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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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7 Climate-resilient municipalities

The Government

  • 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.

Norway’s climate is varied, with considerable differences between different parts of the country. The industrial structure, settlement patterns and infrastructure also vary from place to place and will largely determine the local impacts of climate change. Thus climate change in a coastal municipality in Western Norway will not take the same form as in an inland municipality in Eastern Norway. Adaptation will therefore require a different approach in different geographical areas, and it is important to base specific measures on local needs. The local character of the impacts of climate change puts the municipalities in the front line in dealing with climate change.

Climate change and social change are taking place simultaneously, and social change will largely determine 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 close to lakes or rivers. Higher and more intense precipitation will require more efficient stormwater management systems in towns, which contain 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, both because of sea level rise and because the growing number of roof surfaces will result in larger volumes of local runoff. In addition, much of the urban infrastructure is vulnerable; for example rail and metro tracks can be damaged by erosion and landslips, and tunnels are particularly at risk of becoming filled with water. The electricity grid and ICT infrastructure are more heavily used in densely populated areas, and this infrastructure is therefore more vulnerable to unforeseen incidents.

The municipalities are Norway’s local administrative level, and have the overall responsibility for social development, planning and provision of services within their geographical catchment areas. They provide local welfare services, are involved in community development, exercise statutory authority and have important democratic functions. Many of these tasks will be affected by climate change, and plans and decisions adopted by municipalities today will have consequences for many decades. Climate change will intensify existing problems and create new ones. On the other hand, it will also provide opportunities for business development and bring advantages to local communities.

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.

7.1 Climate change as part of the framework of society

The climate has always been an important part of the framework for Norwegian society. In previous times communities were more dependent on the natural environment than they are now, and the climate was a key factor behind settlement patterns and the industrial structure. It is still an important factor in business development and social development planning. However, the committee responsible for the report Adapting to a changing climate (NOU 2010: 10) pointed out that climate considerations are often sacrificed to other important priorities, and that this can make us more vulnerable to climate change.

Today’s climate already puts us at risk. Flooding, landslides, avalanches and other extreme weather events are causing disruption of infrastructure, threatening life and health and entailing huge costs. Stormwater runoff in urban areas also causes substantial damage every year to buildings and other infrastructure. Climate change could intensify existing problems and result in a higher frequency of natural hazard events that inflict major damage, even in places where such events used to be rare.

Areas that could previously be developed safely may become unsuitable because they are exposed to a higher risk of flooding, landslides and avalanches, or rising sea levels. In built-up areas the higher risk of climate-related damage could make it necessary to impose requirements for preventive measures or altered use. Thus climate change could involve major costs in exposed locations and limit the availability of suitable areas for development.

For the municipalities, which are responsible for civil protection at the local level, climate change will influence the risk profile used as a basis for community development. It can be a challenging task to identify how climate change is likely to alter the risk profile and thus to adjust the preventive aspects of municipal planning appropriately.

However, climate change may also provide opportunities for positive development in local communities. For example, higher precipitation will make it more important to maintain and further develop the green structure that is such a valuable resource in urban areas. In towns especially, where much of the available area has already been allocated, there are a number of examples of innovative stormwater management measures to prevent damage, such as improving green spaces and reopening natural waterways. Such measures will also benefit health, recreational activities and the environment.

Water, sea and land temperatures are rising as a result of climate change. Higher temperatures are leading to environmental changes that will gradually alter the framework for business development, especially in tourism and the primary industries. While this could open up new opportunities for local development, it could also pose problems for existing business activities. Changes in the natural environment will create new conditions for sports and outdoor recreation. For example, in areas that are now on the outskirts of regions with stable winter weather conditions, higher temperatures will gradually limit opportunities for winter activities.

In 2011 a survey was made of climate change adaptation work in Norwegian counties and municipalities was made, as a follow-up to a similar survey in 2007, and eight out of ten municipalities answered that they expect climate change to have impacts in their communities. Many of those that have already taken steps to adapt to climate change have done so after being struck by a natural hazard event. A combination of information, guidance and cooperation with other municipalities has been shown to produce good results. The adaptation efforts made in response to natural hazard events and as a result of participation in projects are a positive development. However, in the long term climate change may have major impacts beyond those affecting municipalities today. In the long run, regular evaluation of adaptation measures based on actual events will not be enough to ensure secure and sustainable local communities.

Furthermore, adaptation efforts compete for attention with many equally important local government tasks, and it can be difficult for a municipality to give sufficient priority to adaptation over other necessary activities.

The 2011 survey of municipal adaptation efforts also showed that there are large differences between municipalities, and that many small municipalities are finding it difficult to address the challenges of climate change. It is an important goal of the national adaptation work to ensure that climate change does not increase disparities between municipalities.

7.2 The municipalities’ responsibility for climate change adaptation

The municipalities have the overall responsibility for community development within their geographical catchment areas. They have obligations and exercise authority under various acts of legislation, and their responsibility for planning is regulated by the Planning and Building Act.

The future consequences of climate change for the municipalities will be partly determined by decisions taken today, for example on land use and the development of municipal infrastructure. The Government will therefore require municipalities to use relevant knowledge about current and future climate change as a basis for their planning activities and exercise of authority. This will be necessary for example in their application of legislation relating to civil protection and nature management, where they have vital tasks. The local authorities must also take climate change into account when applying the rules on the construction of housing, roads and other infrastructure. Climate change will also affect a number of other municipal services, such as provision of drinking water and waste water and waste management. Climate change considerations are particularly important in long-term planning for the development of municipal services and associated infrastructure.

Textbox 7.1 Climate change adaptation and water supplies

Providing water supplies is a municipal responsibility, and the authorities have several ways of preventing a reduction in the quality of drinking water as a result of climate change. Measures for preventing disruption of the drinking water supply resulting from extreme events or other impacts of climate change can be included in municipal emergency preparedness plans. Owners of water works can assess the probable impacts of extreme weather events such as intense precipitation and flooding, and identify ways of reducing pollution of water sources or improving water treatment. The location of potential sources of pollution, such as landfills, industrial plants, contaminated soil and livestock for food production, can affect raw water quality. On the other hand, intact wetlands, peatlands and ecotones play a part in water purification. The authorities can also identify stretches of pipeline where there is a higher risk of waste water seeping into the drinking water supply or that are vulnerable to flooding. Another measure would be to prevent discharges of chemical and biological pollutants into the water source by extending restricted areas or imposing other restrictions around water sources.

The municipal authorities can also take steps to improve their emergency preparedness plans for the water supply system in order to prevent or contain acute changes in water quality. These could include for example establishing an additional hygienic barrier at water works with flood-prone groundwater sources. Installing flood defences for the technical infrastructure and strengthening existing barriers, for example by increasing the UV sterilisation capacity at water works equipped with this technology, are other possibilities. The extra safety measures can be activated in the event of a risk that floodwater will contaminate raw water sources.

Establishing reserve water sources that are not flood prone or systems for manual distribution of drinking water may be appropriate in cases where the drinking water source is particularly vulnerable to contamination and it is not possible or financially viable to protect the main source of drinking water.

The Government wishes counties and municipalities to take account of climate change and of the vulnerability of society and the environment in their planning activities under the Planning and Building Act and in other areas where they exercise authority. All municipalities should consider how they will be affected by climate change and draw up measures to make themselves more resilient and thereby avoid future costs and a higher risk of loss of life.

All municipal planning is based on the municipal planning strategy. When drafting its planning strategy, which is done at least once during each electoral term, it is very important that the municipality gives prominence to the impacts of climate change. This also applies to any planning programme drawn up when the municipal master plan is revised.

The counties draw up regional planning strategies that are used in deciding which regional planning issues should be addressed by a newly elected county or municipal council. The Government considers that climate change adaptation must be a key premise for this work.

The municipal master plan is more concrete, and the municipalities need to decide how the impacts of climate change in their particular municipality should be addressed in the social, land-use and implementation elements of the master plan. The social element addresses long-term challenges, goals and strategies for development of the community as a whole, including strategies for social development, sectoral activities and long-term land-use needs. It should be focused and action-oriented, and identify priority areas that need to be addressed. The assignment of priorities will largely depend on a vulnerability assessment for the various areas. The assessment should cover environmental status, water quality, nature management, buildings, transport, health and pollution. The vulnerability assessment and priorities in the social element of the master plan are important, since the social element serves as the basis for the municipal sector plans and activities.

Textbox 7.2 Information about climate change useful in many areas

General information about the most important trends in climate change is sufficient in many cases. However, in some areas, like the following, there is a need for more detailed knowledge about present and future climatic conditions:

  • Design of urban waste water treatment systems (up-to-date data on short-term precipitation under current climatic conditions in order to calculate intensity-duration-frequency (IDF) curves and future IDF estimates).

  • Flood protection near rivers and lakes and for urban areas (up-to-date flood frequency analyses under current conditions and estimates of future changes).

  • Design of roads and railways, including safety systems.

  • Design of coastal infrastructure that is affected by sea level, waves and storm surges.

  • Design wind loads (improved monitoring and modelling of extreme wind conditions).

  • Icing on terrestrial and maritime infrastructure.

  • Mapping of various types of landslides and avalanches and assessing how climate change will affect them.

  • Agriculture and forestry, reindeer husbandry.

  • Fisheries, including aquaculture.

  • Ecology and biodiversity (new species, new plant diseases).

The authorities intend to develop a national centre for climate services, which will provide information on the climate of the future in user-friendly form, see Chapter 5.2.

The social element of the master plan is concerned with community development; it describes the needs of the community and provides land-use guidelines. A land-use plan for the entire municipality is also required, linking land use with future social development. In many municipalities, the land-use guidelines will be strongly influenced by the need for adaptation in various areas. Thus by including adaptation measures in their land-use planning, municipalities will be able to reduce the scale of the damage done by climate change.

The implementation element of the master plan contains an action programme based on the adaptation needs identified in the social and land-use elements, and is coordinated with the finance plan that is required by the master plan. The implementation element and the finance plan are the most important tools available to the municipalities for ensuring efficient implementation and sound economic management.

7.3 Central government planning guidelines for climate change adaptation

The Government intends to draw up central government planning guidelines describing how climate change adaptation should be addressed in planning processes and decision-making in different sectors.

The central government planning guidelines will be designed to assist coordination across sectors and administrative levels. They will make it easier for counties and municipalities to include climate change adaptation in their planning under the Planning and Building Act and take it into account in the exercise of their authority and the fulfilment of their obligations.

To enable the counties and municipalities to ensure that Norwegian communities are resilient in the future, adaptation to climate change must be made an integral part of their responsibilities. Climate change adaptation, which is a long-term, cross-cutting issue, needs to be integrated into the municipalities’ existing tasks. The purpose of the guidelines is to encourage municipalities to use their long-term planning activities, particularly their land-use planning, to reduce vulnerability to climate change. They will also provide information and guidance on where and how the local authorities can obtain adequate knowledge about the impacts of climate change and which knowledge is most applicable to their particular region.

The new guidelines will also set out national goals and expectations, together with clear guidelines, concerning municipal planning of climate change adaptation. They will apply both to overall regional and municipal planning strategies and to more specific municipal planning, in other words to the social, land-use and implementation elements of the municipal master plan.

A key part of the central government guidelines will be to specify the considerations and assessments that must be taken into account in order to ensure that the impacts of climate change are given sufficient priority in planning and other municipal activities and in the exercise of their authority.

The local government authorities must also take into account the fact that the impacts will differ from one part of the country to another.

In addition, the central government guidelines will provide a more detailed overview of the measures that should be evaluated and implemented in the long-term social element of the municipal master plan, in the land-use element and in zoning plans. Specific, action-oriented guidelines will be given for various sectors: for drawing up risk and vulnerability assessments, incorporating environmental considerations and identifying how the natural environment can be used to prevent damage, and for building technology, road construction and so on.

The central government guidelines will provide general, overall directions, and will also be more specific and detailed in certain areas. They will be incorporated into the existing central government guidelines for climate change mitigation and energy planning by counties and municipalities. They are also intended to serve as a basis for individual decisions made by central government, regional and municipal bodies under the Planning and Building Act and other legislation.

7.4 Information, cooperation and advice

Regardless of how the municipalities organise their adaptation efforts, knowledge of the local impacts of climate change will be essential. For example, without information about sea level rise, precipitation trends and the resulting changes in the risks associated with flooding, landslides and avalanches, local authorities will not know which changes they need to adapt to. Priority will be given to improving dissemination of information on climate change to the counties and municipalities.

Today there is a great deal of information available from studies and the central government administration on climate change and the practical results of various adaptation efforts. In 2009 the Ministry of the Environment set up the website www.klimatilpasning.no to coordinate this type of information and make it easily accessible for regional and municipal authorities. The website, which is managed by the Norwegian Climate Adaptation Programme, is also intended as a tool for municipalities and others who find it difficult to start on adaptation work, and contains a set of practical guidelines. These include background information, tools and advice on how to include climate change considerations in planning processes. The website has so far been a success, but if it is to continue to be relevant and serve as a key knowledge base and communication channel, it will require regular maintenance, development and updating. Priority will be given to maintaining the role of klimatilpasning.no as a knowledge platform for adaptation efforts in Norway.

In order to be of practical use in planning, knowledge about climate change adaptation must be further developed through collaboration between municipalities and resource centres that can interpret climate modelling and projections to provide locally adapted information.

Studies can form a sound basis for adaptation efforts, but the practical measures must be developed by the municipalities themselves. Networks and regional cooperation have been shown to be effective learning tools for strengthening the adaptive capacity of municipalities and enabling them to exchange experience. This is important in an area like climate change adaptation, which is new to many people and where experience is limited. Networked learning is also very effective. Cooperation with central government agencies, suppliers of climate projections and other knowledge centres can save municipalities time and money. For example, the cooperation within river basin districts under the Water Management Regulations is an important arena for intermunicipal collaboration and knowledge-building and also relevant to adaptation measures to maintain or improve the environmental status of inland and coastal waters.

Textbox 7.3 Cities of the Future

Cities of the Future is an example of an ongoing cooperation focusing on climate change adaptation. In 2008, Norway’s 13 largest cities and urban areas were invited by the Ministry of the Environment to join together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create cities that will be better places to live. In addition to the cities and the Ministry of the Environment, which heads the cooperation, three other ministries are involved: the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy and the Ministry of Transport and Communications, together with the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities and the business sector. The practical cooperation takes the form of a network. Adaptation to climate change is also an important element of the cooperation. The focus area is adaptation to climate change.

So far 10 of the cities have included specific objectives or strategies relating to adaptation in the social element of their municipal master plans and 10 have included provisions concerning climate change adaptation in the land-use element. All 13 have developed action programmes that will play a part in climate change adaptation.

Figure 7.1 Cities of the Future

Figure 7.1 Cities of the Future

Source Gjennomgang av klimatilpasning i kommunale planer – kommuner i Framtidens byer (Review of climate change adaptation in municipal plans – municipalities in Cities of the Future, in Norwegian). Report drawn up by Rambøll Norge for the Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergency Planning, January 2012.

Several types of networks for cooperation and sharing experience have been set up. While Cities of the Future involves the largest towns and their adjacent municipalities, regardless of geographical location, the networked learning for which the counties and county governors are responsible is linked to specific geographical regions. Both models have their strengths. Cities of the Future provides a forum for exchange of experience between urban areas on specifically urban problems, such as stormwater. The county networks link the municipalities within each regional administrative structure, which enables county authorities, county governors and key state agencies with a regional presence, such as the Norwegian Public Roads Administration and the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate, to provide clear and coordinated guidance to the municipalities. This form of cooperation also promotes intermunicipal collaboration on joint vulnerability assessments and regional challenges. The Government considers that intermunicipal cooperation will be an effective means of implementing central government guidelines on adaptation.

Regional networks and the provision of guidance and advice to the municipalities should be considered together. The county authorities and county governors have a number of tasks and functions at the regional level that are relevant to municipal adaptation efforts.

The counties are the regional planning authorities, with overall responsibility for regional planning strategies, regional master plans and regional planning provisions. Their planning activities are intended to implement political objectives for economic, environmental, social and cultural development within each county and to provide guidance and assistance on planning to the municipalities. In their planning guidance for the municipalities, the county authorities include input on regional interests in the planning area and guidance on processes and requirements regarding planning documents. This means that the county authorities have an important advisory role as regards municipal climate-related work in land-use planning.

The county governors’ offices are responsible for ensuring that national policies are implemented locally and coordinate central government policy signals to the municipalities. Under the Planning and Building Act, they also provide advice and guidance on following up government guidelines and act as appeal and supervisory bodies. They coordinate civil protection and emergency planning at the regional and municipal levels, and are responsible for county-level risk and vulnerability assessments. They have also been made responsible for maintaining an overview and providing guidance to the municipalities on climate change adaptation within their spheres of responsibility. Under the Planning and Building Act, the county governors will be responsible for ensuring compliance with the central government guidelines on climate change adaptation, and for providing guidance to the municipalities. The county governors’ offices cooperate with the county authorities in these tasks.

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