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Ioannis FasoulisUniversity of Piraeus, Faculty of Economics Science, Greece

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Abstract

Oceans and marine resources represent an invaluable source of life and well-being for humanity. Despite their contribution, oceans are constantly affected by human activities such as overfishing, shipping, and resource extraction, thus jeopardizing the viability of marine ecosystems. Periodically, a series of global initiatives led by the United Nations have sought to reverse these negative effects and safeguard sustainable ocean use. The United Nation's Law of the Sea (1982, UNCLOS) is a prominent undertaking in this direction, as it has created the legal framework for sustainable ocean governance. Norway, an ocean nation, has been a strong supporter of this international treaty, but also of the recent sustainable development goals (SDGs), which have typically complemented UNCLOS in the global quest for ocean sustainability. In this context, this paper delves into and posits the synergies and interactions between UNCLOS and SDGs and describes the related shifts in Norway's ocean governance regime.

Abstract

Oceans and marine resources represent an invaluable source of life and well-being for humanity. Despite their contribution, oceans are constantly affected by human activities such as overfishing, shipping, and resource extraction, thus jeopardizing the viability of marine ecosystems. Periodically, a series of global initiatives led by the United Nations have sought to reverse these negative effects and safeguard sustainable ocean use. The United Nation's Law of the Sea (1982, UNCLOS) is a prominent undertaking in this direction, as it has created the legal framework for sustainable ocean governance. Norway, an ocean nation, has been a strong supporter of this international treaty, but also of the recent sustainable development goals (SDGs), which have typically complemented UNCLOS in the global quest for ocean sustainability. In this context, this paper delves into and posits the synergies and interactions between UNCLOS and SDGs and describes the related shifts in Norway's ocean governance regime.

1 Introduction

Occupying three-quarters of the earth's surface, and containing about 97% of the planet's available water, oceans, along with surrounding coastal ecosystems and inherent resources, are an indisputable source of life for humanity. Coupled with the fact that almost half of world's population live by the coast, it is clear how important it is to maintain a healthy marine ecosystem for the benefit of global ecological and social balance.1 And, in terms of ‘social’, it is important to keep in mind that, in addition to the value of the oceans in terms of global climate regulation, there is also their innate socioeconomic dimension as a source of food, leisure, and cultural and other economic activities.2 Further, it is estimated that about $500 billion is added annually to the global economy by marine-related businesses. However, despite their priceless value, oceans have been intensively exploited through increasing human activity such as international trade, offshore oil and gas production, fisheries, tourism, etc.3 Accordingly, in an effort to reverse these negative effects, the international community reacted in 2015 through the enactment of the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations (UN). Through 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Member States have made specific commitments to protect the environment and ensure its sustainable use.4 With regard to the ocean ecosystem and the protection of marine resources, a specific goal (SDG 14) was created and dedicated to the conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas, and marine resources.5

Norway is a country with a long ocean history and marine tradition that has, moreover, shown particular sensitivity to sustainable development and ocean preservation issues. The country's ocean region has a special morphology and geographical location that results in the formation of a coastline of over 25,000 km that ranges along the Skagerrak, North Sea, Norwegian Sea, and Barents Sea.6 Further to that, with 70 per cent of Norwegian export earnings as well as more than 200,000 jobs based on ocean industries such as oil and gas, shipping, seafood and tourism, the government is strongly motivated to safeguard its marine and ocean interests.7 Since the dynamic start in 1987 of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) and its chairing by the Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, Norway's quest for sustainable development has been articulated in numerous policy and regulatory documents, as well as its active participation in international initiatives and regional blocs.8 Thereinafter, following the ratification of UNCLOS Convention in June 1996, Norway reshaped its ocean governance framework to promote the sustainable use of its marine resources.9 In a recent initiative, adoption of the later UN Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015, and specifically the ocean protection requirements as prescribed by SDG 14 (Life Below Water),10 significantly influenced the Norwegian ocean policy and regulatory regime.11

Along with other international treaties and conventions, UNCLOS has been seen as the backbone of the international ocean governance framework for sustainable ocean use. However, it is admissible that UNCLOS does not spell out legally binding obligations for States and thus has mostly been considered as being of a sectoral and recommendatory nature.12 Accordingly, it is extremely enlightening to articulate questions not yet explored in the literature and to provide readers with the background required to appreciate reflections on the transition roadmap from UNCLOS to SDG 14 within Norway's ocean-governance context. Thus, taking into account recent developments in already fragmented yet abundant ocean governance frameworks, this article aims to explore how key UNCLOS environmental provisions have informed Norway's ocean governance regime in relation to the implementation of SDG 14.13 Against this backdrop, the research question to be addressed is:

  • What is the role of UNCLOS in shaping Norway's regime for sustainable ocean governance within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals?

To do this, a thorough review and analysis of relevant literature, including articles, international treaties, and the Norwegian government's regulatory and policy documents is carried out and backed up using a socio-legal methodological approach. To provide an analytical background for the discussion, an outline of the international ocean governance system, including evolutionary events, in conjunction with obligations for marine environment protection under UNCLOS is first presented. Then, attention is focused on the Norwegian ocean governance regime and reflections are made regarding how the described proceedings have reshaped the latter in relation to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 14.

2 Background to the governance of marine resources

Oceans, seas, and coasts are an integral part of the earth's wider ecosystem and are vital to food, prosperity, and the development of a range of economic activities based on them. A study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) revealed that in 2010 employment in the ‘ocean economy’ amounted to around 31 million jobs.14 Moreover, the ocean plays a major role in regulating earth's climate as it has the ability to buffer the atmosphere and the ocean surface, acting as a natural reservoir and sink for carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.15 Despite the invaluable contribution and value of the oceans, human intervention, as a result of economic activity, has been gradually altering and damaging marine ecosystems.16 For example, the anthropogenic release of greenhouse gases (e.g. due to shipping industry emissions) causes an increase in the absorption of heat and CO2 with severe consequences, including temperatures increases that lead to sea-level rise.17

States, civil society, and non-governmental organizations have always played an important role in regulating users of the ocean space through the implementation of various policies and regulations.18 Owing to their aforementioned valuable contribution, protecting the marine environment and resources as well as safeguarding the wealth of local biodiversity have been at the core of nations' ocean-governance strategies. Yet, evidently, local and regional government interventions, even in marine areas located within national territorial waters (namely, at a distance of less than 200 nautical miles from shore), cannot be completely effective, as oceans are a commons and open to all.19 Indeed, the nature of the aquatic element means that oceans are tightly interconnected with the adjacent coastal and oceanic areas of other countries and international waters.20 Therefore, it is not uncommon for coastal or marine resources to be shared by more than one country, thus raising environmental protection issues that are inevitably common to multiple countries.21 In addition, arbitrary action and intervention at the local level often creates controversy and distortions, hence a universal and superior-level body was needed to address such issues.22

Subsequently, and within the UN system, several organizations and agencies have been formed, including the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and the UN's Environment Programme, all with the responsibility to deal with ocean affairs.23 In this light, the 1982 UNCLOS treaty, which sought to clarify and build on the provisions of the first conference on the Law of the Sea, created in Geneva in 1958,24 was formulated and has gone down in history as the primary and most comprehensive legal framework for the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources.25 UNCLOS, which entered into force in 1994, is an international treaty that came to make up for the lack of an international ocean, marine, and maritime institutional and legal framework for ocean use, thus serving as the foundation on which more detailed regulations and rules could be developed.26 Thereafter, it has taken the form of an evolving body of law that shapes several other local and regional agreements. The Convention has been supplemented by two implementing agreements: a) the 1994 Agreement Relating to the Implementation of Part XI (that contains many of the Convention's deep seabed mining provisions), and b) the 1995 Agreement Relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks (the ‘Fish Stocks Agreement’ or FSA).27

Taking a step further, it turns out that UNCLOS does not prescribe obligatory measures for states, and in addition does not confine its scope to issues solely related to the protection of the marine environment. In contrast, it maintains a broad latitude and deals with a variety of ocean-related legal issues such as the delimitation of maritime zones, and establishment of the outer limits of the continental shelf and seabed jurisdiction that extends beyond the limits of national authority.28 However, in its entirety, as well as with regard to individual points in the text, it artfully and effectively refers to the obligation and right of states to prevent the destruction of the marine environment and to safeguard its conservation and protection. Specifically, Part XII of UNCLOS, through Articles 192 to 237, describes the sovereignty of states over their marine resources, along with their obligation to protect them. Amongst other areas, it refers to the sovereign right of States to exploit their natural resources (Article 193), contingency plans against pollution (Article 199), the assessment of the potential effects of activities (Article 206), and enforcement with respect to pollution from or through the atmosphere (Article 222), etc.29

3 Materials and methods

This study maintains a reflexive and multidisciplinary approach, which alternates between the social and legal fields. Driven by policy considerations and engaging legal sources and relevant literature, its objective is to improve understanding of our research problem within a wider societal context.30 As a matter of fact, it is backed up by the principles of socio-legal research, which refer to a methodological approach widely used to investigate legal issues that are present in cross-sectoral disciplines (e.g i.e. social sciences, business, medicine, the arts, etc.).31 Thereby, this article is informed by documentary sources, including treaties, policy statements, laws and regulations, articles and theses related to the ocean governance theme. Accordingly, data collection and analysis refer to a progressive and continuous feedback process that is compatible with the inductive reasoning method.32 Thus, selected law and policy documentation such as that of UNCLOS, supplemented by the ‘Our Common Future’ report (Brundtland), Agenda 21, the 2002 World Summit (Rio+10 Conference), the 2012 UN Sustainable Development (Rio+20 Conference), and the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals, etc., play a prominent role in our review and analysis. In addition, since this study is concerned with addressing the problem from the perspective of Norway's ocean-protection regime, authorized documents published by the Norwegian Office of the Prime Minister and ministries (such as official governmental documents, including consultations, resolutions, reports, guidelines, letters, acts and regulations) have also been considered. Such documentary sources were identified through manual searches of the Norwegian Government's official website, using keywords and terms associated with sustainable ocean governance and marine environmental law and regulation.33 Finally, the study chronologically spans the time from the early 1980s to the present day. Figure 1 depicts the data-selection logic.

Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.

Data selection and analysis logic

Citation: Hungarian Journal of Legal Studies 2022; 10.1556/2052.2022.00358

4 Beyond UNCLOS: normative- and policy-related interaction between sustainable development and ocean governance

The 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea turned out to be a proven and fundamental instrument in the ocean governance arena, and particularly for advancing international marine environmental law and regional agreements.34 As a result, from 1982 until the present day UNCLOS provisions have been promulgated in several international treaties, declarations, regulations, and in the subsidiary legislation of nation states.35 One of them was the 1987 UN Brundtland Commission, which praised the value and necessity of promoting UNCLOS in future marine environment protection legislation. In consequence, pollution and the depletion of marine wealth, but also the need to safeguard the oceans and their resources, were considered critical priorities.36 However, since the 1987 UN Brundtland Commission, and more and more intensely in recent years, environmental-protection terminology and regulation has been gradually augmented with another term – that of sustainable development, as applied to environmental issues related to both land and sea.37 This can be said to be a great achievement of the Brundtland Commission – managing to establish a commonly accepted definition of sustainable development; namely, ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.38 Thereafter, in the 1990s, the term was further elaborated by John Elkington in a scholarly manner, who articulated it as the triple bottom line approach.39

Thence, the international community and business actors changed their approach, locating the protection of the environment, along with the sustainability of natural resources and ecosystem balance, in a more cohesive and unified framework that involves consideration of a combination of elements with a social, environmental, and economic background.40 Sustainable development philosophy, along with successive sustainability-related legislative and policy proceedings, have steadily influenced and been incorporated into ocean governance policies and governmental arrangements that complement earlier discourses that treated marine environmental protection and conservation issue in a fragmentary and non-integrative manner.41 The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the ‘Earth Summit’ (held in Rio in 1992), is an important post-UNCLOS development which built both on UNCLOS and Brundtland in an effort to encourage the model of sustainable ocean governance.42 Benchmarks refer to the encouragement to protect oceans and seas through the polluter pays principle, consideration of indigenous people, the development of integrated ocean management plans for all marine and coastal areas, and forming partnerships for technology-sharing and marine scientific research.43 Moreover, Agenda 21, an emerging global plan from the 1992 UN Earth Summit, in Chapter 17 sets clear objectives and describes the activities that coastal states are encouraged to undertake to achieve the integrated management and sustainable development of coastal areas and the marine environment under their national jurisdiction. A $6 billion financing plan for the period 1993–2000 was also mobilized.44

The global shaping of sustainable ocean governance was further continued at the World Summit on Sustainable Development 2002 in Johannesburg, 2002, also known as Rio+10.45 Building on the fundamental principles of the former Rio 1992 Earth Summit and Agenda 21, the 2002 World Summit presented a plan of implementation for global sustainable development. In the related text, the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea held a prominent place and often became a point of reference for ocean and marine environment protection issues.46 The integrated management of land, water, and living resources, and their importance for economic and social prosperity dominated all of its marine and ocean governance guidelines.47 However, the most important principles added in relation to the ocean governance topic referred to the encouragement to adopt the ecosystem approach to fisheries by 2010, as also noted in the Reykjavik Declaration on Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem.48 Closely related, this was encouragement for the development of plans for the provision of assistance to developing countries for the conservation and sustainable management of fishery resources, subsidy elimination, and the funding of sustainable aquaculture.49 This was to be expected, of course, in response to the prolonged problems of overfishing, especially in the 1980s and 1990s.50 It should be noted at this point that the 2000 UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), although aspiring to pave the way forward to more sustainable development, undeniably made a limited contribution to sustainable ocean governance.51

The approach of fostering ocean governance in an integrative and multidisciplinary manner, impregnated with elements of sustainable development, gained further standing and vision in the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, known as Rio+20.52 The outcome of this conference, the ‘Future We Want’ report, confirmed and reinforced the global interest in sustainable ocean governance and the conservation of marine resources, but also confirmed the contribution of UNCLOS as the legal framework for sustainable ocean development.53 However, the most important achievement of the conference is that it laid the foundations and opened up global dialogue about formulating the latest Sustainable Development Goals.54 A few years later, in 2015, the UN Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to tackle our planet's social, economic, and environmental challenges over the next 15 years.55 The 2030 Agenda incorporated 17 goals and 169 targets, and deals, amongst other topics, with a range of poverty-, education-, well-being-, energy-, environment-, economy- and climate-related issues.56

As can be seen in Fig. 2, the implementation of UNCLOS is well positioned in relation to the content of SDG 14 (the goal of ocean conservation) and, specifically, with SDG 14.c, which requires that the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources should be framed by UNCLOS and the UN declaration ‘The Future We Want’ (the Rio+20 Conference).5758

Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.

Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans58

Citation: Hungarian Journal of Legal Studies 2022; 10.1556/2052.2022.00358

Closely related, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) – namely, the judicial body established by UNCLOS to manage disputes concerning the interpretation or application of the Convention – has recognized UNCLOS's contribution as a precursor to the rule of law at sea and ocean sustainability, and the Tribunal's obligation to contribute to sustainable ocean use in the years to come.59 In addition, in an effort to further strengthen the rule of law and UNCLOS's contribution to building a framework for sustainable ocean governance, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) has incorporated the principles of sustainable development into its future strategic guidelines. Therefore, for the next five years (2019–2023), ISA has been committed to contributing and aligning its regulatory principles and practices with the UN SDGs, always remaining consistent with UNCLOS and international law.60

5 Norway's regime for sustainable ocean governance

Norway was an early adopter of international regulations and policies with regard to marine environment and resource protection. Thus, the 1980s began dynamically with two major government initiatives. The first was in 1981, with the ratification of the Pollution Control Act which was aimed at protecting the outdoor environment against pollution and creating a framework for better waste management. Similarly, this act sought to address marine environmental threats and subsea resource protection within the Economic Zone of Norway and, in addition, to Svalbard, Jan Mayen and other Norwegian dependencies.61 Next, in 1991 Norway introduced a CO2 tax regime levied on all operations that involve the combustion of oil and natural gas derived mainly from ocean transport and petroleum extraction activities that take place on its continental shelf.62 Accordingly, the later 1996 Petroleum Act strengthened further the air emissions reduction framework associated with petroleum operations, which along with the CO2 Tax Act on Petroleum Activities, the Sales Tax Act, and the Greenhouse Gas Emission Trading Act, pursued improvements in overall energy efficiency and constituted Norway's most important climate policy instruments.63 The 1990s also witnessed another important ocean governance evolutionary event – that of the ratification, in 1996, of the UNCLOS treaty by the Norwegian Government.64 Thereafter, in 1998, the Ministry of Fisheries, acknowledging the problems of overfishing of previous decades and attempting to avoid their detrimental consequences, drew up a number of guidelines to strengthen Norway's fisheries policy for the next century.65 However, in general, that decade did not witness the dynamic progress seen at the end of the 1980s, when Norway was at the forefront of the global sustainable development scene, and thus led the world's top sustainability event, the 1987 UN Brundtland Commission.66 Hence, we can say that during the 1990s the ocean-governance legislative and policy regime of Norway focused mainly on greenhouse gas emission reductions, thus possibly reflecting the global policy trends of that time such as the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the Earth Summit, or Rio Conference) in 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1994, and the Kyoto Conference on Climate Change in 1997.67

In contrast to the 1990s, the 2000s witnessed the strong comeback of the Norwegian government in terms of modelling its ocean governance framework as set forth in UNCLOS Part XII (Protection and Preservation of the Marine Environment). In view of this, in 2001, with the enactment of the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act, Norway aimed to preserve the sensitive flora and fauna of the Svalbard marine environment and cultural heritage.68 In 2002, it followed parliamentary Report no. 12 of Storting, entitled ‘Protecting the Riches of the Sea’, in which Norway sought to set goals for the conservation of the marine environment by balancing competing interests between ocean policy and the commercial pursuits of industries such as fisheries, aquaculture, and oil and gas.69 Reference was also made to the principle of sustainable development, which should govern initiatives and the overall policy agenda about the marine environment. It is assumed that the World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg, 2002, with its pervasive references to sustainable ocean development principles, but also other events such as the North Sea Ministerial Conferences,70 along with Norway's participation in the new EEA-agreement (European Economic Area)71 and European Multiannual Framework programme, contributed significantly to shaping a sustainability-oriented ocean governance mindset.72 Similarly, it is believed that Norway's national strategy for sustainable development, launched in 2003, made another significant contribution by drawing up an ocean policy that conveys the nuances of a sustainable development background.73

However, Norway's greatest ocean governance reform during the 2000s, which also remained within the scope of compliance with UNCLOS Part XII (protection and conservation of the marine environment), was noted in the introduction to the integrated and ecosystem-based management plan approach for addressing increasing levels of marine pollution and climate-change issues.74 It should be noted that despite the aggregate policy and regulatory initiatives on sustainable ocean governance thus far, little guidance has been provided about how to implement them.75 Hence, in 2006 the Norwegian Government introduced the integrated management plan for the Norwegian part of the Barents Sea and the sea areas off the Lofoten Islands (Report No. 8 [2005–2006] to the Storting), which was the first management plan developed for the Norwegian Sea area.76 Thereafter, in 2008, the government took a step further with the launch of the integrated management plan for the marine environment (the Norwegian Sea plan) (Report No. 37 [2008–2009] to the Storting). Such an initiative built on former frameworks such as the 2002 ‘Protecting the Riches of the Sea’, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Government's Environmental Policy, the 2006 Water Management Regulations, and the State of the Environment in Norway (Report No. 26 [2006–2007] to the Storting).77

As result, the government committed to drawing up ecosystem-based management plans for all Norwegian Sea areas by 2015. The intention was to promote the sustainable use of coastal and marine areas through the establishment of an overall operational framework for the fisheries, maritime transport and petroleum industries that would permit ecosystems to be maintained.78 The 2010 Marine Resources Act may be cited as the last major event related to shaping Norway's ocean governance. This was particularly concerned with wild living marine resources (i.e. fish and marine mammals and other marine organisms) and sought to ensure that their harvesting within Norwegian Sea territory and internal waters is carried out in a sustainable manner.79 In addition to the influence of UNCLOS, this major reform of Norwegian ocean legislation in the 2000s is believed to have been attributable to increasing global marine pollution accidents, such as the sinking of the 1999 Erika tanker off Britain in France,80 the significant prospects for oil and gas exploration, and the progress the country has made on hitherto unresolved issues such as the Barents Sea boundary dispute settlement with Russia, thus reaffirming Norway's desire for a more dynamic future Arctic governance policy.81

The reform and updating of Norway's ocean governance system, including individual marine environmental regulations, continued at an intensive pace in the 2010s. Licensing for oil and gas extraction in the North Sea, the Norwegian Sea, and the Barents Sea was thus subject to comprehensive legislation requiring an overall environmental impact assessment prior to commencement of operations (Storting White Paper No. 28).82 Moreover, in 2012, through the White Paper No. 7 (2011–2012) report to Storting termed the ‘High North’, Norway set its foreign ocean policy and priorities for the next 10–15 years. The rapid developments in the High North over the past 20 years and vast employment and economic opportunities in this area guided Norway to this visionary initiative with the purpose of creating a framework to protect the marine environment, climate, and interests of indigenous peoples, and to arrange jurisdiction and management issues in the Arctic sea areas according to the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).83 Thereafter, Norway turned its interest in the oceans to regulating geographical information and mapping and spatial planning systems as part of its ocean-climate-adaptation process. In this respect, recognition of the North Sea and Skagerrak as two of the most intensively used and economically important marine areas of Norway led to the formulation of the integrated ecosystem management plan regulation for these marine areas.84 International efforts such as the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio + 20) in 2012, along with emerging regional establishments such as the EU's Marine Strategy Framework Directive (2008/56/EC) and Norway's participation in the Agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA Agreement) might well be some of the reasons for the shaping of Norway's ocean regime along the later guidelines for sustainable development.85,86

The projected expansion of Norway's ocean governance activities to cover sustainability integration received added impetus in 2015 with the introduction of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. As a result, in 2017 the government launched its ocean strategy ‘New growth, proud history’, demonstrating its commitment and plan for marine environment and resource conservation interrelated with Sustainable Development Goal 14.87 The updated ocean strategy was fully adapted to the challenges posed by the UN 2030 Agenda, thus encompassing the government's determination to promote the sustainable use and conservation of marine ecosystems by further strengthening the Law of the Sea.88 Further funds were released to support research and to raise knowledge and awareness in industries such as marine aquaculture and fisheries, and to model a sustainable national transport plan for the years 2018-2029.89 The shipping industry was again found to be at the forefront of the government's policy in 2019 with the publication of the later action plan for green shipping. Measures for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting technological innovation, elevating the use of biofuel, improving efficiency and enhancing regulatory compliance are some of the instruments that were launched to achieve the shipping industry's green vision.90

However, the multidisciplinary nature of the Sustainable Development Goals and their interconnectivity in relation to achieving successful results overall led Norway to review its ocean strategy in 2019. ‘Blue Opportunities’, the revised strategy, portrayed the issue of ocean sustainability in a more integrative manner and raised the importance of considering the ocean preservation undertaking in connection with the other related SDGs such as SDG7 (renewable energy), SDG8 (job creation), SDG 9 (innovation and infrastructure), SDG 12 (responsible consumption), and SDG 13 (climate action). Again, the catalytic role and sponsorship of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea regarding all of Norway's ocean preservation efforts was reemphasized.91 It is noteworthy, however, that there was a lack of reference to Norway's policies and plans to eradicate whaling. In fact, mink whaling has been practiced for centuries and is said to be part of the Norwegian tradition, in a legal and sustainable way.92 In 2021, a quota of 1,278 mink whales was announced for whaling. This Norwegian practice has been widely criticized by scientists and environmentalists who denounce Norway's whaling policy as being opposed to global sustainable development efforts.93

Table 1 lists the main legislative and policy areas of Norway that have been developed to achieve compliance with UNCLOS Part XII (protection and conservation of the marine environment). Moreover, and as can be seen from the table, such regulatory documents have acted as intermediary elements in terms of further shaping Norway's later ocean governance regime in conformity with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Table 1.

Norway's ocean governance trajectory - from UNCLOS to the SDGs

UNCLOSNorway's regulatory updates further to UNCLOSNorway's ocean regime reforms further to the SDGs
Part XII (Protection and Preservation of the Marine Environment)
  • Report No. 12 (2001–2002) to the Storting, ‘Protecting the Riches of the Sea’.

  • The integrated management plan for the Norwegian part of the Barents Sea and the Sea Areas off the Lofoten Islands (Report No. 8 [2005–2006] to the Storting) and 2020 updates.

  • The 2006 Water Management Regulations and the State of the Environment in Norway (Report No. 26 [2006–2007]).

  • The 2010 Marine Resources Act.

  • The White Paper No. 7 (2011–2012) report to Storting, termed the ‘High North’.

  • Meld. St. 22 (2016–2017) Report to the Storting (white paper). The place of the oceans in Norway's foreign and development policy.

  • The updated 2019 ocean strategy ‘Blue Opportunities’.

  • The Our Ocean conference in 2019, setting new ocean-related commitments

6 Lessons from the Norwegian ocean governance regime

Norway, a traditional ocean region that manages fisheries and marine ecosystems of global significance, has implemented important initiatives to contribute to SDG 14. Always based on the UNCLOS context, and with eyes on the new challenges imposed by the SDGs, the Norwegian government has reformed and updated the country's ocean governance regime so as to help foster a sustainable ocean economy, both nationally and internationally.94 Specifically, through a series of policy and regulatory initiatives (as shown in Table 1) it has managed to achieve satisfactory ecological quality within its coastal waters. The integrated ecosystem management approach to managing its marine areas (the North Sea, Barents Sea, and Norwegian Sea) has proven to be an effective tool for achieving such an ecological balance. Undeniably, the ecosystem-based management approach has attracted global recognition for its completeness and integrated approach to managing marine areas. Such an ecosystem management standard could also serve as an example to other countries in relation to assisting them to deal with their ocean resources and marine ecosystems challenges.95 In addition, programs launched by the Norwegian government to reduce marine litter and microplastics are also proving to be effective, as marine pollution from these sources has been reported to be stable or declining. Furthermore, through the adoption of new technologies and the inclusion of new marine protected areas, Norway has generally succeeded in sustainably exploiting fish stocks. Additionally, at an international level Norway has demonstrated significant leadership in terms of promoting sustainable ocean governance. Through initiatives such as the launch of the 2018 High-Level Panel for Sustainable Ocean Economy, the establishment of the aid fund to combat marine litter, and hosting of the 2019 Ocean Conference, Norway has managed to increase its global impact and contribute to capacity-building programs in the fisheries and ocean-resource management sectors of developing countries.96

However, results obtained from a voluntary national review carried out by Friends of the Earth Norway, WWF Norway, the Norwegian Biodiversity Network (Sabima), and Spire in 2021 indicated that Norway still lags behind with regard to some critical ocean-related issues (Fig. 3).9798

Fig. 3.
Fig. 3.

Norway's performance in relation to SDG 1498

Citation: Hungarian Journal of Legal Studies 2022; 10.1556/2052.2022.00358

Obviously, as can be seen in Fig. 3 (above), there are still some oceanic and maritime challenges that Norway needs to work on more, and which seem to explain the negative trend in Norway's progress related to SDG 14. Biodiversity and ecosystem values have not been integrated into Norway's ocean management plans and development strategies. In addition, there are no plans yet to rehabilitate affected and damaged coastal and marine habitats. The protection of seabirds, along with the elimination of bycatch in fisheries, remains a challenge as Norway has not met its targets. Furthermore, fisheries and aquaculture are industries in which the Norwegian government exercises limited control and which have a significant detrimental effect on the marine environment through the dumping at sea of nutrients and chemical pesticides. Moreover, there are no established no-fishing zones, and this is attributed to the fact that Norway has not yet defined its Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) beyond 12 nautical miles that fall within its exclusive economic zone. In terms of harmful subsidies, the Norwegian government continues to support industries such as the petroleum and forest industry, which may be profitable but seriously damage the environment, and hinder Norway from achieving its SDG 14 and targets.99

7 Conclusion

This paper has reviewed the global ocean governance regime with the purpose of highlighting how UNCLOS environmental protection provisions have been reflected in Norwegian ocean governance structure in the light of the later Sustainable Development Goals. As discussed above, the Law of the Sea Convention defined the framework within which the utilization of ocean, marine, and coastal activities should be undertaken. Importantly, UNCLOS has enabled States to deal with the distortions caused by the thus far fragmented ocean governance regime, allowing them to deal with complex and multilevel issues of a jurisdictional-, resource utilization- and law-enforcement nature. Thereby, the normative layers that have accumulated in the marine environment protection sections of UNCLOS Part IXX formed the basis for the development of national ocean strategies that address current environmental and resource depletion challenges. Thus, although UNCLOS has continued to back ocean governance transitions and national policies, it has been gradually supplemented by the principles of the newer sustainable development concept. Following the 1987 Brundtland Commission, which embedded sustainability into ocean policy and regulatory acts, the 2030 Agenda and incorporated SDGs relate to a recent, ambitious, and painstaking global effort to save the planet. In this light, growing marine environmental concerns, along with the necessity of safeguarding and conserving marine life, have evolved into an area of significant challenge that requires drastic solutions. Specifically, Goal 14 (Life Below Water) aimed to reverse the negative impacts and effects on the aquatic element that threatened to destroy marine ecosystems regionally and globally.

As per the findings, Norway at an early stage established an ocean regime based on UNCLOS guidelines. Accordingly, it has reformed and launched several regulatory and policy documents aimed at protecting its ocean and marine resources. However, and beyond the UNCLOS framework, the latest SDGs have constituted a source of inspiration and motivating factor for Norway's ocean governance regime. As described, the SDGs have broadened Norway's ocean regime spectrum in a way that it has been updated to cover further legally binding agreements and policies in order to further embed a sustainability mindset into the ocean governance system. Therefore, the Norwegian ocean governance system may be an exemplary case of an effective transition from the general guideline framework of UNCLOS towards more specific ocean protection measures. In this respect, recent Sustainable Development Goals have played an important role as they have enriched and renewed Norway's ocean strategy to achieve these new aspirations. A notable example to be imitated by other countries is the integrated and ecosystem-based management approach of the Norwegian government to the Norwegian Sea, Barents Sea, and the North Sea. However, further steps and initiatives are required for Norway to improve its performance in relation to achieving SDG 14 and meeting individual targets. Issues including the phase out of subsidies harmful to the ocean environment, the development of specific plans for the restoration of damaged marine areas, the designation of MPAs outside the 12 nautical mile zone, the redefinition of its stance on the controversial whaling policy, and gaining more systematic control of fishing and aquaculture need be reassessed, and more effective and efficient ocean policies and regulations should be drawn up.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest is reported by the author.

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Hungarian Journal of Legal Studies
Language English
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Founder Magyar Tudományos Akadémia  
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ISSN 2498-5473 (Print)
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