Blue Ocean, Green Future
What an appropriate title for Norwegian Ambassador Jon Elvedal Fredriksen’s April 19 talk! Our future is certainly dependent of the health of our oceans, or should I say ocean. As the Ambassador reminded us, the earth is really made up of one large ocean - over 70% of its surface in fact - with the land masses that form the various continents and islands making up the rest.
The ocean is of critical importance to humanity in immediate terms as it relates to the transport of food and other goods around the world, its natural resources including critical minerals, and its marine food supply. It is also crucial to our future because of its ability to absorb the carbon dioxide that is the main cause of our climate crisis.
Norway is particularly dependent on the ocean since it actually has more territory at sea in its continental shelf, than land mass. Seventy percent of its export industries come from the ocean, including oil and gas of course, but also other maritime products such as seafood. Hundreds of Norwegian industries are tied to the ocean and 225,000 of its people are employed in ocean industries. As Norway’s oil and gas revenues gradually diminish, it will be crucial to properly manage its ocean industries to ensure their sustainability in the future.
A lot of effort has been put into maintaining the healthy state of the Barents Sea to ensure sustainable fishing there. Its location to the north of the Nordic countries and eastern Russia has required ongoing good relations with Russia in this regard. Other international agreements such as the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf help Norway protect its maritime rights.
The international community is recognizing that action needs to be taken to protect the ocean. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal Number 14 is to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources. Norway’s former Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who was in office from 2013 to 2021, took on that goal as a special responsibility for Norway. In 2017, the United Nations held its Ocean Conference to mobilize action for the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources. Ambassador Fredriksen was himself very involved in this initiative, travelling to New York to successfully launch the idea to the United Nations Special Envoy for the Ocean. Fourteen countries committed to implementing a certain level of ocean management, and to lead by example. Written commitments to implement principles of ocean management based on science were obtained, including from Pacific Island countries and Japan, and a scientific panel was established to recommend the key criteria for managing the oceans sustainably.
Norway is not a member of the European Union, but it recently signed a non-binding agreement with it to co-operate more closely on climate, energy, and industry.
Ambassador Fredriksen noted that it is more challenging for poorer countries to manage their oceans, particularly with respect to illegal fishing and exploitation of other ocean resources. In such cases, it has proven effective to impose a 100% moratorium on such activities to prevent the resources being depleted to the point of no return. Scientific research has shown that when 30% of a country’s ocean area is a marine protected area, habitats and biodiversity are protected.
Norway will continue to be an important player in the field of ocean protection. Alternatives to current shipping technology, which is a heavy pollutant, are being actively investigated using government funding. Hydrogen as fuel is being researched. Electric ferries are already widely used in Norway but are only practical for relatively short distances.
At the end of the day, the whole world is dependent on its ocean and although there is clearly a long way to go, I found it reassuring to know that very solid efforts are being made internationally to protect them in a scientific and practical way.