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Norway on track to capture benefits and values of ecosystem services

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This article originally appeared in The Circle 02.15.

As the project to scope out the use of TEEB in the Arctic reaches completion, some Arctic states are undertaking a TEEB exercise on a national basis. Finn Katerås says in Norway important steps have been taken, but insufficient knowledge of Arctic ecosystems is a limitation.

A house with a view - Svalbard, Norway. Photo: Mariusz Kluzniak, Creative CommonsA house with a view – Svalbard, Norway. Photo: Mariusz Kluzniak, Creative Commons

In 2011 the Norwegian Government appointed an expert commission on values of ecosystem services to see how the economics of ecosystem services and biodiversity (TEEB) and the ecosystem services approach could be applied in Norway. The Commission was asked to describe the consequences for society of the degradation of ecosystem services, to identify how relevant knowledge can best be communicated to decision-makers, and to make recommendations about how greater consideration can be given to ecosystem services in private and public decision making.

It concluded that the ecosystem services approach can be a useful supplement to Norway’s environmental and resource management, to show more clearly why protecting nature is important to our well-being. The Commission argued that the values of ecosystem services must be better demonstrated and reflected in decision making, and that values in nature must be communicated through policy instruments, regulations and incentives.

The Commission concluded that the state of ecosystems in Norway is relatively good, but the country’s biological diversity and ecosystems are also under pressure from many directions. Important ecosystem services from Norwegian Arctic ecosystems include fish and seafood, biochemicals, genetic resources and nature-based tourism. The greatest threats to biological diversity and related ecosystem services in Arctic marine areas are climate change and ocean acidification.

The Commission pointed to the need for improved knowledge about biological diversity and ecosystem services in Norway, and made recommendations related to increased research and enhanced monitoring. It underlined that there is a need for more knowledge about Arctic ecosystems, where the effects of climate change, ocean acidification and environmental toxins will be particularly important.

In September 2013 the report was distributed for a broad public consultation among affected stakeholders, including authorities, business and industry, academic communities and non-governmental organizations. This consultation provides an important basis as the Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment is considering follow up on the commission’s report. Around 50 stakeholders submitted their views, but few of these explicitly discussed Arctic perspectives and challenges.

Several efforts are going on to recognize, demonstrate and capture values of biodiversity and ecosystem services in national policy and management. The Norwegian Environment Agency is for example involved in considering values of ecosystem services, including in socio-economic analysis, environmental impact assessments and planning efforts. Mapping and assessment of ecosystems may provide a better foundation and understanding for work with ecosystem services, and work has started on a larger assessment of Norwegian ecosystems and their services.

Statistics Norway is working on how national statistics and environmental accounts can better reflect ecosystems and ecosystem services, both at the national and the international level. The research community is increasing its focus on ecosystem services and on links between natural capital and human well-being, including through funding and development of research programs under the Norwegian Research Council.

Overall assessments and consideration of ecosystem services are reflected in several recent policy documents, including in the Government’s Reports to the Parliament and in national strategies related to climate change, public protection against floods and avalanches, seafood, adaptation to climate change, public health and outdoor recreation.

Further follow-up of the report on values of ecosystem services will be presented in the National Action Plan on Biodiversity. This action plan is part of Norwegian obligations under the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) and is to be presented by the Government as a Report to the Norwegian Parliament in 2015.

Questions related to economic instruments on ecosystem services may also be considered by the Green Tax Commission, which looks at how use of climate and environmental taxes can be used to secure lower greenhouse gas emissions, improved environmental conditions and sound economic growth. This commission will present its report to the Ministry of Finance in December 2015.

Norwegian authorities are also engaged in a number of international activities on TEEB-related issues, including in global, European, Arctic and Nordic settings. The TEEB Arctic Scoping Study is one example of this, giving national governments a valuable opportunity to share experiences and to understand more about opportunities and limitations in the ecosystem services approach.

Finn Katerås, is senior adviser, Norwegian Environment Agency, Trondheim, Norway

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