Runde in Norway. Photo: Linn Bryhn Jacobsen
What distinguishes the country?
Kingdom of Norway (Kongeriket Norge)
Mainland Norway, Svalbard and Jan Mayen
Population: 4 908 100 (01 January 2010)
Population density: 12/km2 as a national average, ranging from close to 3900 /km2 in city centres, to close to 1500/km2 in cities and villages and 3/km2 in the rest of the country.
System of government: Constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy
Member of: UN, NATO, the Council of Europe, the European Economic Area Agreement (EEA) and the Nordic Council.
Norway has a long rugged coastline which stretches over 2.500 km, broken by fjords and thousands of islands. Norway is also a mountainous country with many glaciers and some of the highest waterfalls in the world. The mountains draw Arctic terrestrial species all the way from the north to the southern part of the country.
The climate is mild considering its high northern latitude, and Norway is the northernmost country in the world to have open waters. This is due to the Atlantic trade winds and the Gulf Stream. The latitude also results in great seasonal variations in daylight. The high mountain ranges, running north-south, also play an important part in shaping the Norwegian climate.
The Norwegian economy is open and mixed, with a combination of private and public ownership. The public sector has considerable ownership in key industrial sectors, such as in the oil and gas sector, hydroelectric energy production, aluminium production, banking, and telecommunications. Norway maintains a Scandinavian welfare model with universal healthcare, free higher education and a comprehensive social security system.
Much of Norway's economy depends on the use of its natural resource base. For this reason, Norway is dependent on governmental regulation in order to balance economical and environmental interests. The country is rich in natural resources, including oil and gas, hydropower, fish, forests and some minerals. The development of the hydroelectric energy sector at the beginning of the 20th century triggered industrial growth, particularly within the aluminium and ferroalloy industry, and fertilizer production. The discovery of large reserves of oil and gas in the late 1960s, gave further boost to the economy. Norway is the third largest shipping nation in the world, and aquaculture is the second largest export industry. Other important sectors include oceanic fisheries and forestry.
In 1972, Norway was the first country in the world to have a ministry at cabinet level with special responsibilty for environmental matters. National environmental governance in Norway is organised in a hierarchical manner. At the top is the Ministry of the Environment which is the leading government institution regarding environmental issues. Much of the work is delegated to a set of subordinated directorates:
• The Norwegian Environment Agency
• Directorate for Cultural Heritage
• Norwegian Polar Institute
• Norwegian Mapping and Cadastre Authority
• Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority
The directorates generally buy services from research institutions and consultants to cover environmental monitoring and assessments. Much work is, furthermore, delegated to the County Governors, of which there are 19, and the 430 local municipalities also play an important role in the implementation of environmental polices.
What are the major societal trends?
Norway is a member of the Council of Europe, was a founding member of the Nordic Council, and joined EFTA in 1960. In 1994, Norway entered into the European Economic Area Agreement with the EU, involving participation in the common market and in many EU programmes, and making EU acquis part of national legislation in many policy areas such as environmental management.
After the Second World War, economical focus moved from primary to export-based industries. However, despite a halving of man-labour years in both agriculture and fisheries, there was a doubling of production in both sectors, thanks to improved technology and management. In the 1960s and 1970s, Norway moved from an economy influenced significantly by government involvement towards a more free market based economy. However, the government initiated many industrial ventures and had considerable ownership in these. This resulted in a substantial increase in public sector employment, particularly in health and education.
Due to offshore industry and fish farming, Norway is still a considerable producer of raw materials. Therefore the balance between exploitation of natural resources and conservation of natural values is an important challenge for the Norwegian government.
In 1969, exploratory drilling in the North Sea revealed rich resources of oil and gas, which led to extensive oil and gas production. In 1973, Norway established an Oil Directorate and the state-owned oil company, Statoil. In 2004, Norway became the world’s third largest producer of crude oil and natural gas. Norway’s role as oil nation has resulted in an increased standard of living for the great majority, and has played an important part in shaping Norwegian society since the 1980s. Today, Norwegian oil and gas production is far larger than the hydropower production, and also many times higher than the energy consumption of the country.
Norwegian business life after 2000 has seen traditional industries, particularly the energy-demanding ones such as metal refineries, on the decline, while companies in shipping, oil and IT have grown in numbers. A change in industry focus has resulted in a population flux from the countryside to towns and cities. Efforts to counteract this trend have been initiated, but have proven less efficient than hoped for.
Norway has not been noteworthy affected by the recent financial crisis. The country has been able to cover its deficits through money from the country's pension fund, which is of significant value due to Norway’s oil and gas production.
Environmental awareness became a factor in Norwegian management at the end of the 1960s. Local environmental problems due to hydro power generation were seen as some of the challenges the country had to face. There was focus on establishing protected areas, and cleaning up local sewage and eutrophy problems in the Oslo fjord and some inland waters, including Mjøsa, Norway’s largest lake. Industry and point source pollution also became more strictly regulated under the Pollution Control Act, particularly in areas where there were health implications.
Restrictions within the 100-meter belt were enacted in 1965 under the Plan and Building Act, prohibiting construction too close to rivers and the coastline. The rate of dam construction slowed down in the 80s, and selected rivers were protected as a result of several protection plans.
From the middle of the 1970s offshore activities emerged as an environmental challenge, and the Norwegian state is heavily involved in regulations to protect marine resources and the environment along the coast from oil spills and emissions of hazardous substances.
In the 1980s, the focus changed to transboundary and global issues, such as acidification and other issues linked to long-range air pollution, hazardous substances, the loss of biodiversity, degradation of the ozone layer, as well as global warming.
In the 1990s, it became more evident how the Norwegian economy influenced the environment in other parts of the world. In response to this, Norway has formulated ethical norms related to environment and human rights, to be used in governmental investments abroad.
Because Norway is situated downstream of main air and ocean currents, the country is a recipient of large amounts of transboundary pollution. In addition, the effects of global warming are particularly evident in the Arctic. Therefore Norway actively participates in international environmental cooperation.