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Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

Norway’s nature is very diverse. The differences between various parts of the country in terms of landscapes, habitats, plants and animals are striking. The large variation over short distances is rare, not only in the Nordic context, but in a global context as well. Mainland habitats range from southern beech forests to the Arctic areas in the north, and from humid coastal areas to dry inland valleys.

The cold northern climate is challenging, and the species found in Norway are well adapted to low temperatures, a short growing season and humid climate. At present, approximately 41,000 species of multicellular organisms have been documented in Norway which, in a global context, is low. Nevertheless, there are some exceptions. Mosses and lichens are well adapted to a humid climate with low evaporation, with Norway hosting a high percentage (6-10%) of the world's species. Bumblebees can also be adapted to a cold climate (Norway hosts 14% of the known bumblebee species in the world).

Norwegian marine areas encompass a variety of habitats and are large compared with the mainland, extending from the temperate Central North Sea to the Arctic Ocean and from the shallow banks and coastal areas to the deep sea (4-5,000 meters in depth). In the northeast Atlantic, 12,270 different species have been recorded, of which fish account for 9%.

Biodiversity depletion is occurring in many biomes throughout Norway. About 21,000 of the species found in Norway have been evaluated for the Norwegian Red List, of which 4,599 have been classified in one of the Red List categories. The nature index assesses the state of the major ecosystems in Norway, based on a set of indicators selected for each of these to represent its biological diversity. The state is assessed on a scale from 0-1 where NI = 1 indicates the reference state for all the indicators in the given ecosystem. Overall, open lowland and forest have the lowest NI value of all the major ecosystems (NI = 0.43-0.44), while mire-wetlands is in a somewhat higher value (NI = 0.55) (see Figure 1.1 in the 2010 Nature Index for Norway). Wetlands host a unique diversity of birds, plants and insect species, with 275 species included in the Red List. The relatively low NI value of forest is due to a combination of a long history of forestry (leading to, for example, less dead wood and fewer old trees) and the low numbers of predators. Woodland and forest host two-thirds of the terrestrial species and has the largest numbers of threatened or near-threatened species in Norway, with 1,838 living exclusively or partially in these habitats. The proportion of biologically mature forest remains very low (1%) in areas of high productivity. Open lowland consists mainly of semi-natural habitats, that was formerly cultivated meadows and coastal heathlands dependent on management such as grazing, heather burning or haymaking. Meadows, pastures and rough grazing host 741 threatened or near-threatened species.

Norway is also known for its rich marine biodiversity. In fact, the area managed within the Exclusive Economic Zone and the fisheries protection zone around Svalbard and Jan Mayen is, all together, more than five times larger than Norway’s land area. This comprises the marine areas of Skagerrak, North Sea, Norwegian Sea, Barents Sea, Greenland Sea and part of the North Pole basin. The marine areas host only 3% of the threatened or near-threatened species on the Red List. The conditions have improved overall in the sea and in freshwater over the last 20 years. This is largely due to improved fisheries management, liming of streams and measures to reduce pollution. However, the improvement in fish stocks after 1990 can also be linked to natural fluctuations in these stocks. Knowledge of marine biodiversity is also limited. Of approximately 6,000 multicellular species known in Norwegian waters, 2,500 were included in the Red List evaluation (310 of which were classified in the “data deficient” category). Further, alarming trends have been reported, such as 25% of the nesting birds that are completely or partially related to the marine environment being categorized as threatened or near-threatened. In mountain and mountain plateau regions, comprising almost half of the Norwegian land area (44.4%), anthropogenic effects on biodiversity are less extensive, and the number of mountain species included in the Red List (147) is therefore lower compared to other biomes.

There is a lack of data to allow for a comprehensive assessment of the status or value of ecosystem services. The knowledge is however relatively good regarding some provisioning services. Fisheries, forestry and agriculture represent important ecosystem services for the Norwegian economy. Norway is among the biggest fish catchers worldwide (2.3 million tons/year) and is the second largest exporter of fish. Recreation and tourism related to nature in the country are very important from a socio-economic perspective. The general right of public access to nature in Norway is a common good that is an integral part of Norwegian cultural heritage. This gives people access to a range of ecosystem services.

A Cabinet decision in 2011 approved the establishment of an Expert Commission to investigate the values of ecosystem services. The Expert Commission is expected to officially present its conclusions and recommendations to the Norwegian Government by the end of August 2013.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

Biodiversity in Norway is (as has also been established at the global level) mainly threatened by five direct drivers of change: land use change, over-harvesting, climate change, invasive alien species and pollution. Changing land use is the most significant factor impacting Norwegian biodiversity and has or will have a negative impact on 87% of the threatened and near-threatened species. Many species will however also be threatened by climate change. A warmer climate will change the living conditions for several species and ecosystems and lead to species dispersing into new areas. According to the Norwegian Black List, a total of 216 terrestrial and marine alien species are associated with a very high or high ecological risk.

In regard to the marine environment, the introduction of invasive alien organisms and the spread and accumulation of persistent contaminants in food chains continue to pose significant threats to biodiversity. Climate change is believed to cause the greatest changes to marine biodiversity, as many southern species may migrate northwards due to higher sea temperatures in coastal areas. Furthermore, ocean acidification and less ice cover in the Arctic Ocean may change the living conditions for many species.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

Norway’s first “Biodiversity Action Plan” was adopted by Parliament in 2001 (Parliamentary Report 42, 2000-2001) and has been central to the development of Norwegian environmental policy. This white paper laid the foundation for new biodiversity legislation and a focus on knowledge, including the establishment of the Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre. The third major element in the white paper related to economic instruments, an issue which is being followed up through the ongoing work of the Norwegian Expert Commission on the values of ecosystem services. In line with the decision from COP-10 on revising and updating the NBSAP in line with the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity (2011-2020), Norway intends to develop a new national action plan on biodiversity and finalize it in 2015. The participation of relevant ministries will be ensured through a cross-sectoral working group, led by the Norwegian Ministry of the Environment. Since 2012, national environmental policy has been organized into a new structure based on ecosystems. For each prioritized area, a specific set of national targets and accompanying indicators has been drawn up.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

Milestones have been reached towards the achievement of the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets. In terms of habitat and species conservation, almost 17% of the Norwegian mainland and 65% of the Svalbard (Arctic) region is at present protected by means of national parks, nature reserves or other conservation areas. Approximately 2.7% of the productive forest in Norway is currently protected under nature reserves or national parks prohibiting forestry. To help preserve forest biodiversity, the Government has proposed to increase funding for agreements on voluntary forest protection from 120 million NOK (in 2012) to 231 million NOK in 2013. In addition, it has been proposed to increase funding for implementing the national park plan by 68 million NOK.

The establishment of a representative network of marine protected areas is underway, with a formal planning process having already been initiated for 17 areas.

In addition, area-based management measures have been introduced in Norwegian fisheries management, related to stationary stocks management and the protection of vulnerable bottom habitats. A reporting regulation has also been introduced to reduce the bycatch of birds, seals and small cetaceans. Further, a number of measures have been adopted to control the conditions of the use of chemicals, particularly those prioritized on the list of environmental poisons.

County protection plans for mires, wetlands, deciduous broad-leaved forests, rich deciduous forests and important coastal sites for seabirds have been largely implemented. These policies are supported by significant improvements in research and monitoring tools (see below). Furthermore, education and public awareness are largely promoted by the Norwegian Government. Notably, an Internet-based education resource called “Network for Environmental Studies” is made available to children and young people, and the project “Natural Schoolbag”, set up in 2008, aims to develop curiosity about nature and sustainable development. Moreover, the Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre has been established to provide society with updated and easily accessible information on species and natural habitats.

Norway is also active in honouring the Aichi Biodiversity Targets related to the protection of traditional knowledge and the participatory management of natural resources. The Finnmark Act (2005) protects the land rights of the Sami people and establishes a consultation procedure between the Government and the Sami Parliament. This was followed by the “Arbediehtu” Project in 2008 which aims to develop suitable methods to record traditional knowledge and develop capacities and methods for collection in consultation with the Sami people. Finally, Norway has made significant contributions to relevant international processes and bilateral cooperation, including international development cooperation. In the latter regard, the Climate and Forest Project was launched in 2007 to reduce emissions of climate gases from deforestation and forest deterioration in developing countries.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

A major legislative tool for NBSAP implementation is the Nature Management Act, adopted by Parliament in 2009. The Act supplements existing legislation with general rules for invertebrates and plants, common management objectives and sustainable use principles, common rules for harvesting biological resources, common rules for invasive species, and a new set of regulations on access and benefit-sharing in relation to genetic resources. The Act implies that all sectors affecting or exploiting natural resources must emphasize common objectives and principles as well as minimize impacts on biodiversity. Further, the ministries are responsible for integrating biodiversity considerations in their management activities and promoting the achievement of national biodiversity targets in subordinate agencies, sectoral industries and interest groups within their areas. For instance, the Management of Wild Marine Resources Act (2009) aims to ensure the sustainable management (and derived socioeconomic benefits) of wild marine resources and associated genetic materials, while contributing to employment opportunity, settlement in coastal communities and inviting cooperation and dialogue at the national and regional levels among industry, local counties, interest groups and the state regarding biodiversity integration.

The Aquaculture Act requires that activities throughout the lifetime of an operation shall be environmentally sustainable. Improvements of the Act and other aquaculture regulations are proposed to reduce negative effects on wild salmon populations. Also, the Environment Strategy (2008-2015) of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food calls for the integration of biodiversity considerations in all of its activities. In particular, a number of laws (e.g. Planning and Building Act, Soil Act, Forestry Act, Water Resources Act, Energy Act, Pollution Act) require relevant sectoral and local authorities to ensure sustainable land use and regulate activities that have impacts on biodiversity through the establishment of appropriate planning processes. The Ministry of Environment has also achieved a significant milestone through the establishment of collaboration with other ministries (e.g. Ministry of Agriculture and Food), notably within the framework of a jointly-initiated project on the selection of farming landscape of considerable value in terms of biodiversity and cultural monuments. Another example is provided by the Local County Association which has, through the “Vigorous Local Counties” Project, established networks of sustainable land use. A number of cross-sectoral strategies also exist, such as the Strategy on Invasive Alien Species (2007). Regulations on the introduction of foreign species in forestry entered into force in July 2012, and new regulations on the import and introduction of alien species are in preparation. Additionally, cross-sectoral institutions have been created, an example of which is the Norwegian Genetic Resources Centre (2006) responsible for the conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources within agriculture and food production, through the implementation of three sectoral national programmes and action plans for forest trees, agricultural plants and domestic animals. Norway is also implementing the ecosystem-based EU water framework directive, with the goal of achieving good ecological and chemical status in all water bodies by 2021.

It has been proposed to allocate 1.8 billion NOK to biodiversity protection for 2013, representing an increase of 340 million over the amount allocated in 2012.

Norway signed the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization on 11 May 2011, and plans to ratify the Protocol in the spring of 2013. Some of the provisions of the Nagoya Protocol are already implemented in the Nature Diversity Act, Marine Resource Act and Patent Act.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

The Norwegian Government has strengthened research, mapping and monitoring of biodiversity in the past years. A Nature Index for Norway developed in 2008 reveals the overall status of Norwegian nature. The National Red List for species and the Nature Index was updated in 2010. A Red List for Ecosystems and Habitat Types was developed in 2011. Several national programs have been initiated to increase actions linked to research, mapping and monitoring of biological diversity (e.g. National Program, MAREANO, SEAPOP, Species Map Program, Species Observation Program, Nature Database, Environment 2015, Sami research programmes “Àrbediehtu” and “EALÁT”, etc.).

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  • United Nations Environment Programme