Meld. St. 14 (2015–2016)

Nature for life — Norway’s national biodiversity action plan (Chapter 4–9)

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Why do we need a white paper on biodiversity?

The natural world is the foundation for human life and livelihoods. A huge variety of species, habitats and ecosystems provides us with everything from food and medicines to building materials, opportunities for outdoor activities and aesthetic and spiritual benefits. Pollination, natural flood control and CO2 uptake are just a few examples of the variety of ecosystem services that nature provides. Many Norwegian industries are dependent on the environment and natural resources. Norwegian outdoor traditions developed from people’s close contact with the natural world, and have given rise to activities in other sectors, such as tourism.

Norway’s previous white paper on biodiversity was published 14 years ago. A great deal has happened in the intervening years. The preparation of a new white paper has been a fresh opportunity to look at the challenges we face as regards biodiversity and the priorities, tools and instruments we should use to safeguard biodiversity.

Biodiversity is essential in the green shift

The Norwegian Government is actively promoting a transition to a greener Norwegian economy. Safeguarding biodiversity for current and future generations is essential to the success of this ‘green shift’. The green shift is intended to facilitate production and consumption patterns that have far less negative environmental and climate impact than is the case today. Through conservation and sustainable use, we will seek to maintain the supply of ecosystem goods and services for the future.

Biodiversity under pressure globally and in Norway

In recent decades, human activity has resulted in considerable losses of biodiversity and caused deterioration of ecological status in many ecosystems. Climate change is adding to the pressure on ecosystems. Some of the world’s ecosystems are under such pressure that they are no longer able to provide the goods and services on which people depend.

In many ways, the biodiversity situation in Norway is more positive. But here too, there is work to be done. Land-use conversion and land-use change are vital for society, for example in connection with road construction, housing developments and industrial and commercial activities, but is also the most important driver of biodiversity loss in terrestrial ecosystems. Ocean acidification, pollution and the spread of alien species are other drivers of biodiversity loss. Climate change is already affecting Norway’s ecosystems, particularly polar ecosystems, and is expected to have increasingly negative impacts on other ecosystems as well in future.

Healthy ecosystems provide vital goods and services. Ecosystems consist of many different organisms that interact with each other and the physical environment. Species are the building blocks of ecosystems. Habitat loss or degradation may threaten species or populations with extinction, and the loss of species or populations may alter ecosystem functioning. Species that are considered to be at risk of extinction are classified as threatened. In Norway’s latest assessment, 2355 species have been classified as threatened. This corresponds to 11.3 % of the approximately 21 000 species that were assessed.

National and international targets for biodiversity conservation

The Government’s policy is designed to play a part in achieving national and international targets for biodiversity, particularly the Aichi targets under the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Aichi targets are reflected in Norway’s three national biodiversity targets, which are concerned with:

  • achieving good ecological status in ecosystems;

  • safeguarding threatened species and habitats;

  • maintaining a representative selection of Norwegian nature (the conservation of areas covering the whole range of habitats and ecosystems).

The Aichi targets are global in nature but require action at national level. Norway’s contributions in this field will focus primarily on national action, but we are part of a globalised economy. We are responsible for the environmental pressure Norwegian activities cause outside the country’s borders through trade and investment. Norway’s efforts to reduce pressure from Norwegian activities in other countries are therefore an important part of its national policy for biodiversity at global level.

Norwegian policy

The Government takes a long-term approach to the management of Norwegian nature. We must ensure that future generations also have opportunities for wealth creation based on healthy ecosystems. The Government will therefore take steps to ensure that Norwegian nature is used sustainably, prevent the loss of species and ecosystems, and continue efforts for the conservation of a representative selection of Norwegian nature.

The Government’s policy for biodiversity management in Norway can be summarised under the following main headings:

  1. More clearly targeted nature management

  2. Climate-resilient nature management

  3. Strengthening municipal expertise on biodiversity

  4. Safeguarding threatened species and habitats

  5. Long-term conservation of a representative selection of Norwegian nature

  6. Knowledge-based management

  7. Adaptation of tools and instruments to the different ecosystems

More clearly targeted nature management

Decisions are constantly being made that require a balance to be found between biodiversity considerations and other important public interests. Overall, the many different decisions that are made may cause the ecological status of ecosystems to deteriorate, which in the long run is unsustainable. At present, there is a lack of clear, agreed management objectives related to ecological status for several major ecosystems: forests, wetlands, cultural landscapes, mountains, polar ecosystems and to some extent marine waters. The Government will initiate the development of management objectives based on scientific definitions of good ecological status for different ecosystems. Once this has been done, it will be possible to target the use of policy instruments more clearly in order to achieve and maintain the desired ecological status. The Government’s proposals in this area are discussed in Chapter 5.3. For rivers and lakes and coastal waters, a system of management objectives has already been established through the Water Management Regulations.

Climate-resilient nature management

Climate change will become an increasingly important pressure on biodiversity. This will have a number of implications for nature management. It will be possible to reduce the cumulative environmental effects by limiting other environmental pressures. For example, if climate change reduces the availability of food for certain species so that they produce fewer young, it may be necessary to restrict harvesting of these species.

The Government will assess whether Norway’s existing protected areas will be adequate if climate change results in shifts in the geographical distribution of species. Moreover, the Government will manage Norwegian nature in such a way that it can play a part in climate change adaptation. For example, wetlands can help to moderate flooding.

Strengthening municipal expertise on biodiversity

Land conversion and land-use change is the most important driver of biodiversity loss in Norway. Since the municipalities have extensive responsibilities for land-use management, it is vital that they organise this work in a way that ensures sound management of the natural environment.

The Government will provide a framework to enable the municipalities to build up their expertise on biodiversity. It proposes to achieve this through a sound knowledge base and the provision of better guidance, and by initiating a pilot project on municipal sub-plans for biodiversity as a tool for biodiversity management. The pilot project will focus on biodiversity of national, regional and local value.

Chapter 5.4 discusses the main principles of Norway’s land-use policy. Chapter 9 deals with the responsibilities of local and regional authorities, which include responsibility for biodiversity in towns and built-up areas.

Safeguarding threatened species and habitats

One of Norway’s national targets is to ensure that no species or habitats are lost as a result of the cumulative effects of human activity. Special safeguards will continue to apply to threatened species and habitats when decisions are made under sectoral legislation and in connection with land-use planning. Protection of areas under the Nature Diversity Act, priority species and selected habitat types are instruments the Government will use to safeguard threatened species and habitats.

The Government’s first priority will be species that are critically endangered or endangered in Norway and also have a substantial proportion of their population in Norway. Some species are critically endangered or endangered not only in Norway but also in the rest of Europe or globally. There is even more urgent reason to take steps to safeguard such species. Chapter 6 deals with the Government’s policy for threatened species and habitats.

Long-term conservation of a representative selection of Norwegian nature

The long-term conservation of a selection of Norwegian nature has been part of Norway’s policy for many years. Area-based measures to achieve this include the national park plan, county protection plans, the protection plan for watercourses, the designation of key forest biotopes that are not to be felled, and the protection of coral reefs against fisheries.

The Government will ensure that the value of conservation areas is maintained through sound management. The Government will also consider whether the areas concerned are sufficiently representative of the whole range of Norwegian nature. The Government will expand the scope of voluntary forest protection and continue work on marine protected areas. Some other habitat types, particularly in the lowlands, are also poorly represented. The Government will initiate county-level supplementary protection of areas under the Nature Diversity Act, and will test protection on a voluntary basis in ecosystems other than forest. Application of the Marine Resources Act will also be considered.

Chapter 7 deals with the Government’s policy for conservation of a representative selection of Norwegian nature.

Knowledge-based management

One of the principles of Norway’s environmental policy is that management must be knowledge-based. The Government will therefore continue initiatives to map Norwegian nature and establish maps of ecological information for Norway. The Government also proposes further development of the environmental monitoring system to ensure satisfactory monitoring of all ecosystems, and further development of good indicators for pressures and ecosystem services.

Other forms of knowledge generation, for example research, analyses and syntheses, will also be further developed and improved. New editions of the Norwegian Nature Index, red lists and ecological risk assessments for alien species will be presented regularly. To ensure that decision makers and the general public have adequate information about what knowledge is available, databases will be improved and coordinated. Environmental data and statistics will be of good quality and will be available in public databases.

Adaptation of tools and instruments to the different ecosystems

Every ecosystem is different. The environmental pressures affecting them vary, and the tools and instruments used to safeguard them must be adapted accordingly. The Government’s main principles for safeguarding biodiversity are the same for all ecosystems, but this white paper sets out proposals for adapting the use of tools and policy instruments to different major ecosystems: marine and coastal waters, rivers and lakes, wetlands, forest, cultural landscapes, mountains and polar ecosystems. These include proposals for achieving or maintaining good ecological status in different ecosystems (Chapter 5), safeguarding threatened species and habitats (Chapter 6) and conservation of a representative selection of Norwegian nature (Chapter 7).

The marine management plans and the river basin management plans are tools for ecosystem-based management of marine and coastal waters and rivers and lakes. Sectoral legislation and the Planning and Building Act are used to regulate activities that can put pressure on biodiversity. It is a principle of Norwegian environmental policy that each sector is responsible for dealing with pressures and impacts resulting from its own activities. Instruments such as priority species, selected habitat types and area-based protection are relevant in all ecosystems, but can only be used out to twelve nautical miles from the baseline in sea areas, since this is the limit for the geographical scope of the relevant provisions in the Nature Diversity Act.

Note to the reader: Chapter 1–3 describe the need for a national biodiversity action plan, the state of Norway’s ecosystems and achievement of the Aichi-targets. These chapters have not been translated into English.

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