trend towards urbanisation and increased energy demand, as well as an increase in the rate of climate change. Also, a transition from a resource based to knowledge based economy and increased development together with more prevalent use of cleaner technologies is expected. Greater reliance on imports of consumer goods from the Third World countries is also likely and handling transport demand, particularly personal transport, in an environmentally friendly way will likely continue to be a challenge. The country’s population is expected to grow only slowly based mostly on immigration.
The total sum of these developments nationally is difficult to estimate; some trends will serve to alleviate environmental pressures and others may serve to worsen these pressures, at least in parts of the country. As a down-stream country, the Norwegian situation will be dependent of developments abroad.
Of outmost concern to Norway in the years to come are two inter-related trends, namely the ones arising from developmental pressures building in the Arctic region and the increased demand for marine resources in the North-East Atlantic and the Barents Sea. The extensive ecosystems that exist here require careful management. Despite the fact that, in some respects, these ecosystems are very productive, they are very vulnerable in other ways. More than anywhere else, this is true for the Arctic region where climatic conditions are extraordinary harsh requiring species, such as the polar bear, to exploit vast areas in their fight for survival.
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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