Meld. St. 29 (2020–2021)

Norway’s integrated plan for the conservation of areas of special importance for marine biodiversity

To table of content

1 Introduction: the conservation of marine biodiversity

The Government considers it vital to safeguard Norway’s ecosystems. Biodiversity is an essential basis for human survival, and its loss may have major consequences. Safeguarding nature is also part of the solution to reducing global warming. One of Norway’s national environmental targets is to maintain a representative selection of Norwegian nature for future generations.

Norway’s goal is to play a pioneering role in developing an integrated, ecosystem-based system of ocean management that protects biodiversity and provides a basis for sustainable use of resources. Norway already has a well-developed ocean marine management regime, and its ocean management plan system has attracted a great deal of international recognition. Norway is playing a leading role in developing knowledge about the environment and resources in the seas and oceans and on the continental shelf, and about their management. However, climate change and increasing ocean-based activity are creating new challenges. As a maritime nation, Norway therefore has a strong interest in maintaining and further developing its role as a responsible steward of the oceans.

Environmental status in Norwegian waters is generally good, but there are some areas where human activity is having substantial impacts. The effects are greatest in coastal waters of the North Sea and Skagerrak. Climate change is resulting in rising ocean temperatures and an increase in runoff from land to sea, and is also intensifying the impacts of other factors. At the same time, growing activity is expected in Norwegian waters, particularly in emerging and future ocean industries such as offshore wind, carbon storage below the seabed and hydrogen production. These developments make it vital for Norway to have an integrated national plan for the protection of areas of importance for marine biodiversity.

1.1 Conservation of marine biodiversity as part of integrated ocean management

Conservation measures, sustainable use and knowledge development are key components of integrated ocean management. One of the basic principles of the Government’s ocean policy is to promote the conservation and sustainable use of marine ecosystems. Knowledge about the marine environment has been developing rapidly in recent years. Efforts to protect valuable biodiversity and marine ecosystem services are based on the new knowledge acquired through mapping, monitoring and research.

In this white paper, the term conservation measures is used to mean both marine protection and other effective area-based conservation measures. Measures and policy instruments are referred to as ‘area-based’ if they apply to geographically delimited areas. Marine protection in Norway refers to the establishment of protected areas under the Nature Diversity Act. These may be either marine protected areas (MPAs), which are a separate category, or for example national parks or nature reserves that include marine areas. Establishing such areas provides long-term protection against environmental pressures and impacts across sectors. The term ‘other effective area-based conservation measures’ applies to measures in particular sectors, for example under the Marine Resources Act,1 that have positive long-term effects on biodiversity in specific areas.

Marine protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures are intended to safeguard valuable ocean biodiversity and ecological functions. Rich biodiversity and high biological production, ecosystem services that offer a potential for harvesting, and the value creation that can be achieved by harvesting renewable resources, are all closely interlinked.

Marine ecosystems and their functions relating to biodiversity, production and harvesting from the oceans must be managed in a way that strengthens ecosystems resilience and safeguards biological production in the future.

This white paper presents the Government’s proposals for further development of the element of its ocean management regime concerning the conservation of areas of importance for marine biodiversity.

1.2 Developments in the conservation of marine biodiversity

One important conclusion of the 2016 OECD report The Ocean Economy in 2030 was that conservation of marine biodiversity is vital to maintain ecosystem functioning, which in turn is an essential basis for a sustainable ocean economy and long-term value creation from the oceans. The work of the High-level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel) from its establishment in 2018 and until it published its conclusions in December 2020 has enhanced our understanding of these relationships.

In 1999, the Norwegian Government presented a white paper on conservation and use in coastal waters and the relationships between conservation interests and the fisheries industry. The white paper identified marine ecosystems, species and habitats as an important part of Norway’s nature. It pointed out that in future, it will also be necessary to safeguard representative and distinctive species and habitats in the marine environment, and to protect endangered and vulnerable species and habitats. In addition, it is vital to establish reference areas where ecosystem functioning is as undisturbed as possible. Reference areas are intended to provide a comparison with other areas where there is more disturbance from human activities. This means that the long-term aspect of conservation is of key importance. Another important motive for establishing such areas is to safeguard some undisturbed areas for future generations.

In response to the white paper, an advisory committee was appointed in 2001 to develop a marine protection plan. The committee included representatives from the public administration and relevant interest organisations. In 2004, the committee presented its recommendations and identified 36 areas which together made up a good, representative selection of marine nature. See Chapter 4 for more detail. With only a few exceptions, the areas proposed were near the coast. The committee also pointed to the need to continue the work and give priority to areas further from the coast in the second phase.

The white paper Nature for life – Norway’s national biodiversity action plan (Meld. St. 14 (2015–2016)) states that the Government’s policy is to continue cross-sectoral marine protection under section 39 of the Nature Diversity Act to ensure that a selection of representative, distinctive and threatened underwater habitats along the coast and in territorial waters is safeguarded for future generations. The objective is for these areas, together with areas that are protected under other legislation, to form a network of marine protected areas that will safeguard ecosystems, habitats and species.

Since then, the Storting (Norwegian parliament) has several times dealt with questions about marine protected areas in connection with white papers and private member’s motions. In 2016, when considering the white paper Nature for life, the Storting requested the Government to draw up a plan for marine protected areas and present this to the Storting.

The Government’s response to this request was described in the white paper Update of the integrated management plan for the Norwegian Sea (Meld. St. 35 (2016–2017)), as follows:

‘The Government is developing a plan for establishing more marine protected areas. As part of this work, the status of efforts to establish marine protected areas will be evaluated, and any further need for protection to achieve national and international targets will be identified. The findings will form part of the basis for further marine protection efforts both in Norway’s territorial waters and outside the 12 nautical mile limit. Under the management plans for Norway’s sea areas, regular assessments of the need for new measures to protect marine species and habitats will be conducted on the basis of existing knowledge.’

During its consideration of the updated Norwegian Sea management plan, the Storting requested the Government to follow up work on an overall national plan for marine protected areas, giving priority to areas that had been identified as particularly valuable and vulnerable. The Government was asked to report back on the issue at the latest in the course of 2020. The present white paper is the Government’s response to these requests from the Storting.

The white paper Norway’s integrated ocean management plans for the Barents Sea–Lofoten area; the Norwegian Sea; and the North Sea and Skagerrak (Meld. St. 20 (2019–2020)) stated as follows:

‘The Government will:
  • continue work on the establishment of marine protected areas;

  • draw up an overall national plan for marine protected areas in the course of 2020;

  • assess the need to protect distinctive and rare species and habitats in deep-sea areas.’

In addition, there have been significant developments internationally during the same period. These are further discussed in Chapter 3. Through its membership of the Ocean Panel, Norway has recently given its support to a global target of protecting 30 % of the oceans by 2030 through marine protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures. This will also be a key issue in the preparations for the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, which according to plan is to be adopted under the Convention on Biological Diversity in autumn 2021.

A new understanding of the wider benefits of marine protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, beyond classical nature conservation, has also developed internationally. This has been highlighted for example in the work of the Ocean Panel, in recent research and in knowledge syntheses from bodies including the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). These benefits include the conservation and restoration of areas that are important for fish and shellfish stocks, the restoration of marine ecosystems, carbon capture and sequestration and protection against the impacts of climate change.

In this white paper, the Government presents an overview of knowledge and policy instruments and a status report on work on marine protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures. The white paper also describes work on marine protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures in international forums, international developments in this field and Norway’s reporting on progress towards international targets. Chapter 5 describes the measures the Government will use for the conservation of areas of importance for marine biodiversity.



This terminology largely coincides with that used in the framework of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). However, the way these terms are used may vary somewhat depending on context. Further, note that the term, ‘marine protected area’, is also used in the English translation of the Marine Resources Act, where it refers to areas with defined conservation values that are protected against harmful fisheries activities to which the Act applies. In the following, these areas are referred to as marine protected areas under the Marine Resources Act.

To front page