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Meld. St. 33 (2012–2013)

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

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4 Common framework for adaptation to climate change

The Government:

  • As a precautionary approach, 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.

  • 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).

4.1 Everyone shares the responsibility for climate change adaptation

Weather conditions and the climate affect practically every sector of society and are an important element of most people’s daily lives. Both individuals and society invest substantial resources in adapting their activities to weather conditions and the climate. The business sector constantly has to adapt to the current climatic conditions, and this is particularly true of industries such as agriculture, forestry and fisheries that are directly dependent on the environment. Many of Norway’s voluntary organisations are also engaged in activities related to weather or climatic conditions. The Norwegian Red Cross and Norwegian People’s Aid have developed special expertise and preparedness for natural hazards such as avalanches. Sports associations devote considerable time and resources to providing facilities for seasonal activities. Winter activities such as skiing and skating are also being adapted to some extent to weather and climate variability, for example through the artificial production of snow and ice when necessary.

The authorities are responsible for providing a framework that enables individuals, the business sector and the voluntary sector to carry out their tasks and meet their responsibilities under varying weather and climatic conditions. In certain areas, this is formalised through legislation or other forms of regulation. For example, there are standards regulating building in flood zones, and regional and local authorities are responsible for ensuring compliance with these. Areas that are particularly vulnerable to certain types of natural hazards, like flooding, landslides and avalanches, have therefore been mapped and safety measures have been introduced.

The report Adapting to a changing climate (NOU 2010: 10) concludes that Norway is in a good position to adapt to climate change, but that it will be necessary to implement appropriate adaptation measures for human and natural systems. The Government agrees with this conclusion, and considers it vital for society to adapt to climate change. This white paper is intended to provide a basis for effective adaptation of Norwegian society to climate change.

Climate change will first and foremost alter the framework for planning and decision-making rather than the tasks to be carried out. It will affect the various parts of the country and the various sectors in different ways, to different degrees and at different times. Moreover, climate change will be only one of a number of factors that influence the framework for planning and decision-making. This means that adaptation work has to be closely linked to the area and task in question. A fundamental principle of climate change adaptation in Norway is therefore that the actor responsible for the work is the actor responsible for the task or function affected by climate change. In consequence, everyone has a responsibility for climate change adaptation: individuals, households, private businesses and the public sector. Interest groups and the voluntary sector also have an important role to play in climate change adaptation.

In order to adapt, it is essential to understand how activities will be affected by climate change and to integrate climate change considerations into planning and decision-making processes. The authorities have management tools to facilitate the incorporation of a range of different considerations into planning and decision-making. Wherever relevant, climate change considerations should be integrated into management tools used as a basis for general planning processes.

Climate change adaptation must be made an integral part of the work of actors in various fields, and at the same time it is important to ensure that everyone can use the same common knowledge base. The authorities also need to provide consistent guidelines on how different sectors, and particularly the municipalities, should address climate change.

4.2 Key considerations in climate change adaptation

In Adapting to a changing climate, the committee points out that if climate change considerations are not incorporated into long-term planning and decision-making, this may increase the risk of damage resulting from climate change and entail substantial costs. The committee therefore emphasised the importance of starting adaptation work now. Adaptation must be based on the knowledge available at any given time. There is considerable uncertainty about climate change and the impacts it will have on nature and society, and our knowledge of these issues will change during the present century. The level of uncertainty in climate projections can be reduced through research, but there will always be an element of uncertainty in connection with the future climate. The climate system is complex, and emission trends are uncertain. Moreover, it is not only the climate that will change in the period up to 2100; society will also change in ways that influence the impacts of climate change in different sectors. Adapting to a changing climate also points out that although the level of uncertainty associated with planning processes is increasing as a result of climate change, the uncertainty associated with future climate change is not does not justify delaying adaptation.

The time horizon is an important factor in climate change adaptation. Incorporating climate change considerations into planning processes is primarily necessary in long-term planning . The climate has changed substantially in Norway over the past 100 years – for example, precipitation has risen by about 20 %. In the course of this century, climate change will gradually become more marked and will influence the nature and level of the risks in many areas of Norwegian society. Risk assessments and planning today are largely based on historical data on the climate and natural hazards such as flooding, landslides and avalanches. Many of the decisions we make today will have implications far into the future. For example, buildings have an average lifetime of 78 years, and will therefore have to withstand the climatic conditions that are expected by the end of the present century. The same applies to areas that are to be zoned as residential areas today. It is therefore important to ensure that climate projections are part of the basis for assessments made in connection with investments and planning processes with a long time horizon. In this context «a long time horizon» is related to the time frame of the available climate projections. In general, climate projections for Norway are made for 2050 and 2100. To ensure that adaption measures are based on projections, it is sensible to take climate change into account in investments and planning processes with a time frame extending up to or beyond 2050, in other words with a lifetime of 30 years or more. For investments and planning processes with a shorter time frame, it will be sufficient to use the climate today as a basis.

Adapting to a changing climate takes into account that it may not be possible to limit the rise in global mean temperature to two degrees Celsius, which is the international target. There is a risk that global greenhouse gas emissions may continue to rise and that the world will not achieve the two-degree target, even though Norway and practically every other country in the world have adopted it. 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.

Textbox 4.1 Vulnerability to climate change

A number of factors influence vulnerability to climate change. Vulnerability is often understood as a function of the degree of exposure of an area to the impacts of climate change and of adaptive capacity, in other words the degree to which it is possible to deal with the challenges posed by climate change. In the report Adapting to a changing climate (NOU 2010: 10), adaptive capacity is linked to institutional factors and the resources available, and to the political will to give priority to climate and climate change in planning and decision-making processes. Analyses of how and to what extent climate change will affect a sector must be used as a basis for assessing adaptation needs. There are elements of uncertainty in all long-term planning. Climate change adds a new element of uncertainty in addition to those associated with other changes and trends that affect society.

Even if figures from the high end of the range of national climate projections are used to assess the impacts of climate change on an investment or a planning process, climate change considerations will in the individual case need to be weighed against other important considerations such as the implications for life and health or material assets, and what level of risk is considered to be acceptable. Cost-benefit analyses are an important tool in this work. Thus, assessments of climate change should be incorporated into the basis for making planning and investment decisions. This has already been done for many areas within the transport, energy and public safety sectors. The economic consequences of climate change and the potential damage to life and health will vary from one sector to another.

In some contexts, climate change will result in a higher risk of damage, or in the worst case loss of life, in Norway as well as in other countries. We are already at risk from natural hazards today, and will in future have to weigh up these risks against a number of other factors. This issue was discussed more thoroughly in a white paper on living with the risks of flooding, landslides and avalanches (Meld. St. 15 (2011–2012)), which states that both individuals and society as a whole must be aware of natural hazards such as flooding, landslides and avalanches, and take the risks into account in order to limit damage. The main focus should be on a proactive approach and preventive measures to keep damage at an acceptable level. Although the dangers must be taken into account when new buildings and other infrastructure are being planned, the terrain and ground conditions in Norway are such that it is not realistic to avoid all building in areas that are at risk of flooding, landslides or avalanches. It has been suggested that the safety requirements relating to these risk factors for new developments are too strict. The white paper concludes that a balance must be found between safety requirements and the continued need for further development in parts of the country where the topography or ground conditions are difficult.

Climate change will alter Norway’s natural environment and entail a growing risk of losing characteristic species and habitats. At the same time, the natural environment can function as a buffer against many negative impacts of climate change. For example, vegetation plays an important role in preventing the erosion and damage that could otherwise be caused by higher precipitation and more intense precipitation events. Climate change adaptation must be designed to support the capacity of species and ecosystems to adapt to rising temperatures, and to avoid any increase in the vulnerability of the environment. The general provisions on sustainable use in Chapter II of the Nature Diversity Act must be used as a basis, including the requirements for decisions that affect the environment to be based on scientific knowledge of the impacts of environmental pressures and on assessments of the cumulative environmental effects on ecosystems.

4.3 Coordination needs

The Government first set out a framework and key objectives for climate change adaptation in May 2008, and these were incorporated into the 2009 budget proposal. They state that the goals of Norway’s adaptation work are to reduce the vulnerability of Norwegian society to climate change and to strengthen Norway’s adaptive capacity. These goals are to be achieved by:

  1. reviewing Norway’s vulnerability to climate change and incorporating climate change considerations into planning processes;

  2. developing the knowledge base on climate change and climate change adaptation;

  3. coordinating adaptation initiatives, awareness raising and competence building.

In the period 2008–12, Norway has made important progress in its national adaptation work. Adapting to a changing climate (NOU 2010: 10), the first national assessment of the impacts of climate change on Norway, has been published. A range of capacity- and competence-building measures have been implemented. For example, all municipalities and counties are now offered courses in climate change adaptation, and Norway’s 13 largest cities and urban areas, which are involved in the cooperation programme «Cities of the Future», have established climate change adaptation plans. Various sectoral authorities have carried out surveys and made changes to requirements and guidelines in order to take future climate change into account.

Climate change adaptation involves many different central government authorities. The Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergency Planning is responsible for assessing the risks associated with different types of natural hazards, and draws up guidelines for making risk assessments in connection with land-use planning. The Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate is the government agency responsible for mapping the risk of landslides and avalanches and flood-prone areas, for dam safety and for calculations of flooding levels for use in designing infrastructure near river systems. The Directorate for Nature Management1 monitors and assesses the impacts of climate change on the natural environment, the Norwegian Mapping Authority has important functions relating to sea level rise, and the Climate and Pollution Agency evaluates current knowledge about climate change, facilitates municipal planning for climate change and administers the legislation relating to water supplies and sewerage. The Norwegian Building Authority and the Norwegian Public Roads Administration are responsible for assessing the implications of climate change for infrastructure such as buildings and roads. A number of other central government authorities are also involved in climate change adaptation. In addition to ensuring the necessary efforts within their own organisation, they are required to provide information to municipalities, counties and the general public.

It is both practical and effective for municipal, county and central government authorities to base climate change adaptation on a common knowledge base and to coordinate their efforts closely. To promote coordination at the central government level, a working group including representatives of all the relevant ministries was established, headed by the Ministry of the Environment. This ministry is responsible for Norway’s overall climate policy, including climate change adaptation, and is also the central government planning authority. Knowledge about climate change is the common starting point for both mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

In 2007, the Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergency Planning was given time-limited responsibility for coordinating the work of central government authorities on climate change adaptation. The secretariat for this five-year project, which was under the directorate, has focused especially on facilitating the efforts of municipal authorities and others to address the long-term challenges that climate change will bring. The secretariat’s efforts have included information work, courses and the development of a national portal that can be accessed from the Government’s website. The portal provides relevant information on climate change adaptation for public authorities, companies and other interested parties, examples of practical adaptation work and links to key actors that can provide advice and guidance within specific fields. The secretariat has also been responsible for coordination of work on climate change adaptation in the «Cities of the Future» cooperation, which includes Norway’s 13 largest cities. In addition, the secretariat has established cooperation on climate change adaptation with Portugal, Latvia, Hungary and Slovakia under the EEA and Norway Grants scheme.

The organisation of central government agencies’ adaptation work was evaluated in Adapting to a changing climate, which points out that a flexible, project-based organisational model has a number of advantages in this new and unfamiliar area. However, the model also has limitations in the longer term, particularly as regards predictability and a long-term approach. The experience gained from the five-year project during which the Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergency Planning provided the secretariat will be evaluated, and after this it will be decided where the responsibility for coordination of climate change adaptation at directorate level is to be placed. The evaluation will include responsibility for work relating to storm water management and sea level rise. The Government will give a fuller account of how climate change adaptation at directorate level is to be coordinated in connection with the 2014 budget.

4.4 International developments

The IPCC’s special report Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation states that there is evidence of an increase in certain types of extreme weather events, and that it is likely that this is a result of anthropogenic climate change. Insurance payouts are rising, and the world community is spending more and more on humanitarian aid related to natural hazards. The IPCC report points out that although the economic losses from climate-related events are rising, the number of human lives lost as a result of such events has dropped considerably. In other words, our ability to deal with extreme weather events has improved as measured in human lives, but in economic terms the costs have risen. The IPCC points out that the costs can be considerably reduced through adaptation and disaster risk reduction. The UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction points out that in some cases, risk reduction measures can reduce the costs of natural disasters by as much as 80 %. The conclusion is clear – adaptation and risk reduction highly cost-effective.

Although the economic costs of natural hazard events are highest in developed countries, the economic burden for the poorest countries is considerably higher.

Support for adaptation in developing countries has become an increasingly important issue under the UN Convention on Climate Change. A framework known as the Cancun Adaptation Framework has been built up under the Convention in order to enhance action on adaptation in both developed and developing countries. Among the main elements are strengthening the knowledge base for all countries, capacity-building for adaptation, and providing support for developing countries through capacity-building, transfer of technology and financing. Norway has followed up its commitments by increasing support for climate change adaptation in developing countries. This support is being channelled among other things to building up climate services, which are an essential basis for climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, planning adaptation at national level, and adaptation in important sectors such as agriculture and health. Norway has played a key role in the establishment of the Global Framework for Climate Services under the World Meteorological Organization. Climate change adaptation is also one of the two main pillars of the recently established Green Climate Fund.

In its national adaptation efforts Norway can learn a great deal from the work being done within the framework of the Climate Change Convention and the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, and from reports published by the IPPC. These serve as arenas for bringing together experience and case studies of sound ways of organising adaptation work. A great deal of work is also being done internationally, particularly within the OECD, on the development of methods and tools for economic analyses of climate change and adaptation and cost-benefit analyses of adaptation measures. Norway can benefit from this in its work at national level.

4.5 Knowledge and learning in climate change adaptation

Although our techniques for dealing with the challenges posed by today’s climate have produced a considerable body of knowledge to draw on, climate change adaptation is a relatively new field. Knowledge about climate change and its impacts, and about how Norwegian society is adapting to climate change, is advancing rapidly. Adaptation work must always be based on the best available information about climate change and how the changes can be addressed.

In addition, regular updates of the knowledge base are needed, including climate projections for Norway and analyses of the impacts of climate change on nature and society.



Since the white paper was published, the Directorate for Nature Management and the Climate and Pollution Agency have been merged to form the new Norwegian Environment Agency.

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