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© OCEANA Juan Cuetos

This piece was first published by Aftenposten.no

For many years Norway has been at the forefront of global environmental protection, in particular against climate change. Norway has been a pioneer in marine conservation in Europe, being the first country to implement protective measures for cold-water corals early in the 2000s. With one of the longest coastlines in the world and a strong ocean heritage, Norway is undisputedly setting the tone of marine conservation. But when it comes to proactive climate-related protection along its coastline, the Norwegian government is escaping its responsibility.

One of the fora where marine conservation work can make significant advances is OSPAR, the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, where 15 countries cooperate to help strengthen the protection of threatened marine life. OSPAR uses a List of Threatened and/or Declining Species and Habitats to prioritise conservation action. The list currently includes 34 threatened species and 14 habitats that require particular conservation measures. However, many are still missing from the List and despite the commitment to update it, no new habitats or species have been added since 2008. In 2015, the International Union for Conservation of Nature found out that almost 80% of European fish species threatened with extinction in the North-Eastern Atlantic were not included on the OSPAR List.

In 2015, the international marine conservation organisation Oceana, submitted a proposal to add kelp forests to the OSPAR List. Kelps form large underwater forests which provide food and shelter for many other species, including fish, invertebrates and mammals. Kelp forests are declining across Europe because they are particularly sensitive to climate change, as well as pollution and fishing pressure. Some kelp forests are already classified as ‘Endangered’ in Norway, and with increasingly warmer oceans, kelp forests could disappear totally from vast areas along the European coastline.

Sadly, Norway is the main opponent to the proposed listing of kelps in OSPAR, which would recognise the declining status of this important coastal ecosystem, and open the door to better protection and collaborative management by OSPAR countries. Oceana is disappointed by this opposition to science-based reasoning. It seems not listing kelps under OSPAR is politically motivated, which is somewhat alarming for an internationally recognised climate champion like Norway.

Oceana therefore expects Norway to take the same responsibility at home as it preaches abroad, and calls on Mr Vidar Helgesen, Norwegian Minister of Climate and Environment, to support the inclusion of kelp forests on the OSPAR List at the next OSPAR meeting in Berlin, 6-10 March.

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