Environmental Technology, News

National Concern Yields Global Solutions

Norwegian industrial development has traditionally been driven by energy-related activities. During the beginning of the 1900s large hydroelectric resources were developed, and energy-related heavy industries were established.

In the subsequent decades Norway became a large supplier of fertilizer, alloys and aluminium, among others, and industrial communities grew up in the vicinity of large waterfalls. In the late 1960s oil was discovered in the North Sea, and the next phase of the country’s industrial development soon became dominated by a large export-oriented oil and gas industry.

The development transformed Norway from a largely rural society to a modern industrialized country with a high standard of living. However, towards the end of the century it became increasingly clear that this development resulted in strains on the natural environment and human health. Public awareness grew as people felt that their traditional livelihood, health and recreational areas were threatened. During the 1970s and 80s, different environmental movements developed. At the Rio Summit in 1992, this concern was emphasized in the international arena.

This growing concern was paralleled by an increased environmental focus by the industry. Treatment plants were installed to reduce emissions to air and water, and new and less polluting processes were introduced. The immediate effects of these measures were higher costs, while a competitive environmental industry is beginning to emerge today. Often the environmental-related activities are direct spin-offs of traditional heavy-industry companies, and have consequently broadened the scope and long-term competitiveness of many corporations.

Our long history of hydroelectric power has led to the development of an impressive expertise in hydropower technology – covering environmental impact assessments, along with the construction of reservoirs, turbines, monitoring systems and transmission equipment. We believe that environmentally sound use of hydroelectric power is an important measure for limiting climate change. Norwegian hydroelectric companies are increasingly focusing on global activities.

In the oil industry, environmental concerns were taken into account early on. However, a serious blow-out accident in 1977 led to a more systematic approach towards safety and oil spill preparedness. Since then, Norwegian experts and equipment have been involved in oil recovery operations and training around the world. The oil industry has coexisted relatively well with the important fishing and fish-farming industry. As operations move towards the fish-rich and fragile northern fields, the requirements on safety and emissions are increasingly becoming tighter. We think that the Norwegian oil and gas industry is well prepared for this situation, and that stringent national requirements have contributed to making the companies encompassed here even more competitive on the international arena.

Norwegian companies are also involved in research on CO2 capture and storage, which we think can prove to be a realistic medium-term measure to curb rising global emissions. However, we realize that in the long term a switch towards more renewable energy sources is needed. In addition to being a leading player in the field of hydroelectric power, Norway also has competitive companies in the emerging solar and hydrogen sectors. We also have one of the world’s only factories dedicated to the production of electric cars.

As illustrated by the Johannesburg commitment in 2002, clean water, effective sanitation and better waste treatment are key elements on the road towards sustainable development. The goals are ambitious, such as to halve the proportion of people without access to clean drinking water by the year 2015. As Chair of the UN Commission of Sustainable Development, I will be personally involved in the follow-up of this commitment, the success of which will depend on widespread international cooperation. I am certain that internationally experienced Norwegian companies in the areas of water and waste will contribute significantly to this enormous task.

The concepts of critical loads and cost-effectiveness are key premises in Norwegian environmental policy. Detailed monitoring programs for air, water, soil, flora and fauna are the basis of assessments, but the decision-making processes are also generally supported by additional technical, social or economic studies. The work of external consultants and research institutes is an indispensable part of this process. Norwegian researchers are increasingly becoming integrated into global research networks and projects. The research village of Ny-Ålesund in Spitsbergen is illustrative of our dedication for international scientific cooperation. Here, scientists from all over the world come to carry out research in a pristine arctic environment.

Norwegian environmental products and services were initially rooted in national concern, but rapidly adjusted to international cooperation and markets. Today, Norwegian companies offer readily available solutions to common environmental problems, as well as important knowledge on specific future solutions. The information in this publication will serve as an example of the diversity of the Norwegian environmental industry, and I hope you will find it to be relevant to both your short and long-term concerns and needs.

Børge Brende

The Norwegian minister of the Environment