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Government must provide Norway’s local authorities with clear climate policy

Municipalities in Norway find it difficult to integrate national climate research into their local decision-making, according to a project funded by the Forskningsrådet, Norway’s research council.

Researchers interviewed 152 people, employed in the areas of insurance, architecture, utilities and maintenance, to find out how they incorporate climate policy into their work. Municipalities stood out as the area in which employees struggle most to adapt national climate policy to local planning.

Knut Sørensen, a researcher at NTNU, Norway’s science and technology university in Trondheim, led the project. He says the problem for local authorities is that, although central government is seen as making strict demands on local decision-making, it does not provide a “well-developed policy with regards to climate adaptation”.

For example: a coastal municipality planning to improve its shoreline fortifications would not be clear on whether the work is routine maintenance or is a climate-adaptation project that needs to take research into account.

Part of the problem could lie with the freedom enjoyed by Norway’s local authorities. Central government in Norway has some rights to restrain local decision-making, but is not legally allowed to manage local planning and activities. This autonomy means that municipalities, often with little expertise in the subject, have to find locally tailored solutions to the complex and ill-defined problem of climate-change adaptation.

The report states that the responsibility for helping municipalities navigate scientific climate evidence lies with central government, rather than with climate scientists or the research council. “But the government is not doing much to make knowledge about adaptation available,” says Sørensen.

The report concludes that local authorities want clearer guidance from central government on how to include climate science in their policy-making. Although he says that the initiative should come from the government, Sørensen does see a role for researchers in developing better communication on the subject. “It is up to the relevant ministries and directorates to liaise with research institutes to develop such guidelines,” he says.