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After remaining neutral in World War I, Norway underwent a five-year German occupation during World War II and joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), subsequently developing close political and economic ties with other Western nations. Norway has refused to join the European Union (EU) but voluntarily contributes large sums to the EU budget.
Oil and gas were discovered in Norway in the late 1960s and Norway is now the third-highest oil producer in the world; oil and gas comprise one-third of all Norwegian exports. Other natural resources include iron ore, copper, lead, zinc, titanium, pyrites, nickel, fish, timber, and hydropower. With a per capita income of $42,400, Norway is the third richest nation in the world. Planning for a time when oil and gas reserves run out, the government has placed over $150 billion in the Government Petroleum Fund.
The United Nations Development Programme Human Development Reports rank Norway first in the world on quality-of-life issues, in part because of extensive social welfare programs.
Bordering on the North Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, Norway has 15,592 miles (25,148 kilometers) of coastline, including those along fjords (steep-sided inlets), minor indentations, and more than 50,000 islands. This coastline is one of longest and most rugged in the world. Along the coast, Norway’s climate is temperate, with rain occurring all year on the western coast. The rest of the country is colder, even in summer; the north is arctic tundra. Because the land was formed from glaciers, around two-thirds of Norway is made up of mountains interspersed with high small valleys and scattered plains. Rockslides and avalanches are common. Around 97 percent of the land is nonarable.
As a heavily industrialized nation, Norway suffers from extensive water pollution that threatens marine life. Oil discharges from petroleum production have risen recently, particularly in 2003 when discharges from the Draugen field increased substantially. Because of intense urbanization (78.6 percent) and vehicle emissions, air pollution is also a chronic problem. With 417 cars per 1,000 people, Norway produces 0.2 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Acid rain has damaged forests and upset the ecosystems of lakes. In 2006, a study by Yale University ranked Norway 18th among 132 nations in environmental performance, slightly below income and geographic group averages.
The Minister of Environment works with a number of departments and agencies to promote environmental responsibility in Norway. As a result, discharges of plant nutrients in the North Sea have decreased, along with acidifying substances. Improved methods of dealing with large amounts of domestic and industrial waste have also been instituted. Air quality has improved in Norway due to technological improvements, stricter emission standards, and the closure of some chemical and metallurgical plants.
Despite the use of more environmentally friendly vehicles and fuels, emissions of greenhouse gasses have increased because the number of vehicles on Norway’s roads has multiplied and drivers are traveling greater distances. Norway continues to explore the use of alternate sources of energy such as hydropower and wind production. While production of hydropower has declined, two new wind farms were opened in Mere og Romsdal and Finnmark in 2003.
The Norwegian government has protected 6.8 percent of the land. Of 54 mammal species endemic to Norway, 10 are threatened with extinction, and two of the 241 endemic bird species are in a similar situation. In the North Sea, the stock of cod is rapidly depleting, and the capelin stock in the Barents Sea has collapsed. On the other hand, the stock of spring-spawning herring is considered biologically safe, and the spawning stock of the Northeast Arctic Sea is increasing.
Norway promotes the health of the global environment through participation in the following international agreements: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Air Pollution-Sulfur 85, Air Pollution-Sulfur 94, Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds, Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Kyoto Protocol, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, and Whaling.
- Central Intelligence Agency, “Norway,” The World Factbook, www.cia.gov;
- Toyin Falola and Ann Genova, The Politics of the Oil Industry (Praeger, 2003);
- Kevin Hillstrom and Laurie Collier Hillstrom, Europe: A Continental Overview of Environmental Issues (ABC-CLIO, 2003);
- Arne Selbyg, Norway Today: An Introduction to Modern Norwegian Society (Norwegian University Press, 1986);
- United Nations Development Programme, “Human Development Reports: Norway,” hdr.undp.org (cited March 2006);
- United Nations Environment Programme, Europe Regional Report: Chemicals (Global Environment Facility, 2002);
- David Wallace, Environmental Policy and Industrial Innovation: Strategies in Europe, the United States, and Japan (Earthscan, 1995);
- World Bank, “Norway,” Little Green Data Book, lnworldbank.org (cited March 2006).