Historical archive

Minister of the Environment and International Development Erik Solheim:

Ministry of the Environment
Minister of the Environment and International Development Erik Solheim:

New Nature Diversity Act will secure Norway's natural environment

Historical archive

Published under: Stoltenberg's 2nd Government

Publisher: Ministry of the Environment

The proposal for a new Nature Diversity Act signals a new era in Norwegian nature management. "This is the most important law on nature that has ever been proposed in Norway", says Environment and Development Minister Erik Solheim.

The proposal for a new Nature Diversity Act signals a new era in Norwegian nature management. When the natural environment is threatened, the authorities will have a duty to respond with appropriate measures. The Act provides rules for the sustainable use and protection of the natural environment. This means new tools for safeguarding nature, not only within, but also protected areas. "This is the most important law on nature that has ever been proposed in Norway", says Environment and Development Minister Erik Solheim. The Act will apply both on land and at sea.
"We now propose a very modern Act which will give us the ability to fulfill our commitment to halt the loss of natural diversity both nationally and internationally ", says Solheim, who characterizes the Act as historic.

Photo: Tore Wuttudal/Samfoto
Photo: Tore Wuttudal/Samfoto.

One key point is that the Act will work together with other statutes regulating the use of Norway's natural environment, for instance land use for transport, energy and  construction, or the use of natural resources  in forestry, hunting and fisheries. "The Nature Diversity Act therefore imposes on all areas of society a great responsibility to make the law work", Solheim says.

Key concepts in the new legislation:

Environmental principles
The Act will contain important environmental principles such as the precautionary principle, the ecosystem approach and the polluter pays principle, extending beyond the scope of pollution. Moreover, the act will codify the principle that decisions affecting the environment  are to be built on scientific knowledge, as well as traditional knowledge.

Selected habitat types
The designation of "selected habitat types" is a new and important tool in Norwegian nature management. If we are to preserve natural diversity, we must ensure that our most valuable habitat types survive. Examples of habitat types include deltas, bogs, coastal heaths, farm ponds or scree. Many such habitat types, though threatened, are located outside protected areas. For these we lack common goals and guidelines enabling municipalities and other authorities to take appropriate action. This issue is addressed through the new instrument in the Nature Diversity Act: the selected habitat types.
Many habitat types are threatened because their traditional uses have come to an end. This is the case, for example, with our oldest type of cultural landscape, coastal heath, which requires management by burning and grazing. Because of this, combined with other threats like pollution and encroachment, probably 80 per cent of our coastal heathland has disappeared during the past hundred years. Coastal heath is a most worthy candidate to be one of our first selected habitat types.
If scientific evidence suggests that a habitat type is threatened, the government will have to consider whether it is to be "selected", that is, given priority status in management decisions. Selecting a habitat type is a Cabinet decision. When a habitat type has been selected and mapped, this must be taken into particular account in projects involving land use and development, not least in the municipal planning area. Action plans should also be drawn up for such habitat types, and a special grant scheme is to be created for habitat types that require active measures if they are not to be lost.
Priority species and their natural habitats
"Priority species" is an updating of the sanctuary concept in current conservation legislation. If we are to preserve biodiversity, we must deal with species and their habitats in context. Up to this point, it has been the case that even if it is illegal to pick an endangered orchid, for example, its natural habitat might have no protection.
The power to establish what might be termed functional ecologic areas for species is another new and important step in biodiversity legislation. These are types of sites that are important to species for nesting, lekking, hibernating, spawning, residing or resting. Although the Arctic fox, for example, was protected in 1930 is it still a threatened species and requires active measures to be saved. If it is designated a priority species by law, its dens will receive special protection. Action plans for priority species are to be drafted, and a separate grant scheme for the priority species created.
Protected areas
It is proposed that regulations in the Nature Conservation Act of 1970  concerning the protection of national parks, protected landscapes and nature reserves be continued in the Nature Diversity Act, but updated in order to enhance protection efforts and to ensure greater consistency and clarity for landowners and local communities involved: establishing, among other things, clear goals for protected areas, obligatory management plans for large protected areas and increased funding for management. In addition a special category for marine protected areas is introduced.
The Nature Diversity Act introduces substantially improved compensation provisions for landowners and stakeholders in protected areas

Invasive alien species
Invasive alien species are a well-known threat to biodiversity. For the first time the new Nature Diversity Act will provide Norway with a comprehensive and coordinated regulatory framework for better control of the importation and introduction into the environment of alien species. Examples of invasive alien species in Norway include the Iberian snail, giant hogweed and salmon parasite Gyrodactylus salaris. 

Access to genetic resources and benefit-sharing
The new Act will give us an entirely new set of regulations concerning the extraction and exploitation of genetic material from animals,plants and microorganisms. Extracting the genes and other genetic material from a species - of shellfish, corals, mushrooms, etc. - can be useful in the development of medicines, for example, which can in turn generate significant revenues.  The Act provides the possibility to draft regulations requiring permits for access to Norwegian genetic resources, rules on benefit-sharing, and information on the use of traditional knowledge. Moreover, importers of genetic material from other countries are required by the Act to provide information on the origin of the material and the circumstances through which the material has been obtained. 

Geographical scope
The provisions of the Nature Diversity Act concerning objectives, scientific standards, environmental principles, and access to genetic material, will apply on land and at sea, both beyond and within the 12 nautical mile limit. This means, for example, that in fishing activities, in addition to the requirements resulting from the Marine Resources Act, the emphasis is on requirements in the Nature Diversity Act relating to knowledge of the natural environment.
Other provisions of the Act, including the rules regarding priority species, selected habitat types and protected areas, will apply to the land and sea territory (12 nautical miles) of Norway. The government will, however, assess further whether, and, if possible, how, these provisions might be applicable beyond the 12 nautical mile limit.
"The Act equips us to look after natural diversity for future generations", says Environment and Development Minister Erik Solheim. "I am proud to be the minister who proposes such an Act."  The bill will be sent to Parliament today.

The proposal for a new Nature Diversity Act (Summary)