02/15/2018 12:07 EST | Updated 02/15/2018 12:07 EST

Blue Future: A Norwegian Perspective On Oceans

Canada's new Ocean Protection Plan and Norway's new Ocean Strategy provide a solid platform to explore even more commonalities and collaboration.

A new research vessel “Dr. Fridtjof Nansen” conducts stock assessments and other types of research in collaboration with FAO for the benefit of developing countries.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg launched a new international High-level Panel on Building a Sustainable Ocean Economy. The same week Canada also announced that it will use its G7 chairmanship to push for an increased attention to the scourge of plastics in the world's oceans.

Both initiatives point to the centrality of oceans to our future well-being. And there is a connection between the two: clean and productive oceans are two sides of the same coin.

For coastal people this is not a new insight. Most of my life I have lived by the ocean, and this experience has influence both my studies and my later career. As a Norwegian, this is not unique. In fact, 80% of our population live less than 20 kilometres from the ocean. With maritime areas covering six times our land area, it is unsurprising that the ocean represents Norway's core interests domestically and internationally.

The ocean has shaped our country throughout history, from the Viking Age to the Hanseatic League to the rise of our merchant fleet. Today, about two-thirds of Norway's export revenueoriginates from ocean-based industries such as the offshore oil and gas sector, aquaculture, fisheries and shipping.

As Norway bears witness to, the oceans offer huge potential for human development. According to the United Nations, the world's population will reach almost 10 billion by 2050. These people will require more resources and services from the ocean, such as food, energy, medicines, minerals and transport routes. At the same time, the oceans are under enormous pressure. Climate change, pollution and marine litter, overfishing, and the destruction of coastal ecosystems are among the greatest threats.

This is why Norway has placed oceans at the centre stage of our foreign and development policy.

Sustainable use and value creation

The first priority is sustainable use and value creation. The OECD has estimated that the ocean economy will provide 40 million jobs and double its contribution to global value creation by 2030. However, blue growth must happen through green restructuring. Last year, Norway launched an Ocean Strategy that aims to facilitate precisely this, by transferring technological competence between ocean-based industries and stimulating new industries such as seaweed farming and marine bioprospecting.

To fully unlock the potential of the blue economy, however, knowledge is key. Norway has heavily invested in ocean research, education, and strengthened collaboration across industries and academic institutions as a result. The new icebreaker vessel "Kronprins Haakon" was completed last fall, and is one of the world's most advanced vessels equipped with research facilities for the Arctic and the Antarctic.


Clean and healthy oceans

Secondly, we need to ensure clean and healthy oceans. A staggering 12 million tons of plastic waste are disposed of in the ocean every year. Equally problematic are the plastics less visible to the naked eye such as micro- and nanoplastics. These are used in products from car tyres, paint to sportswear, and can be found in every corner of the world's oceans.

Turning waste into resources is one way forward. Last year, the Government launched a strategy aimed at reducing emissions of marine litter and microplastics both domestically and globally. Yet governmental efforts alone are not enough. Initiatives that are blooming in the private sector are inspiring, responding to the Sustainable Development Goals as calls to action.

Only last week, the United Nations Global Compact announced a new Business Action Platform for Oceans. This ambitious Action Platform aims to mobilize the private sector to innovate, make investments and form partnerships to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals through ocean action. Norway will be the first government sponsor of the new ocean platform, but the private sector will be the biggest financial contributor. This is a good example of how we need to move forward – through cooperation, and through leveraging each other's strengths.

There are an increasing number of international initiatives related to oceans, and Norway will play its part. In addition to the initiatives already mentioned, next year Norway will play host to Our Ocean, a major international conference aimed at improving the environmental state of the oceans. This will be an important milestone for the High-level Panel, which will continue until 2020. A key deliverable will be a report on the importance of the ocean economy for sustainable development.

Ocean's role in development policy

Lastly, the third priority relates to the role of the blue economy in development policy. Our nation's history is evidence that resources from the ocean can build welfare for all if managed responsibly. Norwegian experiences within offshore oil and gas, aquaculture and shipping are sought after alongside our experience with integrated ocean management plans. Through the Fish for development program Norway provides capacity building related to fisheries and aquaculture in many developing countries. A new research vessel "Dr. Fridtjof Nansen" conducts stock assessments and other types of research in collaboration with FAO for the benefit of developing countries. Norway is also intensifying efforts to combat plastic and other marine litter in developing countries through a NOK 150 million development programme (approximately 24 million CAD). To start with, the programme will focus on Southeast Asia, which is the region where the problem is most acute.

The world needs more champions for clean and productive oceans. It is crucial that coastal and maritime nations work together to highlight the huge potential to be found in sustainable management of the oceans. Norway and Canada are well placed to play this role going forward. We work closely together in a number of international forums on oceans issues, and share the overarching goals of sustainable use and protection. For decades Canadian and Norwegian marine research institutions have collaborated on common projects, and our fisheries authorities hold annual consultations. I believe that Canada's new Ocean Protection Plan and Norway's new Ocean Strategy provide a solid platform to explore even more commonalities and collaboration in the time ahead.

Adapted from a talk originally presented at the University of Ottawa on October 3rd 2017