Environment and climate change

Under the EEA Agreement, much of the EU’s policy on environment and climate change has been incorporated into Norwegian law. Ever since the EEA Agreement was adopted, there has been close and binding cooperation between Norway and the EU in these areas. The main elements of Norway’s and the EU’s policy on the environment and climate change are the same, and we enjoy close, fruitful cooperation in international negotiations.

The EU is an important actor and partner for Norway in the areas of climate change and environment. Pollution originating in the EU is carried to Norway by winds and ocean currents, and strict environmental legislation in the EU is therefore in Norway’s interests as well. Norway and the EU also share many of the same positions on climate policy, particularly as regards ambitious goals for cuts in emissions. The EU plays an active part in international environmental negotiations and is working towards the adoption of an ambitious and binding international environmental policy.

When the EEA Agreement entered into force in 1994, almost all EU environmental legislation was implemented in Norwegian law. However, certain key environmental policy areas – nature conservation and natural resource management, agriculture and fisheries – do not fall within the scope of the Agreement. Norway is not bound by EU legislation in these areas, but the way they are regulated by the EU influences Norway indirectly.

EU policy on the environment and climate change
Since 1992, the EU has developed a wide-ranging environmental policy, and environmental legislation is constantly being developed. Both sustainable development and the integration of environmental considerations into policy in other sectors are mentioned in the basic EU treaties. The EU’s 7th Environment Action Programme, which was adopted in November 2013, has three key objectives: protecting, conserving and enhancing the Union’s natural capital; turning the EU into a resource-efficient, green, and competitive low-carbon economy; and safeguarding EU citizens from environment-related pressures and risks to health and wellbeing. Much of the EU’s environmental legislation establishes minimum standards, which means that member states (and Norway) may introduce stricter rules in their national legislation.

The way the EU regulates environmental matters has been changing towards greater use of cross-sectoral legislation and management regimes. Examples include the climate and energy package, the chemicals legislation (including the REACH regulation), the Water Framework Directive and the Marine Strategy Directive.

The climate and energy package was adopted in April 2009 and sets out ambitious targets in these areas. The key climate-related target is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 % by 2020 relative to the 1990 level, or by 30 % if other major economies commit themselves to similar targets in a global agreement. The climate and energy targets have also been included as one of the five targets in the EU’s growth strategy, Europe 2020. The legislation in the climate and energy package is constantly updated through work in committees and supplementary legislative proposals. In 2010, the EU established the Directorate-General for Climate Action, or DG CLIMA, whose tasks include ensuring that the member states meet their obligations as set out in EU climate policy, and a new post of Commissioner for Climate Action.

Association and cooperation with the EU through the EEA Agreement
Environmental cooperation between the EU and EFTA states is included as part of the object of the EEA Agreement, and it is an important principle that environmental considerations must be integrated into policy in other areas. The EEA Agreement deals with the four freedoms (goods, services, capital and persons), and also contains what are called horizontal provisions on cooperation in areas that are considered to be important for the functioning of the internal market. One of these areas is the environment. Environmental legislation alters the framework for economic actors and therefore influences the market. Environmental cooperation within the EEA also includes a range of environmental programmes and projects.

The volume of environmental legislation and sectoral and cross-sectoral policies that are incorporated into Norwegian law under the EEA Agreement makes the EU a key factor in the development of Norwegian environmental policy. So far, more than 250 pieces of environmental legislation have been included in the EEA Agreement, and they deal with topics including pollution control, water, air pollution, chemicals, waste, environmental impact assessment and access to environmental information. Pollution-related topics dominate the legislation.

Through the EEA Agreement, Norway is part of the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), and also shares EU targets for renewable energy, energy efficiency, energy savings and regulation of the environmental performance of various products.

Because EU environmental legislation that is incorporated into the EEA Agreement also has to be implemented in Norwegian law, it is important for Norway to cooperate closely with EU institutions and key member countries in order to safeguard Norwegian interests and seek to ensure the best possible decisions on environmental issues within the EU. Norway therefore plays an active role in priority areas, and the Norwegian environmental authorities are currently represented on between 80 and 100 committees and working groups. These are important arenas for information exchange and provide opportunities for influencing EU decision-making processes. It is generally the Norwegian Environment Agency that provides Norwegian representatives for the groups and committees on behalf of the Ministry of Climate and Environment, but other agencies are also involved.

Climate policy, including emissions trading and carbon capture and storage, chemicals (the REACH regulation) and policy on the marine environment are important areas of common interest to Norway and the EU. There is little regulation of classical nature conservation at EU level, and nature management is not formally part of the EEA Agreement. This is why the Birds Directive, the Habitats Directive and the Natura 2000 network of protected areas established under the two directives are not included in the EEA Agreement. Nevertheless, Norway and the EU cooperate closely in this area as well.

Participation in EU agencies
Norway is a member country of the European Environment Agency, which provides environmental data including reports on the state of the environment in Europe. This information is an important basis for formulating environmental policy.

Norway also participates in the work of the European Chemicals Agency, which plays a key role in implementing the EU’s chemicals legislation (including the REACH regulation). One of the Agency’s tasks is to improve protection of human health and the environment by strengthening control of the production, import, use and releases of chemicals.

Relevant forums
The Ministry of Climate and Environment chairs the EEA special committee on the environment, in which all relevant ministries participate. The Ministry also invites other relevant organisations and bodies to dialogue meetings on the development of EU environmental policy.

  • The EFTA Working Group on the Environment assesses the EEA relevance of new environmental legislation and whether there is a need for adaptations. EFTA’s Expert Group on Chemicals meets regularly to discuss priority matters in the field of product-related chemicals legislation.