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Protecting Norway's natural riches - the new biodiversity act

Norway’s Environment and Development Minister, Erik Solheim, described the new proposed Nature Management Act as “the most important law on nature that has ever been proposed in Norway.” The historic Act is designed to protect the natural environment and proposes rules that also encompass sustainable use. The Act targets the loss of national and international natural diversity, on land and at sea. “We now propose a very modern Act which will give us the ability to fulfil our commitment to halt the loss of natural diversity,” says Solheim.

Fundamental to the Act is the responsibility that the authorities are required to take should the natural environment be threatened. The Act will also operate together with other statutes, examples of which being land use for transport, energy and construction, the usage of natural resources in forestry, hunting and fisheries. According to Solheim, “The Nature Management Act…imposes on all areas of society a great responsibility to make the law work.”

The Act will contain environmental principles including the precautionary principle, the ecosystem approach, and the polluter pays principle. Notably, there is an acknowledgement that environmental decisions are to be based on scientific as well as traditional understanding.

Minister Erik Solheim calls the new proposed Nature Management Act as “the most important law on nature that has ever been proposed in Norway.”

Key Principles
The Nature Management Act covers a number of key areas addressing selected habitat types, priority species and their natural habitats, protected areas, invasive alien species, access to genetic resources and benefit-sharing, and geographical scope – where provisions apply both to land and sea. Norway’s land and sea territory extends to areas within twelve nautical miles of the coast, but this act will also be accompanied by an assessment as to how the provisions could apply beyond this limit.

Amongst the important issues to be addressed is the need to ensure the survival of the country’s most valuable habitat types, such as deltas, bogs, coastal heaths, farm ponds and scree. Threats including pollution and encroachment have led to an estimated 80% decrease in areas such as coastal heath, and the Act will use scientific evidence to decide if the area should be given priority status and be the subject of active measures that could in themselves benefit from a specially designed grant scheme.

Nature’s Protector
Elsewhere, the Act will continue to uphold the regulations of the Nature Conservation Act of 1970 for protected areas including national parks, protected landscapes and nature reserves, whilst providing updates covering marine protected areas, improved compensation for landowners and stakeholders in protected areas and more clarity for local communities. Another update to the current ‘sanctuary concept’ will allow the establishment of functional ecologic areas for priority, threatened species.

Other important principles include a regulatory framework for controlling the importation and introduction of alien species, which are a known threat to biodiversity. In addition, the potential to be found in genetic material from species, which includes use in medicines, could become subject to permits for access to genetic resources together with necessary documentation of the origin of material, and covering such issues as benefit-sharing regulations and information on traditional knowledge usage.

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