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Winning back our planet

Throughout the history of mankind, progress has often had a negative impact on nature. It is only in the past several decades that the international community as a whole has set in motion initiatives that have begun to counteract the environmental problems that the global village faces. It is vital that we continue to reverse this damage, using new technology and societal commitment that will be vital to meet the material requirements of a growing world population and at the same time halt environmental deterioration.

Population growth combined with a broad growth in consumption per capita tells a relative story of success – but it is a success countered by severe, unintended effects on the environment. Nature has been a recipient of solid waste and less visible pollution, and that has caused serious backlashes to human welfare. The diversity of species and ecosystems has been reduced at an unprecedented rate, mostly due to the rapid conversion of land.

Norway has long placed an emphasis on environmental issues both through global cooperation as well as initiatives on the national, regional and local level, and the 2009 Norwegian Diversity Act provides a prime example of Norwegian governmental commitment on the practical level. This is the most important law on nature ever in this country, and will apply both on land and at sea. The Act signals the start of new era in Norwegian nature management. The law ensures that when the natural environment is threatened, Norwegian authorities will have the responsibility to respond with appropriate measures, with concrete rules for the sustainable use and protection of the natural environment.

There is no going retracing our step in damage already done, but mankind has both the responsibility and the essential need to move forward. Real sustainable progress is the only option, and this necessitates cooperation. The Diversity Act imposes a great responsibility on all areas of Norwegian society to make the law work. 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 wind of environmental commitment is clearly found in all elements of Norwegian society, industrial and social alike, including the shipping industry striving to be world leaders in the climate and environment. The industry has provided thought, technical and administrative leadership in continuing to be more energy efficient as money is saved and greenhouse gases and other pollution is reduced through changes in fuels and in the way vessels are operated.

Norway is also a major player in offshore oil and gas, and the environment is clearly in focus within this sector. Norwegian companies can offer internationally competitive environmental technologies in this field, with a specific emphasis on carbon capture and storage technology and also well positioned in areas such as renewable energy, air pollution and prevention, aquaculture and waste and water treatment, and information and monitoring technologies.

It is the responsibility of the politicians to make sure that the value of the natural environment is fully reflected in regulation and in international agreements. This impacts in both ways: the more that private companies anticipate future requirements, and based R&D and business strategies on environmentally sound principles, the more ambitious politicians can become.

The world was able to change course in time when science warned us that the ozone layer was being eroded by aerosol and other gases. Transitioning into a low-carbon sustainable global society will take much more effort from us all, but I am confident Norwegian industry has much offer in the areas of climate-related and environmental technology.

Erik Solheim
The Norwegian Minister of the Environment

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