Meld. St. 29 (2020–2021)

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

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5 Measures for the conservation of areas of importance for marine biodiversity

In this white paper, the Norwegian Government presents its integrated national plan for the conservation of areas of importance for marine biodiversity. The plan will ensure that conservation measures described are targeted and effective. It builds on the conservation policy set out in the white paper Nature for life – Norway’s national biodiversity action plan (Meld. St. 14 (2014–2015)). The conservation of areas of importance for marine biodiversity will influence the provision of marine ecosystem services such as biological production, maintenance of the basis for harvesting and value creation, and how resilient ecosystem services are to the impacts of climate change.

One of the basic principles of the Government’s ocean policy is to promote conservation and sustainable use of marine ecosystems, as set out in 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)). Sustainable use refers to measures and methods that minimise the impact of activities and avoid or limit damage to biodiversity and ecosystems. Conservation measures give priority to nature and involve some form of protection of geographically delimited areas that support valuable biodiversity.

Norway’s integrated plan for the conservation of areas of importance for marine biodiversity will play an important role in the further development of Norway’s integrated, sustainable ocean management regime.

5.1 Implementation of Norway’s 2004 marine protection plan

Marine protection under the Nature Diversity Act is intended to safeguard a selection of representative, distinctive and threatened underwater habitats, species, communities and landscapes along the coast and in territorial waters for the future. The objective is for these areas, together with areas that are safeguarded under other legislation, to form a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) that will safeguard ecosystems, habitats and species. Together, these areas should cover the full range of variation in marine nature in Norway.

Implementation of the marine protection plan from 2004 will be continued. Of the 36 possible MPAs in the 2004 plan, 16 have so far been protected under the Nature Diversity Act and three under the Marine Resources Act. Some of the remaining areas cannot be protected under the Nature Diversity Act, because they are outside the territorial limit and therefore outside the geographical scope of the Act. In order to protect a representative selection of habitat types in Norwegian waters, it will also be necessary add supplementary areas to the 2004 list.

It is important to ensure broad local participation at an early stage in protection processes under the Nature Diversity Act, for example by using local reference groups or holding workshops. It is also important to ensure that all relevant sectors are involved. All proposals for protection under the Nature Diversity Act or other legislation must be reviewed in accordance with Norway’s official instructions for planning and management of central government programmes and projects. This means among other things that different alternatives must be assessed and that both positive and negative impacts of a proposal must be assessed. It is important to aim for transparency in such processes and to ensure access to information for interested parties.

The Government will:

  • seek to initiate protection processes for the remaining areas included in the 2004 marine protection plan by 2024, based on current knowledge about their conservation value and relevant activity in the areas;

  • ensure that sectoral authorities, counties, municipalities and other local stakeholders are involved in these processes;

  • initiate a process linked to the system of integrated ocean management plans to assess how supplementary areas can be added to the 2004 marine protection plan.

5.2 Conservation measures outside the 12 nautical mile territorial limit

There are areas of considerable conservation value outside Norway’s territorial limit as well. In the white paper on all three integrated ocean management plans (Meld. St. 20 (2019–2020)), the Government announced that it would assess the need to protect distinctive and rare species and habitats in deep-sea areas.

At present, steps to safeguard marine areas outside the territorial limit are taken under legislation for specific sectors and according to the general principles set out in the Nature Diversity Act. This is further discussed in Chapter 3. Norway’s environmental legislation does not currently provide the legal authority to establish marine protected areas or other conservation measures outside the territorial limit, and activities in such areas are instead regulated under the Marine Resources Act, the Petroleum Act, the Seabed Mineral Act, the Pollution Control Act and other legislation. Both existing and emerging industries are making increasing use of ocean areas. When the Nature Diversity Act was adopted, the Storting (Norwegian parliament) agreed that the Government would undertake a review of whether the geographical scope of the Act should in future be extended to include waters and the continental shelf outside the territorial limit.

The scope of the review should also include whether and how the current legislation could be improved.

The Government will:

  • review whether and how the current legislation on conservation measures outside the 12 nautical mile limit can be improved.

5.3 Effective conservation through area-based measures under sectoral legislation

Legislation for a specific sector can be used to protect marine biodiversity against damage caused by activities in the relevant sector. Together with protected areas under the Nature Diversity Act, various area-based measures under sectoral legislation therefore make an important contribution to the protection of marine areas that support valuable biodiversity. For example, 18 cold-water coral reefs along the coast have been given protection against damage from fisheries activities under the Marine Resources Act. However, Norway has not adopted a systematic approach to evaluating the effectiveness of conservation measures under legislation for different sectors.

Such evaluations must be based on knowledge of the biodiversity that is to be protected by a conservation measure. There is a generally sound knowledge base for Norway’s coastal waters, including information on species and habitats and where there are areas of conservation value. For areas further from the coast, the level of knowledge is more variable and there is often less detailed information. Assessments of current knowledge are generally made during the process of identifying particularly valuable and vulnerable areas in the management plan areas. However, there are also large ocean areas that are afforded effective protection through measures under sectoral legislation, based on knowledge of biodiversity built up through long-term, extensive marine scientific research.

The Directorate of Fisheries and the Norwegian Environment Agency have recently evaluated the geographical extent of relevant fisheries measures and their importance in conservation terms. For more information, see Chapter 4. The Government will use this evaluation and work on the particularly valuable and vulnerable areas as a basis for a systematic review of the contribution of how sectoral area-based measures contribute to effective conservation. The review will also consider whether conservation measures in one sector are consistent with the framework for activities in other sectors.

The Government will:

  • establish a more systematic approach to the conservation of areas of importance for marine biodiversity through the use of marine protected areas under the Nature Diversity Act and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs). A review of such measures will focus especially on the particularly valuable and vulnerable areas that have been identified and will also include areas covered by the most relevant conservation measures under sectoral legislation.

5.4 Reporting by Norway on progress towards international conservation targets

As Norway adopts new and more ambitious targets for the protection of areas of importance for marine biodiversity, it is natural to reassess Norwegian routines for reporting on progress.

Compared with other countries, Norway has so far taken a relatively restrictive approach to reporting on its contributions to achieving international conservation targets.

The Government will assess how other effective area-based conservation measures, for example in the fisheries sector, can be included in the figures when Norway reports to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) on the percentage of its coastal and marine areas covered by conservation measures. At the same time, the fundamental standards for the substance and quality of conservation measures in the areas that are included in reports must be maintained. The assessment will put special emphasis on areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services and on whether conservation measures protect their value effectively.

The Government will:

  • start a review and assessment of Norway’s approach to reporting on its contributions towards international conservation targets. The lead agencies in this work will be the Norwegian Environment Agency and the Directorate of Fisheries, with assistance from the Institute of Marine Research and others.

5.5 Marine protected areas and carbon sequestration

Marine protection and ecological restoration are considered to be nature-based solutions to climate change, because of the capacity of various marine ecosystems to absorb and store carbon. An MPA may for example provide protection for marine species or areas of sediment that play an important role in carbon uptake and storage, so that their function as a carbon pool is safeguarded and enhanced. Establishing MPAs and networks of MPAs is also a way of building resilience to climate change in marine ecosystems.

The Government is planning to initiate mapping and review processes to identify areas in coastal waters that are valuable for biodiversity and carbon storage, and that are therefore suitable conservation areas. These processes will be organised by the county governors in cooperation with the municipalities. The purpose is to take action to counteract the loss of marine habitat types of particular value both for biodiversity and for carbon sequestration, such as marine wetlands.

The Nature Diversity Act does not explicitly list climate change considerations as grounds for protection, although climate change may be a relevant factor in considering which areas can be protected under section 39 of the Act. If climate change considerations are part of the reason for considering conservation measures in the marine environment, the process should also include marine wetlands, carbon storage in the littoral zone and saltmarshes, and rich, productive areas, for example where there is also an inflow of freshwater to the sea. Another question is whether the current legislation is adequate, or whether policy instruments or their use will need to be adjusted. The Government will consider these matters further as part of its work on marine protected areas and other conservation measures.

The Government will:

  • map marine areas that are important for carbon storage with a view to their conservation;

  • review the need for amendments to the legislation so that climate change considerations can be used as independent grounds for conservation measures.

5.6 Conservation project to enhance biodiversity and increase biological production

Restoring ecosystems to good environmental status or restoring areas where human activity has caused severe environmental degradation can be an appropriate in approach in marine environments. There are some areas in Norwegian waters, especially near the coast, where ecosystems have been greatly affected by human activity. It has often proved to be possible to restore such marine ecosystems over time, provided that local pressures are reduced or eliminated in all or part of the relevant areas. This allows species to recolonise such areas naturally, while populations can develop a healthy age structure and ecosystem functions can be restored, thus improving ecological quality and building up natural processes and biological production.

As part of its work on conservation measures and nature-based solutions, the Government intends to establish a project involving one or more large marine protected areas in the North Sea–Skagerrak–Oslofjord area, to be selected on the basis of scientific advice. The purpose of the project will be to allow natural restoration of the ecosystem and the basis for harvesting, and at the same time build up knowledge about the effects of such MPAs. Mapping and monitoring of ecological status and research on the effects of conservation measures should be part of the project. The project can be based on scientific work that has been done in recent years, for example relating to the two national parks in the outer Oslofjord, Færder and Ytre Hvaler.

Norwegian institutions have leading expertise on the marine environment. They will be able to further develop knowledge and expertise on ocean management through new, targeted initiatives focusing on area-based conservation and its effects on ecosystems. Such initiatives to improve the marine environment would be expected to have a positive effect on ecosystems and harvesting potential. They would also be important scientific initiatives as part of Norway’s contributions to the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021–2030) and the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021–2030).

The Government will:

  • As part of its work on conservation measures and nature-based solutions, establish a pilot project linked to one or more of the national parks in the Skagerrak–Oslofjord area to restore ecosystems and build up knowledge of the effects of such initiatives;

  • initiate research and analysis of the effects of establishing and managing marine protected areas;

  • promote the development of knowledge and technology that can be used in restoring marine ecosystems;

  • prepare a synthesis of knowledge about the effects of marine protected areas on ecosystem functioning and the potential for harvesting in surrounding areas.

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