Norway’s long coastline and wide mountain ranges extending right up to the Arctic mean that the country is extremely exposed to wind and weather. The climate and weather conditions affect practically every sector of society and are an important element of most people’s daily lives. Norwegians are used to taking weather conditions into account and have adapted to climate variability over the centuries.
Over the past 100 years, the Norwegian climate has become warmer and precipitation has increased by about 20 %. These trends are expected to continue. It is estimated that the annual mean temperature in Norway will rise by between 2.3 and 4.6 °C by the end of this century relative to the period 1961–90. Similarly, it is estimated that precipitation may rise by between 5 and 30 %, and projections also indicate an increase in intense precipitation events, which will in turn increase the risk of certain types of flooding and landslides and avalanches.
The severity of the impacts of climate change on the environment and society will depend both on how much the climate changes and on society’s adaptive capacity and willingness to factor climate change into planning and take active steps to adapt to change. The present white paper focuses on the challenges associated with climate change and how Norway can become more resilient in the face of climate change.
Everyone is responsible for climate change adaptation – individuals, business and industry and the authorities. This is not a new responsibility, although its substance is described more specifically in the present white paper. The white paper gives an account of what the authorities are doing to enable everyone to take their share of the responsibility for climate change adaptation as effectively as possible, and sets out a common framework for climate change adaptation across sectors and administrative levels.
A preliminary framework for the authorities’ work in this field was first set out in the 2009 budget proposal, which focused particularly on reviewing Norway’s vulnerability to climate change, developing the knowledge base, coordinating adaptation initiatives and awareness raising. In response to this, a national assessment of the impacts of climate change on Norway has been produced and published as an Official Norwegian Report, Adapting to a changing climate (NOU 2010: 10). Research efforts have been intensified, and a range of capacity- and competence-building measures have been implemented, especially at municipal level. Many authorities in different sectors and a large number of municipalities have already made a good start on adaptation efforts.
Climate projections are an important basis for society’s adaptation to climate change. As a precautionary approach, the Government wishes assessments of the impacts of climate change to be based on figures from the high end of the range of national climate projections. However, when decisions are made in individual cases, climate change considerations and underlying assumptions about the degree of climate change must be weighed against other considerations of the public interest, the lifetime of the development in question and its importance to society.
Knowledge is essential for effective climate change adaptation – both knowledge about climate change and its impacts, and knowledge about how Norwegian society is adapting to climate change. Adaptation work must always be based on the best available knowledge about climate change and how the changes can be addressed. The Government therefore intends to ensure that the knowledge base for climate change adaptation is strengthened through closer monitoring of climate change, continued expansion of climate change research and the development of a national centre for climate services.
Adaptation policies and measures should build on the best available knowledge. The Government therefore plans for regular updates of knowledge about the impacts of climate change and vulnerability and of assessments of adaptation needs in Norway. Updates will be considered when substantial new knowledge is available, particularly related to the assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Climate projections indicate a trend towards more, and more intense, precipitation in Norway, which will result in more stormwater runoff in urban areas, which may result in urban flooding. Figures for insurance claims show that stormwater is already causing a great deal of damage, and this is increasing, particularly in towns where population density is high. Higher precipitation in the future is expected to exacerbate these problems. The municipalities are responsible for stormwater management, and will have to deal with increasing volumes of stormwater as a result of climate change. The Government will therefore appoint a committee to evaluate the current legislation and as appropriate make proposals for amendments to provide a better framework for the municipalities.
Sea level rise associated with climate change may lead to new challenges in some areas. Individuals, private companies, public bodies and local and central government authorities all have a responsibility for taking steps to safeguard their own property. Under the Planning and Building Act, the municipalities are responsible for ensuring that natural hazards are assessed and taken properly into account in spatial planning and processing of building applications. This includes the responsibility for taking sea level rise and the resulting storm surges into account.
In certain geographical areas, climate change may result in a higher risk of damage caused by natural disasters. Norway has good public and private insurance schemes for insurance against such disasters. The Norwegian model provides major benefits for society, since it gives effective protection against the financial risk associated with extreme weather events.
The local character of the impacts of climate change puts the municipalities in the front line in dealing with climate change. Higher precipitation levels and more intense precipitation will require efficient systems for stormwater management in towns, where there are large areas of impermeable surfaces such as roads and pavements. Challenges will also arise in connection with the development of port facilities and densification of urban areas. To enable the municipalities to ensure that Norwegian communities are resilient and sustainable in the future, adaptation to climate change must be made an integral part of municipal responsibilities. The Government therefore intends to draw up central government planning guidelines describing how the municipalities and counties should integrate climate change adaptation into their land-use and general planning processes. The new guidelines on adaptation will be incorporated into the existing guidelines for climate change mitigation and energy planning.
Information resources, networks for sharing experience, and cooperation with regional authorities will play an important part in climate change adaptation work at municipal level.