Meld. St. 22 (2016–2017)

The place of the oceans in Norway’s foreign and development policy— Meld. St. 22 (2016–2017) Report to the Storting (white paper)

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Part 1
Ocean interests

3 Norwegian ocean interests in an international context

Norwegian ocean interests are related to value creation, the environment, climate change and sustainable use of resources, both nationally and globally. The Brundtland Commission’s report of 1987 put forth important ideas about securing these interests. The report’s main message is that sustainable development serves the needs of people alive today without destroying the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Sustainable development rests on three pillars: economic development, social development and environmental protection. To ensure sustainable development, all three have to be maintained. Sustainability has become a guiding principle in a number of areas related to natural resource use.

The added pressure on marine resources expected in the coming decades may present difficult trade-offs and choices. Long-term integrated management of the environment and resources is crucial for value creation and human activity.

3.1 The potential of the oceans

The opportunities associated with exploiting marine resources are substantial. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), many ocean-based industries have the potential to outperform world economic growth in the years through 2030, and the value-added contribution of these industries could double.1 In these calculations, the organisation assumes a continuation of current trends and conditions. Especially strong growth is expected in industries such as offshore wind power, aquaculture, fishing and fish processing as well as shipbuilding, port activities and ship repair. The OECD also presents two alternative development paths, called the ‘sustainable scenario’ and the ‘unsustainable scenario’. Importantly, the value added in the sustainable scenario exceeds the value added that would be produced by a continuation of current trends and conditions. In the second alternative scenario, value added would be reduced, primarily due to increased environmental destruction and a weakened resource base.

It is in the interest of Norway and the international community to work for trends consistent with a sustainable scenario, simultaneously accommodating economic growth and preserving a sound ocean environment. Such a development trend could help the world achieve Sustainable Development Goal 14 as well as other sustainability goals.

The three traditional ocean-based industries – oil and gas, maritime and seafood – account for a significant share of Norwegian value creation. The total value created in these industries in 2014 was estimated at NOK 760 billion, or 37 % of the entire business community’s value creation that year.2 Ocean-based industries account moreover for about two-thirds of the value of Norwegian exports. What these industries have in common is their growth in close interaction with scientific research and knowledge-based public administration and their presence in many places around the world. That bodes well for Norway in promoting its interests, sharing knowledge and contributing to global development in accordance with the UN’s sustainability goals.

Norway’s use of the ocean and its resources is wide-ranging. The ocean provides valuable natural resources and is a crucial means of passage, a supplier of food and ecosystem services, and an important source of identity. It plays a key role in the world’s climate system. Most of the ways in which humans use marine resources have environmental impacts, and in some cases there is a potential for serious impacts on ecosystems, habitats and species. Globally, the combined pressure exerted on oceans has significantly weakened the resource base and the potential for value creation. Environmental and resource management must therefore improve internationally if the oceans are to be exploited to their full potential. In the decades after World War II Norway, like other countries, learned the hard way about such problems as overfishing and industrial pollution of fjords. Although our ability and our capacity to manage the ocean sustainably have improved, there are still environmental challenges that need solving.

Our extensive use of the ocean and its resources creates a responsibility to manage it in a long-term and responsible way. Norway has for many decades based its use of the ocean on the sustainability principle. Important tools for Norway in this respect are its integrated management plans for marine areas, with ecosystem considerations a concern throughout. They reflect Norway’s ability and willingness to manage its marine areas in a sustainable manner, and have helped make Norway a driving force among nations for comprehensive, ecosystem-based management. Sharing experience and knowledge gained from its system of integrated marine management plans is one important way in which Norway can contribute to international marine management. The system’s cross-sectoral approach is a particularly important feature. Work on the management plans brings together all relevant parts of the public administration, and the measures advanced cover all sectors active in Norwegian waters.

Sustainable management requirements and regulations that take climate and the environment into account are also set forth in applicable Norwegian sectoral legislation. Ocean-based industries today are managed and regulated largely by sector. It is important to obtain a state of healthy coexistence among the various marine and coastal industries, some of which may have overlapping and competing interests relating to resource exploitation and utilisation.

Norway’s resource management system is effective and prudent, and the ecological status in Norwegian marine areas is generally good. Norway’s application of sound management on the domestic front is essential to ensuring that we can continue using the ocean and harvesting the riches along our coastline and in areas close to Norway in the years to come. It produces valuable expertise that we can use internationally to press for the sort of development that promotes growth by conserving the marine environment.

3.2 Forces shaping international ocean policy

Ocean resources hold the promise of future economic and social development opportunities for many countries. The many parties, needs and priorities involved make the oceans an arena for multifaceted international cooperation by a profusion of actors. The oceans join states and people all over the world, highlighting the global community’s shared responsibility for and interest in ensuring that they are sustainably used and kept clean and healthy for future generations.

Textbox 3.1 The Government’s ocean strategy

Ocean-based industries are a significant source of value creation and employment in Norway. They will continue to be an underpinning of Norway’s general welfare and to play a key role in the country’s future. It was in that light that Prime Minister Solberg presented the Government’s ocean strategy on 21 February 2017. The strategy’s main objective is to facilitate as much sustainable value creation and employment as possible in the ocean-based industries. To achieve this goal the Government will follow three tracks. It will help foster good framework conditions by maintaining and enhancing ocean-based industrial regulation in an efficient, predictable and knowledge-based manner; it will encourage the development of knowledge and technology in the ocean-based industries through research, innovation, education and expertise; and it will strengthen the international competitiveness of Norwegian ocean-based industries by assisting with market access, internationalisation and promotion. Divided among the three tracks, the strategy specifies 95 measures and follow-up points to be pursued.

International political developments in recent years demonstrate that the world is more unpredictable and unstable than just a few years back. The world order created after World War II has come under pressure. We live at a time of emerging and partly competing political centres, of shifting economic power from west to east, and to some degree to south, and of increasing influence by emerging powers. In the coming decades most population growth will take place in developing countries, especially in Africa and Asia, while the populations of Europe and North America stand still. Global developments will certainly affect international cooperation on ocean affairs as well as Norway’s freedom to act on its interests.

The envisaged future of complexity and uncertainty extends to the many non-state actors that exercise influence over marine issues, such as multinational companies and international environmental organisations. As Norway advances its ocean interests internationally, the foreign policy instruments employed must be designed to account for this multifaceted picture.

Sound ocean management and environmental protection are more important than ever. Threats to the marine environment include pressures caused by human activity such as overfishing, pollution, global warming and loss of biodiversity. The international picture as regards the balance between protection and economic exploitation of resources is not clear-cut.

Some countries, including those that tend to set the agenda, are focusing primarily on the economic potential the ocean represents. Given global trends such as population growth and resource needs, this is understandable. In some cases, however, an impression may be forming that environmental considerations are being assigned relatively little weight, whether consciously or unconsciously. In the long term, with the oceans expected to come under increasing pressure and legitimate concerns raised about our environment and our climate, this perspective may represent a challenge for Norway.

For the Government, it is vital to promote the sustainable use of marine resources and the knowledge that sustainable use and conservation need not be antithetical. Sustainable use requires us to know about the threats and the environmental state of marine areas, and to use this knowledge to develop sound policies and take effective management measures. These principles inform Norway’s positions as it works on relevant environmental conventions and participates in international discussions on responsible marine use and protection.

3.3 Need for knowledge

With technological development and research, the secrets of the sea are gradually being revealed. As a result it will be possible over time to exploit existing marine resources to a larger extent or in new ways, and for new resources to become available for human use. There is a major global need for more ocean knowledge and more sharing of experience and expertise. Enormous areas of the seabed have yet to be explored or properly mapped, and coastal area ecosystems are not fully understood. More must also be learned about the effects of various types of human activity on marine life and about the future impacts of climate change on the environment and society. Acquiring knowledge takes considerable resources and capacity, so it is natural to collaborate. The ocean is a highly productive arena for collaborative international research, and Norway contributes actively.

Norway has a long tradition of marine research, and the expertise amassed over the decades has contributed to sustainable management and value creation. The ocean is one of six focus areas specified in the white paper Long-term plan for research and higher education 2015–2024 (Meld. St. 7 (2014–2015)).

Norway is a world leader in several areas of marine research, and cooperates extensively in the field with international researchers. Continued use of Norwegian scientific communities and international cooperation to accumulate knowledge and expertise are a high priority.

More cooperation on knowledge and expertise between the ocean-based industries and a more multidisciplinary approach will be important aspects of ocean science in future. The Research Council of Norway funds ocean science through petroleum, maritime and seafood industry programmes as well as the council’s general schemes. Ocean-based research and innovation will provide the knowledge and expertise needed to handle major challenges related to food and energy supply, the environment and the bioeconomy. The council’s ocean-focused portfolio came to almost NOK 1.5 billion in 2015. The targeted programme portfolio was about NOK 800 million, an increase of almost NOK 120 million from the previous year (Research Council of Norway Annual Report 2015 (2016)).

3.4 International ocean policy arenas

The ocean embodies a complex set of present and future challenges across a wide range of human activities and needs. National interests vie in the international arena. Overall, however, ocean issues are characterised by extensive cooperation.

Textbox 3.2 International cooperation on marine research in ICES

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) is an independent scientific organisation that provides advice on managing marine resources and the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic. ICES was formed in 1902 and currently has 20 member states on both sides of the North Atlantic. The council’s secretariat is located in Copenhagen. Norway has participated from the start. ICES works to advance scientific understanding of marine ecosystems. The aim is to advise governmental authorities on the basis of the best available information so that they can make scientifically sound choices about the sustainable use of marine environments and ecosystems. ICES has a network of more than 4 000 researchers from over 350 marine research institutes. Its scientific work is governed by the organisation’s Science Committee. The Advisory Committee (ACOM) each year provides advice on catches for the most important North-East Atlantic fish stocks. The advice is based on data and scientific analysis from a number of expert groups.

The Government works actively in multilateral, regional and bilateral arenas when Norwegian interests need promoting. Ensuring productive interaction between these arenas is necessary. Good multilateral cooperation by well-functioning institutions is of great importance for managing present and future challenges, and for realising the potential of ocean-based resources in a sustainable fashion. The system of international institutions that has emerged is itself a determining factor in how the global community governs and manages the world’s oceans. It forms part of the prism through which Norwegian ocean interests are viewed, and the institutions are important arenas for promoting Norwegian interests and positions. They can also be important partners in addressing particular issues. As a significant actor in a wide range of ocean affairs, Norway is well positioned to influence how such institutions are designed and what their priorities are. Often such influence will be most effective when exercised in cooperation with countries that share Norway’s interests.

Some of the problems to be faced are global in nature and require global responses. Many environmental and marine management issues, however, are best resolved through cooperation between the countries in closet proximity to the problems. Some of the institutions of greatest importance to Norway as regards marine environmental management and value creation are to be found in our own vicinity. For Norway, regionality is an important principle in international maritime cooperation.

Bilateral cooperation is of great importance. All states have their own special characteristics that guide them in deciding which interests to advance. They are influenced by such factors as the degree to which they are dependent on ocean-based resources, the national institutions charged with setting priorities, the quality of ocean policy coordination and other domestic policy considerations. There are nearly 150 coastal states, with varying levels of dependency on the oceans. To achieve support for our views it is important to know the policy positions of other countries and actively pursue Norwegian interests.

It is important to devise policy instruments and capabilities in a way that achieves the best combined effect. In many cases it will be natural to emphasise cooperation with like-minded countries – those whose approaches to key maritime issues are the same as or similar to Norway’s. However, in pursuit of a healthy marine environment and sustainable use, it is vital to interact with a wide range of countries, including those that are, or may become, significant ocean resource users and those whose priorities differ from Norway’s.

For many developing countries, lack of capacity and weak or underdeveloped institutions seriously impede the job of realising national priorities. These countries often face major challenges in managing marine resources and are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. At the same time, many of these countries have the potential to grow markedly in the blue economy and therefore seek knowledge, expertise and experience from countries such as Norway.

Ocean policy is a priority area for influential countries in all parts of the world and provides Norway with important, long-term opportunities for cooperation with other countries. Bilateral maritime cooperation on business, trade, knowledge and the environment is therefore of great importance.

The Government will

  • launch dialogues on ocean affairs with relevant countries with a view to sharing experience and expertise and cooperating on measures to promote clean and healthy oceans, sustainable use of marine resources and growth in the blue economy. Dialogue may extend beyond representatives of the relevant authorities to participants from academia, business and civil society.

Textbox 3.3 Our Ocean conferences

The Our Ocean conferences highlight the increased topicality of ocean affairs in recent years. The first conference took place in June 2014 following an initiative by former US Secretary of State John Kerry. The main topics are sustainable fisheries, ocean acidification and other climate-related impacts on oceans, marine protected areas (MPAs) and combatting marine pollution. The EU will host the conference in 2017, Indonesia in 2018. In 2019, Norway will be the host country for this important annual ocean conference.

3.5 Norway as a responsible polar seas nation

Norway’s ocean interests in the Arctic and Antarctic are related to the utilisation of resources and to managing this in a way that ensures good ecological status and safeguards valuable biodiversity and the basis for future use. Experience and knowledge from both the Arctic and the Antarctic give Norway a solid basis for contributing to many arenas and viewing global marine issues in context.

3.5.1 Norwegian ocean interests in the Arctic

The Arctic is Norway’s most important foreign policy priority. In the spring of 2017 the Government is to present an updated Arctic strategy. In the strategy, Arctic policy will be considered in the context of ocean policy.

Large expanses of Norwegian sea areas are located north of the Arctic Circle. Many of these are areas of high biological production, providing the basis for important fisheries. The cod of the Barents Sea and the areas off the Lofoten archipelago constitute one of the world’s most important commercial fisheries. Species that previously were not found in the Barents Sea, like king crab and snow crab, are providing new business opportunities. The aquaculture industry is well established in the north, and if we resolve the industry’s environmental challenges the potential for additional growth along the northern Norwegian coast is considered good. The Arctic seas are also important habitats for marine mammals such as seals and whales, and some of the world largest seabird populations are found there.

In addition to traditional ocean-based industries such as fishing and maritime transport, there have been petroleum operations in the Barents Sea since 1979. Both oil and gas have been produced there since 2016. In the 23rd licensing round, 10 new production licenses were awarded, including three in the newly opened Barents Sea South-East area, off eastern Finnmark county. It is estimated that about half of the undiscovered petroleum resources on the Norwegian continental shelf are in the Barents Sea. Norwegian sea areas in the north are expected to play an important role in the future development of oil and gas resources.

Norwegian waters in the Arctic are now undergoing major changes as a result of global warming. Globally, 2016 was the warmest year on record, and climate change in the Arctic is occurring faster than elsewhere. According to some estimates, the North Pole may be ice-free in summer towards the end of this century. In its latest report the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that the risk of major change occurring to Arctic ecosystems is very high in the long term. Climate change will reduce the habitats of many species found in the Arctic today. Several of these, such as the polar bear and the ringed seal, are dependent on sea ice and may eventually disappear from large parts of the Arctic. Svalbard is one of the areas where this is expected to occur soonest; see the white paper Svalbard (Meld. St. 32 (2015–2016)).

Warmer seawater, meanwhile, may increase fisheries productivity in the north and shift fish population ranges northward. How the cumulative changes will affect the fisheries is uncertain. The uncertainty is compounded by the fact that ocean acidification occurs fastest in polar waters.

The knowledge required to predict changes is of great importance to the planning of Arctic activities and management measures, but also to understanding the global risk associated with these changes. It is in Norway’s interest to cooperate with other Arctic countries on such knowledge.

Greater expanses of open ocean will mean easier access to ocean-based resources and new opportunities for ship traffic. Newly traversable waters also mean a larger area of operations for Norwegian authorities, including the Coast Guard.

The negative impacts of human activity could pose a threat to the unique Arctic marine environment. Difficult climate and weather conditions and long distances represent additional challenges. Norway has jurisdiction over major marine areas in the north and has a special responsibility as a flag, coastal and port state to facilitate safe and environmentally friendly shipping in vulnerable Arctic regions. Accommodating increased activity, including resource utilisation, requires a well-developed system of monitoring, information gathering, information exchange, contingency planning and search and rescue services. A number of different agencies and policy instruments contribute to these capabilities. An example is BarentsWatch, a comprehensive monitoring and information system for Norwegian marine areas.

Norway is using substantial resources to build up knowledge about the seabed. Mapping by the MAREANO programme expands what we know about the extent of the habitat types and species that exist in our marine areas, and about the pressures on them as a result of human activity. This knowledge provides a basis for better management. The programme will be discussed in a forthcoming white paper on updating the Norwegian Sea management plan.

Norwegian ocean management is knowledge-based, so when economic and other human activity at sea moves northward, more must be learned. To meet this need, Norway expends considerable resources on ocean-related Arctic research every year. Funds are channelled through universities, research institutes and other actors. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs coordinates the Government’s Arctic efforts and administers the Arctic 2030 grant scheme, which provides support for a number of projects related to marine research, climate, search and rescue, shipping routes, logistics, safety and oil pollution protection. The Government wants to raise awareness about marine issues in the north. In 2017 new grants specifically related to the ocean are to be announced.

Also in 2017, the Government will be supporting the collaborative ‘Nansen Legacy’ project, which involves several Norwegian universities and research institutes. The project will contribute to increased scientific understanding of the central and northern parts of the Barents Sea. Other important initiatives are the FRAM Centre in Tromsø, which is now being expanded, the development of Svalbard as a platform for Arctic climate and environmental research, and the construction of the new ice-class research vessel Kronprins Haakon, which is to be launched in early 2018.

In Norway, there are strong and well-established clusters of experts specialising in marine and Arctic matters. The Government thinks these clusters of expertise could be better coordinated and promoted, so it intends to work with academia, public administrative bodies and the business community to determine the best way of releasing this potential, including the possible establishment of a centre of expertise for ocean and Arctic issues in Tromsø. Such coordination and promotion must build on existing pillars and structures for addressing Arctic issues, where the subject of the ocean has gained in prominence. In addition to enhancing coordination and promotion, a centre of expertise could stir debate and call attention to aspects of national and global development that affect Norwegian interests and Norway’s manoeuvring room as a coastal and marine state.

The Government will

  • consider establishing a centre of expertise for ocean and Arctic issues in Tromsø.

3.5.2 Norwegian ocean interests in the Antarctic and South Atlantic

Norwegian ocean interests in the Antarctic date back to the 1890s and succeeding decades, and were based on research and whaling. Southern Ocean whaling accounted for a significant part of the Norwegian whale harvest in the decades before and after World War II. Antarctic waters are among the most inhospitable on earth, in terms of both climate and weather, but the diversity of ocean life is varied and rich. Today, Norwegian interests in these areas are related to conservation of the unique marine ecosystems, research and responsible harvesting of living marine resources, such as krill and toothfish.

Figure 3.1 ‘Heart attack’.

Figure 3.1 ‘Heart attack’.

Norway advocates a knowledge-based approach to conservation and sustainable use in Antarctic waters. The red heart shape is a krill swarm under attack by a seal or penguin (the vertical blue line near the top of the ‘heart’). The image was made with sonar aboard the research vessel James Clark Ross during a joint Norwegian-British mission. The image belongs to Norway’s Institute of Marine Research and the British Antarctic Survey.

For more than 50 years, the parties to the Antarctic Treaty have managed an enormous continent surrounded by a rich marine area through peaceful cooperation across geopolitical dividing lines. The overall objectives of Norway’s Antarctic policy, priorities and ocean interests appear in the white paper Norwegian Interests and Policy in the Antarctic (Meld. St. 32 (2014–2015)). According to this white paper, Norway is to be at the forefront of ecosystem-based management, which safeguards biodiversity and provides a basis for sustainable resource exploitation.

Norway has two areas in the Antarctic: Peter I Øy and Dronning Maud Land. As a claimant country, Norway has a special interest in helping ensure Antarctic waters are managed on a sound scientific basis. Norway plays an active role in international cooperation on marine issues. Norwegian priorities are advanced through work related to the Antarctic Treaty, including the Environmental Protocol and the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (the CAMLR Convention).

Bouvetøya is located in the South Atlantic, but north of the Antarctic Treaty area. The island is considered one of the most remote in the world. Bouvetøya and the territorial waters around it are protected as a natural reserve. A white paper on Norwegian interests and policy relating to Bouvetøya (Meld. St. 33 (2014–2015)) provides the policy framework for the island and surrounding marine areas. The Government will attend to Norway’s rights and duties as a coastal state and responsible resource manager around Bouvetøya by safeguarding the natural reserve’s environmental assets and facilitating information gathering and additional research and mapping of the resources in the ocean, including the continental shelf. An economic zone has not been established around the island. In 2009, Norway submitted documentation to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf regarding the extent of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles.



The Ocean Economy in 2030, a report published by OECD on April 27, 2016. Using 2010 as a baseline, the organisation’s calculations indicate that the value added contribution from ocean industries could double through 2030 to more than USD 3 trillion.


Menon Economics (2016). Menon’s accounting and enterprise database contains complete accounting figures for all enterprises that are required to report to the Register of Business Enterprises. Public sector not included.

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