Meld. St. 33 (2012–2013)

Climate change adaptation in Norway — Meld. St. 33 (2012–2013) Report to the Storting (white paper)

To table of content

1 Introduction

Climate change is already happening: environmental change is being observed on all continents and in all the major oceans. The climatic changes that have been observed over the past 150 years cannot be explained unless anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are taken into account. The combustion of coal, oil and gas has generated large volumes of carbon dioxide (CO2). These releases, combined with greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and other sources, have resulted in an increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the rise in greenhouse gas concentrations is the main cause of global warming, which in turn results in climate change. Climate change has impacts on the natural environment and major consequences for most sectors of society.

The severity of the impacts of climate change on the environment and society will depend on how much the climate changes, and also on society’s adaptive capacity and willingness to factor climate change into planning and take active steps to adapt to change. Most studies of the possible impacts of climate change are based on the assumption that society will adapt to a rise of 2–3 °C in global mean temperature towards the end of this century. Relatively little is known about adaptive capacity in the event of a larger rise in temperature, for example 4–6 °C. The IPCC stresses that there is a high risk that both natural and human systems will sustain substantial losses and damage if the two-degree target is not met.

Textbox 1.1 The two-degree target

Norwegian climate policy is based on the target of limiting the average rise in global temperature to two degrees Celsius, which practically every country in the world has adopted. In order to achieve this global target, the international community will have to take a more proactive approach than is the case today, and make a more rapid transition to a society with far lower greenhouse gas emissions around the middle of this century. Even if the two-degree target is achieved, the IPCC expects climate change to have major impacts on nature and society.

The policy set out in the present white paper is based on the premise that the climate is already changing. Despite ambitious national and international policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the temperature will continue to rise until 2100. It is therefore necessary to prepare society for the expected effects of unavoidable climate change. This white paper focuses on the challenges associated with climate change, and the policy instruments it proposes are designed to make Norway more resilient in the face of climate change.

Climate change will have a variety of impacts on natural and human systems. Nature is constantly changing as a result of the natural variability of the climate system, but the pace of climate change is now so rapid that it will be difficult for many species and ecosystems to adapt. Moreover, many species and ecosystems are already under pressure for other reasons, such as habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, overharvesting and the introduction of alien species. A large number of animal and plant species are included on the Norwegian Red List because their survival in Norway is threatened. Species that live in Arctic and mountain areas are adapted to a cold, harsh climate, and are already established as high up or as far north as possible. There is no alternative habitat for them to move to. This means that the very survival of species such as the polar bear and ringed seal is threatened. There is little that can be done to counteract this once global warming has happened. The most important means of ensuring the survival of Arctic and alpine species is therefore to cut greenhouse gas emissions. We need to recognise the likelihood that Norway will lose some species as a result of climate change, and that new species will become established. The report Adapting to a changing climate (NOU 2010: 10) indicates that climate change will make it an even more challenging task to protect Norway’s species and habitats.

More frequent and more severe extreme weather events, such as heat waves, storms and flooding, can be a severe test for society, as Norway has experienced several times in recent years. 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. Norway seeks to maintain high safety standards and ensure that people can feel safe in their homes and elsewhere. Climate change will entail a higher risk of landslides and flooding caused by intense rainfall and problems resulting from stormwater in built-up areas, so that people will face a constellation of risks different from that they are used to dealing with. Areas that have previously been viewed as safe may become more vulnerable.

Climate change and social change are taking place simultaneously, and social change will influence our vulnerability to climate change, particularly in towns. A growing proportion of the Norwegian population lives in urban areas, and the growth of Norwegian towns is expected to continue. All Norway’s largest towns are either on the coast or near lakes and rivers. Higher and more intense precipitation will require more efficient systems for stormwater management in towns. Because of sea level rise, challenges will also arise in connection with the development of port facilities. Moreover, there is a great deal of infrastructure in urban areas – buildings, roads, railways, sewerage systems and other structures. Infrastructure will be vulnerable in areas where climate change brings more intense precipitation and a higher probability of local flooding caused by heavy rainfall. The electricity grid and ICT infrastructure are more heavily used in densely populated areas, and therefore more vulnerable to unforeseen incidents. Disruption of the electricity supply or ICT services can have greater consequences for more people in a town. Infrastructure is also essential for the business sector and thus for value creation and workplaces.

Because the business sector is so varied, there will also be wide variation in how climate change affects earning power and profitability. Business also has a vital role to play in Norway’s transition to a low-emission economy and in taking into use equipment and production methods that are adapted to a changed climate. In addition, the business sector provides products and services that will play a large part in determining the resilience of Norwegian society to a changed climate.

Climate change will have direct impacts on the primary industries and other sectors that are closely linked to the natural resource base. For example, new plant and animal diseases may reduce agricultural productivity. Higher precipitation is also expected to give more difficult growing and harvesting conditions for agriculture. On the other hand, a milder climate with more rainfall and a longer growing season may make it possible to increase crop production and cultivate new species that are generally grown further south today.

Rising sea temperatures may make it difficult for species that are adapted to cold water to survive, or cause them to shift their distribution northwards. Norway is surrounded by clean, cold fjords and coastal waters, which puts the Norwegian aquaculture industry in a uniquely favourable position in Europe. Rising sea temperatures could therefore have major impacts, both negative and positive, on current production patterns. However, the fisheries and aquaculture industries are used to adapting to wide natural variations in sea temperature and in the size of fish stocks.

When CO2 comes into contact with water, carbonic acid is formed. This process is causing ocean acidification, which may have major impacts on marine life. The basic link between greenhouse gas emissions and ocean acidification is understood, but it is still very uncertain what acidification will mean for algae, other plants and animals and thus for marine ecosystems as a whole. Little is known about how the fisheries and aquaculture industries will be affected.

Changes in precipitation patterns will put pressure on the electricity infrastructure. Hydropower dams and transmission and distribution grids must be sufficiently robust to withstand new weather patterns. On the other hand, higher precipitation may make it possible to increase electricity production, resulting in higher earnings in the future.

In our part of the world, climate change is most marked in the Arctic, where the temperature is rising about twice as fast as the global mean temperature. If the trend that has been observed in the Arctic in recent years continues, it will have major consequences for the population and communities in the region, and particularly for indigenous peoples, whose culture and livelihoods are closely linked to the natural environment.

World food production is vulnerable to climate change. The IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report from 2007 highlights the risk of crop damage and reduced crop productivity. Food production by the fisheries and aquaculture industries may also be affected. At the same time, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has warned that by 2050, food production must be almost doubled to feed the growing population. There is already a lack of clean drinking water in many parts of the world. Climate change is expected to make water shortages more severe in dry areas. In other areas, flooding may cause drinking water quality to deteriorate. Rising sea levels are threatening low-lying areas and small island states. These trends will exacerbate many of the problems poor countries and people are already facing. The IPCC has pointed out that a great deal can be done to reduce risk through adaptation and preventive measures.

The UN Secretary-General has repeatedly spoken about climate change as a threat to continued growth and development in developing countries. The white paper Towards greener development (Meld. St. 14 (2010–2011) states that Norway will continue to facilitate adaptation by developing countries to unavoidable climate change. Adapting to a changing climate (NOU 2010: 10) concludes that climate change in other parts of the world will largely have an indirect impact on Norway, linked to Norway’s responsibility to support the poorest and most vulnerable countries in their efforts to adapt to a changing climate. Although the impacts of climate change outside Norway are not dealt with here, the possible implications for poor countries and people nevertheless form a backdrop to the present white paper.

Textbox 1.2 Norwegian climate policy

The Government’s aim is for Norway to become a low-emission economy by mid-century. The most important cross-sectoral climate policy instruments are taxes, emissions trading and the Pollution Control Act. In addition, a series of regulatory measures and schemes for individual sectors are intended to encourage the transition process and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Norway has been pursuing an ambitious climate policy for a number of years. In April 2012, the Government presented a new white paper on Norwegian climate policy (Meld. St. 21 (2011–2012)). This focused on how Norway can contribute to cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, both in Norway and internationally. The Government also announced that it would strengthen policy instruments for the petroleum sector and establish a new climate and energy fund. The transport sector is to be made more climate-friendly by giving priority to public transport, cycling and walking. The measures set out in the climate policy white paper will also intensify efforts in several other areas to reduce Norway’s greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, it includes measures to enhance the carbon stock in forests. Most of the political parties concluded a new agreement on climate policy in June 2012, thus ensuring that Norwegian climate policy continues to be predictable and have a long-term perspective.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) provides the framework for international efforts in this field. Its ultimate objective is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that will prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. The 2012 white paper on climate policy states that the Government will work towards an ambitious, broad-based climate agreement that includes specific emission reduction commitments both for developed countries and for major developing countries, and that is in line with the two-degree target.

Climate change adaptation involves recognising that the climate is changing, understanding the impacts, and taking steps either to prevent damage or to make use of opportunities that may arise. According to Adapting to a changing climate (NOU 2010: 10), Norway is in a good position to deal with climate change and its impacts, but if we are to maintain a safe and secure society in the future, we must incorporate climate change adaptation into planning processes today.

The present white paper is intended to provide a brief general account of the implications of climate change for Norwegian society and to set out a framework that will facilitate the development of adaptation strategies and identification of effective adaptation measures by all those who are affected by climate change.

The white paper starts with a brief account of the impacts of climate change in Norway and of current adaptation policies in the sectors that are most directly affected. It then provides the general policy framework for adaptation in Norway across sectors.

The report Adapting to a changing climate, which describes the impacts of climate change in Norway and the need for adaptation, has been an important basis for this white paper. Almost one hundred responses were received during the consultation process after the report was published, and they also provided important input for the white paper.

Go to front page