Norwegian panel calls for sustainability audits

Advisors urge cross-sectoral cooperation, new sustainability focus, in government, research

A Norwegian working group set up last year to look at how to implement sustainable development policies in Norway has called for a environmental audits through which public officials can be held to account for the environmental consequences of their actions.

In a report issued today by the Norwegian Research Council, the seven-member panel of politicians, government experts and academics also stresses the need for a more scientific and integrated political approach to sustainability issues. It suggests creating a new public body to coordinate environmental policy among government ministries and departments, as well as one to coordinate interdisciplinary research projects. Scientific research should be focused towards questions of sustainable development and environmental risk, it recommends.

Professor Ulf Lie, a marine biologist and leader of the working group, said that he and his colleagues were most concerned at the absence of any sense of urgency in environmental management issues. Arguments against precautionary policies, for example, often cited "scientific uncertainty" as an excuse for inaction.

"We must attack this [type of argument] through broad, cross-sectoral cooperation, first scientifically and then, when decisions are to be taken, at the ministerial level," he said. Noting that the various government departments tended to act without consulting each other, he added: "What we should have had in place is an inter-departmental collaborative body which could work out an integrated policy on environmental issues."

"Today, for example, we have a series of ministries responsible for various aspects of policy concerning the sea -- while at the same time we have no 'marine policy' as such. Is it the fisheries ministry that is the supreme authority in such matters, or the ministry of environment, or perhaps oil and energy? What should have happened is that they should have worked together to create a policy for Norway, through an inter-departmental body."

Follow Up:
Norwegian Research Council, tel: +47 55 36 06 65.

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