This is what a forest with rare species would look like if sacrificed. A forest marked as “very important” by Norway's Environment Agency.
Some trees that are hundreds of years old are cut down. This forest of Dreisfjorden in Akter had to give way to the motorway.
There are construction projects in areas that many parties now want to ban.
– NRK's document hit me like a fist in the stomach. Now it must be banned for destroying valuable and vulnerable nature, says Arild Hermstad of the Green Party (MDG).
Thousands of interventions
On Saturday, NRK published a unique survey of nature destruction in Norway. With the help of artificial intelligence and satellite imagery, we detected 44,000 interventions in nature over five years.
But construction doesn't just take place in “normal” nature. The survey also shows thousands of interventions of a variety of particularly important natures.
NRK documented millions of square meters of lost nature in each of these natural categories:
- Reindeer areas
- Non-interference nature
- Coastal zone
- Areas around rivers and streams
- Selected and red-listed natural types such as old-growth forest
These are all areas where three successive governments have decided that municipalities should be particularly careful. Yet Norway sacrifices two such football fields per day, the mapping shows.
– Put my foot down
Many politicians say after reading NRK's case that this cannot continue.
– Now the state has to go to the municipalities and tell them that they are not allowed to build in certain places, says Lars Haltbrekken, who is on the energy and environment committee of the Socialist Left Party (SV).
He notes that, among other things, swamps and old-growth forests will prohibit all new cabin fields.
According to NRK's case, the MDG will prohibit construction in various valuable areas. They list coastal zones, wild reindeer areas, protected areas, valuable forests and wetlands.
– The municipality should retain its local self-government, but precisely the possibility should be restricted in particularly valuable areas. Arild Hermstad at MDG says we have to set foot there, we won't build anyway.
Such a ban is not uncommon. Many valuable natural types, for example wetlands and the zone around streams and rivers, cover a large part of Norway. In some places it may be a question of significant shares of an entire municipal area.
Nikolai Vinge, an expert in environmental law and general manager of Holt & Vinge, questions whether a ban is the way to go.
The expert points out that there has been a national ban on building in the coastal zone since 1954, and yet large areas of the coastal zone are built up because municipalities continue to provide supplies.
– If you want an effective building ban on value, he says, there has to be a fight over how the exemption provision should be designed and who should grant the exemptions.
Wing points out that officers should instead be given clear requirements to use the tools they already have.
– In addition, regulation should be tightened so that the state will step down if some municipalities are unable or unwilling to take care of our most important natural areas.
The government should provide a plan
The expert believes that such a ban has a long way to go before it is accepted. At the same time, SV has already got through budget negotiations that construction on wetlands will be banned.
Now the Conservative Party is also opening stricter guidelines for municipalities. They insist that municipalities should retain the land policy, but make demands to preserve farmland, build more densely, and use gray areas before sacrificing new ones.
The party is also in favor of investigating the ban on construction of wetlands.
– The NRK case paints a bleak picture. Mathilde Tybring-Gjedde, the Conservative Party's environment policy spokeswoman, says we now expect the government to return to parliament soon with a plan to follow the international nature treaty.
A call about local democracy
As Minister for Municipalities and Districts, Erling Sande of the Center Party is responsible for planning and construction matters in the government. Sande did not agree that municipalities should be stripped of responsibility for spatial policy.
– We have a lot of vulnerable land that we need to pay more attention to. Then it is our local self-government that takes these decisions.
– After seeing the NRK case, do you think it is going in the right direction for nature?
– Anyway, I feel that the municipalities are very aware of this, says the minister, and lists several important development activities that the municipalities are undertaking, such as hospitals and kindergartens.
Instead of stripping municipalities of their power, Sande wants to create better systems to advise and inform municipalities before such decisions are made. He points out that not all brains are in state in Oslo.
More on nature loss:
Updated 09.11 12 January 2024: NRK has clarified that the Conservative Party still wants to allow municipalities to manage land policy.
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