Norway and the Oceans. Speech given by the Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre

Ladies and gentlemen. I could reel off a long greeting list here. But I will consolidate and say: Dear friends of the ocean, It is a great pleasure and honour to welcome you to One Ocean Week and to this One Ocean Conference being held at the initiative of the Norwegian Government. We know we will get the best of the best at an ocean conference convened in the coastal town of Bergen, Norway, because so many of you are already in the vicinity.

Checked against delivery (clean copy)

Statsminister Jonas Gahr Støre står ved talerstolen.
Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre. Credit: Paul S. Amundsen

Vågen, the fjord and the open sea are all right outside our door, and we are sitting in one of Norway’s most historic and iconic buildings, Håkonshallen, which has been here for over 760 years. The stage for our work has been set.

But these nearly 800 years are merely a drop in the ocean compared to the history of the ocean itself. 

The coastal city of Bergen

Everything we see around us here has made modern Bergen – Bjørgvin – with its proud history, encircled by its seven mountains, what it is today. We are at a hub of trade, knowledge, culture and power in our country.

Here, into Bryggen and Vågen, we have the framework needed to load, unload and store goods from the smallest to the largest vessels, from the Norwegian coast and the world at large.

We are in a city of ocean scientists, marine biologists, seafarers, shipowners, petroleum engineers, fishers and many other maritime professions.

And let me add the Navy to that list. Here I speak from my own experience. It was when I sailed with the Naval Academy and the naval forces in the 1970s and 80s that I became intimately acquainted with the joys of the sea, and the extreme drawbacks (being seasick). It was during these years that I came to understand how the sea and the coastal regions form us as Norwegians and shape the contours of Norway’s narrative.

Bergen is Norway’s coastal capital and the perfect choice of venue for a conference during Ocean Week. A city of international renown.

And there is one last point I would like to make here, because, Mr Chair of the County Council, it is important to emphasise that Bergen is part and parcel of the vast potential of Western Norway.

As I often say when speaking about Norway’s opportunities and responsibilities relating to the climate and the environment: ‘The success of Western Norway sets the stage for the success of Norway.’

This speaks to the opportunities we have.

Western Norway has nearly everything we need to succeed: from industry and diversity of business, via knowledge, to management and the legacy of coastal culture. So much is happening here. And together we can make it all work.

The oceans bind us together


For centuries, we thought of the oceans as an obstacle, a boundary, between countries and people.

But really, the opposite is true. The oceans bind us together – as continents, countries and people.

The oceans are a seaway, not a barrier.

The oceans have brought forth life. It is our responsibility to ensure that they continue to flourish – that there will always be life in the oceans.

During my period as Minister of Foreign Affairs, I decided I would never refer to Norway as a ‘small country.’ Because what does it mean to call something ‘small’?

Well, with only 5.4 million people, we are certainly at the lower end of the population scale of the world’s 200 countries. In terms of land area, though, we move up to a position of roughly 60th in the world.

And if we add the ocean and the ocean floor – which are also a part of Norway – we need to multiply our land mass by seven, and then we suddenly shoot up to 17th place.

A small country? Hardly.

Moreover: We have the world’s second longest coastline. Including our islands, it is 100 915 kilometres long.

Our geography defines who we are as a nation. The Barents Sea, the Norwegian Sea, the North Sea, Skagerrak, the coastlines and islands, the continental shelf, the ocean floor, the ocean depths.

The ocean has given us our identity. And values. The oceans create value. The oceans are invaluable.

The oceans as a source of value creation

Norway is the world’s third largest exporter of gas, one of the world’s leading shipping nations, and the world’s second largest exporter of seafood. Last year was a record year, with Norwegian seafood exports totalling NOK 151.4 billion. And here is a fun fact – that amounts to 40 million meals of Norwegian seafood eaten around the world every day for a year.

So Norway is not a ‘small’ country in terms of its resources and economy either.

Why am I giving you these figures?

Because the oceans have provided us with far more than wealth and opportunity.

And what I want to emphasise today is what this entails in terms of our obligations.

We fish, transport, research, manage, and we create new industrial narratives.

I would like to share one with you. A month ago, I was on the Troll A gas platform, 70 kilometres from where we are now, together with the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

We were there to show that we are taking responsibility for our resources, and that we recognise the need to safeguard energy security and our energy installations in an unstable world. We were there to show that we are paying attention – from the air, from the ocean surface, and from the depths below. These are turbulent times.

Norway is now delivering over one third of Europe’s gas. We are a democratic country, and Europe views us as a reliable friend. We are the leading supplier.

But as I said to the President of the European Commission: ‘Look across the sea from this platform. In a few years, you could be looking at a massive windfarm that brings wind and power in to land, to industry, to households there, and back out here to the platform.’

What you cannot see, but is already a reality, is that just a few kilometres from here, the first well for the storage of CO2 has been drilled in the ocean floor between two and three thousand metres below the ocean surface. We very likely have the capacity to house and store all of Europe’s CO2 for many decades to come.

This illustrates how carbon capture and storage, a completely new industry, is now emerging.

In other words, that platform, which has been in production since 1996, in a field discovered many years prior to that, provides both a basis and a vantage point for new chapters in the Norwegian offshore industry success story.

It is not really correct to say that Norway is living in the oil age. We are living in the energy age and the oceans lay the foundation for our industrial vision.

The Government’s ambition

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Government’s main message here today is that the oceans are our most important resource, the cornerstone of the Norwegian economy and society, now and in the future.

That we cannot achieve sustainable growth in Norway and the world if we do not have clean, healthy and productive oceans.

That all our value creation must be based on a sustainable ocean economy.

That all our management of marine resources and all our ocean policies must be based on knowledge and sound, scientific advice. And there is no shortage of sound, scientific advice, particularly from the specialist communities here in Bergen.

However, I am also deeply concerned. This brings me to my second main message.

There are major threats to ocean health. The oceans are vulnerable to climate change, overfishing, litter and other types of pollution. The oceans are an endangered species, so to speak.

I read recently that the average sea surface temperature of the world’s oceans has been measured at 21.2 degrees. While that sounds good as a temperature for summer swimming in Norway, it is alarming as a global average temperature. It is the highest ever recorded.

The oceans are becoming more acidic because they absorb approximately one quarter of the world’s annual carbon dioxide emissions.

This means that conditions are changing rapidly and will continue to do so in the future. The situation is extremely serious.

We are all dependent on oceans full of life so that they can continue to provide the ecosystem services we need.

The oceans are essential to our efforts to meet our goals for zero emissions. One could say that the climate crisis and the environmental crisis intersect in the oceans. As is encapsulated in Sustainable Development Goal 14 – Life below water.

Many of the green industries and solutions are, in fact, blue. They are found in the oceans.

The Government’s ambition – and I am joined by five ministers here today with more on board – is for Norway to work proactively in a wide array of forums, internationally and nationally, to promote responsible management of ocean resources.

I consider this to be one of the best and most important forms of community responsibility in our time. Because what is the purpose of politics? To safeguard a strong sense of community that can provide people with freedom and opportunity. We must be at the forefront of integrated, sustainable ocean management, based on knowledge, science and experience.

We have such a broad pool of specialists to draw on for advice. There is world-leading  expertise available from the University of Bergen and the Institute of Marine Research. As Prime Minister, this makes me very proud.

Norway’s international engagement

Norway’s international engagement is not new. It is built on long-standing traditions.

We have been at the forefront of many ground-breaking initiatives over successive Governments:

  • In the development and protection of the Law of the Sea.
  • In mapping the continental shelf, which is an obligation under the Law of the Sea. Norway was the first country in the Arctic to map its entire seafloor and I clearly recall the sackload of information that was delivered to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in New York in 2009.
  • As a co-chair of the High-level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy.
  • In efforts to combat plastic and other types of pollution.
  • In negotiations to phase out greenhouse gas emissions from the shipping industry.
  • In contributing to the Global Diversity Framework adopted in Montreal before Christmas. Kudos to Minister of Climate and Environment Espen Barth Eide for taking the lead there.
  • In the effort to develop the new agreement under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
  • In contributing to the UN Decade of Ocean Science. Many of the talented researchers involved are in this room today.
  • In providing assistance to promote marine management in developing countries, with our Minster of International Development keeping this high on the agenda.
  • In helping to initiate efforts to draw up the FAO Agreement on Port State Measures to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
  • And in launching the Blue Justice initiative to gain support for the international declaration against fisheries crime,

Our efforts extend across a broad canvas –  and entail enormous responsibility.

  • And, in three weeks, Norway will be assuming Chairship of the Arctic Council at a challenging time in the north. The Government will work hard, given the circumstances, to continue to strengthen Arctic cooperation, including on ocean-related matters.

When I was Minister of Foreign Affairs I kept a note in my office that said: ‘Remember that the objective of foreign policy is to make domestic policy possible.’ Think about that. It is about creating frameworks that enable us to reach goals that make Norway a good place to live.

To put this in the context of today’s thematic focus: international efforts to protect, conserve and sustainably harvest marine resources, across the world, form the foundation for our own fisheries policy, environmental policy, business policy, energy policy and marine policy.

Which means there is an ongoing need for new knowledge, also about how we can improve marine research and marine management.

One of the lines of thinking in Norwegian management policy, and I have followed this as a public servant and politician for 30 years, is that our policies both must be based on and must help to develop new knowledge. It is a demanding process and it can take time, but it pays off.

It is interesting to note that, at a time when international cooperation is contending with many kinds of obstacles, we are still making progress on ocean-related issues. Let’s allow ourselves, for just a moment, to be optimistic about global collaboration. Perhaps we are able to move forward in this area, despite war in Europe, polarisation and unyielding stances, precisely because the oceans tie us together, as the Crown Prince said in his speech.

Could it be that the countries of the world recognise that we all need the planet’s blue lungs, and that we are all equally dependent on the sea?

This should serve as a reminder from Norway, which is not a small country, but a major maritime state, that the countries that view themselves as major players cannot delete each other from the map and cease talking to one another. There is no international situation in which that is responsible conduct. What is called for is international communication and cooperation.

Bringing the High-level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy home

The establishment of the High-level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy was a wise initiative introduced by the previous Government and my predecessor. Politicians from Bergen know a lot about the oceans, and former Prime Minister Erna Solberg has had a lot to say on this subject too. It was important to me to carry on the responsibility and continue in her footsteps to maintain Norway’s leading role.

Initiatives under the Ocean Panel have provided us with a better understanding of the challenges facing our ocean. And of what action needs to be taken.

We now have a broad, knowledge-based agenda for the sustainable use and protection of the oceans.

We are also seeing more civil engagement – young people cleaning and picking up plastic along the beach areas in Øygarden municipality. It is worrying that such action is needed, but heartening to witness because it shows an initiative and a commitment from our younger generation.

The Panel has provided important insight from other waters, but the goal of this conference is to focus on the Norwegian coast and to bring the Ocean Panel home to us.

What does that mean?

It means that we will work to make the Ocean Panel’s agenda clearer and even more relevant here in Norway.

The Ocean Panel was built on our model for ocean management. A targeted green transformation to protect the oceans will help to highlight the link between our ocean policy abroad and our ocean policy here at home.

We will seek to ensure continued sustainable management of all Norwegian coastal and ocean areas, based on our own ocean management plans.

We will further build up the new, green ocean-based industries.

We will ensure that what is good for the ocean economy is also good for the ocean environment, and vice versa.

And we will continue to give priority to international knowledge-sharing on matters relating to the oceans.

The Ocean Panel is not a UN body, but a voluntary initiative from counties that want to do something. What is unique about it is that the countries that join can also contribute to the work. France and the US have recently joined, and the member states now represent almost half of the world’s economic zones – with links between research, concrete policy recommendations and action.

At this very moment, 500 experts from 70 countries are convening for the UN Ocean Conference on Climate Effects just a few boat-lengths from where we are right now. The 19 sessions over five days will help to increase knowledge and further explore the connection between ocean and human health.

The various Government ministers – all of whom work with ocean-related matters in their respective areas, and five of whom are here with me today – will work together with the panel participants to determine the best way to proceed.

Key questions for Norwegian ocean policy

Allow me to share some of the issues that the Government is currently addressing:

What should Norway’s priorities be going forward with regard to its own efforts on the broader ocean agenda? We will not be able to take part in all areas but we need to maintain an effective, in-depth focus in some.

How far have we actually come in the green transformation of the oceans?

How are we going to follow up on the goal of the Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework to conserve 30 % of the world's terrestrial, inland water, and coastal and marine areas? In the Norwegian context, where we are dealing with other types of sea than, for example, France?

How can we establish even more vibrant local communities in coastal areas, and create more jobs and more innovative companies?

What is the key to promoting coexistence between different industries that share the same geographic areas and to ensuring inclusive spatial planning?

How can we increase the proportion of women working in ocean-based industries and prevent discrimination against them? This topic, too, relates to ocean policy.

What do we need to do to further enhance our knowledge communities?

These are all important issues to explore.

My job is to see the big picture, to see how all these topics are intertwined – just as other prime ministers in Norway have done – and to ensure that Norway as a whole works to safeguard productive, sustainable, clean and resilient oceans.

As a member of the Ocean Panel, we have committed ourselves to sustainably manage 100 % of our ocean areas by 2025. That date is just around the corner.

Ocean management plans

Norway’s integrated ocean management plans, which have been developed over two decades beginning with a regime for the Barents Sea and evolving through eight white papers, have provided inspiration for the work of the Ocean Panel. While their name may not be catchy, these integrated management plans have been a top-notch Norwegian product to share widely in our international cooperation. And that is something to be proud of.

To be honest, the dilemma, or rather the challenge, we face is this:

We always want more. And when it comes to the oceans, there are limits to how much more we can have.

We need to take more food from the oceans to increase food security, we are in need of more energy, and of more – greener – shipping.

And new ocean-based industries need more sea areas.

Which means there is competition for sea areas.

How can we meet these various needs and at the same time fulfil our high ambitions for conserving resources?

We must make wise choices, based on knowledge, with broad involvement of the different interests.

We must weigh various considerations, and here I am referring to something that is generally widely practised in the Norwegian social model.

We must find a balance between the increasing pressures on our ocean areas.

We must preserve important areas for marine habitats. Much has already been done here, but we see that more efforts are needed.

We must safeguard marine ecosystems and ensure their health.

We must also create viable opportunities for value creation.

We must view everything in an integrated perspective. The Ocean Panel has committed us to this.

And we have the instruments needed to do so:

The white paper on integrated ocean management plans – the next version of which will be presented in 2024 – is one of our most important policy support instruments, along with effective, knowledge-based, sector-related legislation.

In addition, we are developing business plans for our sea areas which we will present in the time ahead.

Together with the white paper, these plans will establish the predictable framework and foundation needed to achieve the coexistence across ocean industries that is so crucial.

We are drawing up overarching principles for the use of ocean areas.

The Government is now drafting new legislation to establish marine protected areas under Norwegian jurisdiction beyond the territorial boundary of 12 nautical miles. This is a major undertaking.

We also have a responsibility to ensure that all segments of the seafood industry are sustainable. With this in mind, the Government has launched, among other things, a targeted process to promote sustainable feed ingredients in addition to the ‘traffic light’ production guidelines and other mechanisms that have been introduced.

The Oslo Fjord

We must do what we can to curb pollution. There is work to be done on this in many areas.

Let me focus for a few moments on the Oslo Fjord.

Efforts to preserve life in the Oslo Fjord are a major focus area for our Government. We simply have to take stronger action.

The situation is critical. Espen Barth Eide and I went diving off Nesodden a year ago. It was disturbing. There was no life. Not a living thing.

At the same time, we know, and we have been told by researchers, that the cod stocks and marine vegetation can come back if we act quickly and effectively.

A concerted effort to save the inner and outer Oslo Fjord is under way. And this includes the Skagerrak Strait which is a sea area that borders on the fjord.

First, we have to stop pollution from wastewater.

Municipalities will be encountering much more stringent water treatment requirements. The Offices of the Country Governors in the Oslo Fjord area are revising emissions permits to put stricter specifications in place. It has been clearly communicated to the municipalities that requirements for nitrogen removal are imminent. This is not something they can keep putting off. They have to start planning now. There is a high price to pay to postpone or not take any action at all.

The second major challenge is agricultural runoff.

The Office of the County Governor for Oslo and Viken has introduced new regional environmental requirements, including reduced autumn ploughing. Funds have also been included in the environmental schemes under the Agricultural Agreement for 2022. I commend actors in the agricultural sector who have followed up on this. Espen and I have visited several of them and they take it very seriously. And it is yielding benefits.

And third, we will also consider implementing stronger measures for fisheries, both for commercial and for recreational fishers, to preserve the coastal cod stock and safeguard the  ecosystem. It is not enough to do just one of these things. We have to do all of them, and we have to do them cohesively and at the same time.

We must do everything it takes to restore the seafloor of the fjord and bring the big fish back into the ecosystem.

Our neighbours all along the Skagerrak share the same challenges as those we are addressing in the Oslo Fjord.

The Oslo Fjord can be saved if we use the best available knowledge. This was a lot of focus on Oslo-related affairs in Bergen. But, as they say, everything is connected.

Ocean industries

My friends,

Let me conclude with a few points as input to the panels, as they will be discussing these issues in more detail later on.

It has often been said that we know more about the surface of the moon than the seabed.

Still, the oceans are not quite as mysterious and perilous as they were a few centuries ago. The first maps over the North Sea from the 1400s and 1500s are a sight to behold – pure art.

Uncharted, unexplored areas embellished with sea monsters and other terrifying creatures of the deep. I think we can safely say there are no such sea monsters – although who knows, once you get down to 5–6 000 metres below the surface. Today we have programmes with allocations in the billions, such as MAREANO, which has mapped the depth and topography of the seabed in Norwegian offshore areas. They have not uncovered any sea monsters.

Our policy must be based on fact, knowledge, research and involvement. And this applies to all the ocean industries. Let me focus on a few of particular relevance to the upcoming debate:

First: Blue forests. Now that is a lovely expression.

According to the Ocean Panel, blue forests are one of the leading solutions to problems related to carbon levels, ocean acidification, ocean warming and loss of biodiversity. Blue forests – or more simply put, rockweed and kelp forests – represent an extremely exciting new industry.

The Government will give priority to activities involving blue forests – both in Norwegian territorial waters and more widely across the world. We have broad expertise in this area and we will put it to good use.

Second: Green shipping – and both the industry and relevant authorities are well represented here today.

Norway – and not least Western Norway and Bergen – has deep-rooted maritime traditions. The shipping industry – our second largest industry – has helped to found the cities along the entire length of our coast. Provided jobs and created value.  

And today, Norway is at the cutting edge in achieving advances in green maritime technology.

We salute the ongoing efforts in areas such as eco-friendly fuel, green shipping corridors, and preventing fouling on ships’ hulls to limit the spread of alien marine species.

Norway has played a key part in developing the ongoing international cooperation, and more efforts are called for in other areas, such as sustainable shipbreaking.

Third: Food from the oceans  

Our oldest, most traditional industry is our fisheries industry. An export industry since the 12th century. And today Norway is one of the world’s major fisheries nations.

Renewable ocean resources provide nutritious food, enhance food security and generate jobs.

Norwegian fisheries management is rooted in knowledge. Previously overfished stocks such as herring have been replenished. We have learned from our mistakes. And our marine researchers regularly discover new coral reefs – 18 coral reefs areas have been protected so far.

By way of example: The cod stock off the coast of Newfoundland has been severely depleted. But the cod stock in the Barents Sea, which is closely related, and which is co-managed by Norway and Russia, remains sustainable. Even in light of the war in Ukraine, we have maintained agreements on sound quotas and resource management for next year. We must continue on this path.  

Integrated ocean management is beneficial to fisheries as well. Norwegian aquaculture must be sustainable. Which is why we have introduced the fish farm ‘traffic light’ system for regulating production and growth.  

Fourth: Offshore wind power

I saw people outside who are claiming that offshore wind power is not sustainable. Offshore wind production must be sustainable.

Guiding Norway in the transition to a greener economy is one of my most important tasks as Prime Minister.

To succeed in developing our country, with all its coastal and inland communities, industries and businesses – and especially to encourage new, innovative industries – the solution to most of the problems, as Terje Aasland often reminds me, is more renewable energy, a larger electricity grid and greater energy efficiency.

Offshore wind power will be essential in this context. And it will enable us to reach our climate targets as well as to launch a new industry that will create jobs, promote value creation and increase export opportunities.

Before the Easter holiday, the Government announced the opening of the initial areas, Utsira North and the first phase of Southern North Sea II, for applications for renewable energy production at sea.

Future projects will produce enough electricity to power nearly one million households. By 2040, we will open up areas for offshore wind power production that will generate 30 000 MW of power. This is nearly the same as the amount of electricity we currently produce in Norway. That is a huge step forward, my friends.

Wind power offshore will be developed in a way that safeguards other important interests, such as fisheries. We have done this before, and we can do it again.

Fifth: Emerging opportunities. Seabed minerals are a hotly debated topic.

We know that the global demand for minerals will continue to rise as a result of population growth, increased prosperity and the transition to a low-emission society.

Control of these resources has now also become a crucial issue in light of geopolitical developments.

Mineral deposits that can help to cover some of the burgeoning global demand have been discovered on the Norwegian continental shelf.

We will take a cautious approach, within a sound regulatory and environmental framework.

Norway has extensive experience in the sound management of marine resources based on a measured, step-by-step approach. We will follow the same practice for activities relating to extraction of seabed minerals.

The Ministry of Petroleum and Energy has initiated an opening process and circulated an impact assessment for review.

This in no way signals the start of production. It is an important step in obtaining the knowledge we need and conducting the necessary mapping activities. Norway will move forward responsibly.      

Any future extraction of seabed mineral resources will only be approved if we have enough knowledge demonstrating that the extraction can occur in a sustainable and responsible manner.

The Government aims to present a white paper to the Storting on this topic during the spring session.


Ladies and gentlemen,

We all feel a tie to the ocean – for relaxation, value creation, recreation or jobs; we fished for crabs when we were kids, we learned how to swim, and now we head out in a kayak or spend our free time renovating a leisure boat.

Or we have our place of work on a fishing vessel, onboard a ship or an oil platform, in a control room, or at an aquaculture facility or laboratory.  

Our maritime and marine-based traditions are part of our national DNA.

Our tall sailing ships epitomise all of this. The voyage of Statsraad Lehmkuhl highlights the interplay between local and global traditions, and now she has returned here after 20 months at sea, having sailed 55 000 nautical miles and visited 36 ports.

The crew of the Statsraad Lehmkuhl experienced a lot during the expedition. Participants at a seminar in Yokohama, Japan in September last year noted with interest that there was much more room for good discussions when there were no other distractions than being at sea. That it was so much easier both to recognise where there was a need for change, in business and in politics, and to identify potential actions.

Which brings us back to that eternal truth, and I will conclude with this: what binds together Yokohama and Bergen – 8 500 km apart as the crow flies – is the ocean, the One Ocean. And we all share the responsibility for safeguarding its health.  

Few countries in the world have better potential than Norway to develop the blue economy, make it sustainable, and give it as a legacy to future generations.

Thank you for joining us here in Bergen. I wish you all a productive and inspiring conference.