Consumption patterns affecting environmental conditions in Norway are probably much the same as in other European countries. However, the levels of consumption are likely to be higher due to high household income levels. Over all, consumption is dominated by imports, making Norway highly reliant on international measures when it comes to the environmental standard of products.

North Sea oil rig. Photo: iStockphoto
North Sea oil rig. Photo: iStockphoto

What are the main drivers?

Household consumption in Norway has almost tripled since 1958 measured in total consumption expenditure. Households spend increasingly less of their budget on food. Today, a modest 11 per cent is spent on food; compared to 40 per cent in 1958. Housing and transport accounted for 14 and 7 per cent of Norwegians’ budget respectively in 1958, compared to 31 and 17 per cent today.

Consumption in Norwegian households

Not only does food absorb a smaller share of the budget – Norwegians also buy other types of food. The consumption of fish and potatoes has fallen considerably since 1958, while the amount of meat consumed increased rapidly from the fifties till the seventies when the trend levelled off to be quite stable.

Consumption of selected food and beverages


Because Norway is a long and narrow country, it has extensive transport needs. The use of private cars has increased fivefold over the past 40 years. Journeys by public transport only accounted for 8 per cent of the population’s travels in 2005. Norwegians also fly more frequently and further, especially abroad. Emissions from journeys abroad are not included in the Norwegian emission inventory. The total goods volume has more than doubled since 1965, while the transport performance measured in goods kilometres has increased fivefold. Because of global warming, which results in more fairways, there is an increased risk of oil spills along the Norwegian coast.

Energy consumption for passenger transport 


Tourism in Norway is mainly nature-based and an important contributor to the country’s economy. Tourism is also an important tool to counter centralisation, through the creation of livelihoods in the districts. Tourism accounts for approximately 4 per cent of Norway’s GDP and employs 7 per cent of the work force. Much of the tourism is nature-based, and there are some environmental concerns related to the consequences of tourism for wilderness areas.  


On the production side, Norway’s economy is to a relatively large extent based on exploitations of natural resources and to a considerable extent export oriented. Examples of this, relating to the terrestrial and freshwater environment, are hydro-electric power generation and forestry, whereas fishery, aquaculture and off-shore oil and gas extraction are examples in the marine environment. Furthermore, our abundant energy resources is fuelling processing industries in the mineral and chemical sector that are still of some environmental concern.

Developmental pressures

Norway has relatively large areas of undisturbed countryside, which are an important part of the Norwegian identity and natural heritage. However, more and more of this heritage have been lost through piecemeal development, particularly in the last 40 to 50 years. Approximately 144 400 square kilometres or 45 per cent of Norway’s area (excluding Svalbard and Jan Mayen) was per January 2008 defined as areas without major infrastructure development.

The shore zone in Norway is also under pressure from development. Despite a  reduction in construction activities, the accessible areas within the coastal zone are still shrinking. During the last 10 years, the accessible areas for outdoor recreation in the coastal zone have gone down by 2.1 per cent on a national scale. In the south of Norway this figure is 3.7 per cent in the same period. However, during the last two years the yearly decrease of accessible areas has declined.

Inaccesible coastal areas due to influence from construction 

Population pressures

Even though Norway is a relatively sparsely populated country when judged in terms of average population density, the population is very unevenly distributed. This can be explained by distinct climatic and geographic features which, as previously mentioned, distinguish Norway from many other countries. Therefore the pressures of population and economic activity are concentrated in certain regions and landscape types of limited space, whereas large areas are much less affected.


One finds prime examples of such concentrations in many fjords and valleys in the southern half of the country. Where population pressures are an issue, prime land such as agricultural and recreational areas are threatened. Fjords are often subjected to pollution loads that are incompatible with their slow rate of water exchange with the adjacent open sea waters while valleys in many cases are heavily affected by intensive agriculture and transport.

Urban noise and air pollution

Norwegian cities are relatively small compared to many other European countries. Only four cities have a population of more than 100.000 inhabitants. A large part of the Norwegians affected by local air pollution and noise live here. The capital Oslo, with suburbs and satellite towns, is the dominating urban area with a population near one million people.


Long-range pollution

The large areas less affected by nationally generated pollution, suffer relatively more from long range transboundary  air pollution. The situation is aggravated because these regions and landscape types host ecosystems that are particularly vulnerable, like the Arctic region in the northern part of the country and mountainous landscapes in the middle and southern parts. Extensive areas of southern Norway are still recovering from acidification as a result of atmospheric transport of air pollutants from the European continent in past decades. The deposition of hazardous substances being transported from as far as the Asian continent is of considerable concern.

What are the foreseen developments?

Major environmental pressures in Norway are likely to include, at least in the short term, a continued trend towards urbanisation and increased energy demand, as well as an increase in the rate of climate change. Also, a transition from a resource based to knowledge based economy and increased development together with more prevalent use of cleaner technologies is expected. Greater reliance on imports of consumer goods from the Third World countries is also likely and handling transport demand, particularly personal transport, in an environmentally friendly way will likely continue to be a challenge. The country’s population is expected to grow only slowly based mostly on immigration.

The total sum of these developments nationally is difficult to estimate; some trends will serve to alleviate environmental pressures and others may serve to worsen these pressures, at least in parts of the country. As a down-stream country, the Norwegian situation will be dependent of developments abroad.  

Of outmost concern to Norway in the years to come are two inter-related trends, namely the ones arising from developmental pressures building in the Arctic region and the increased demand for marine resources in the North-East Atlantic and the Barents Sea. The extensive ecosystems that exist here require careful management. Despite the fact that, in some respects, these ecosystems are very productive, they are very vulnerable in other ways. More than anywhere else, this is true for the Arctic region where climatic conditions are extraordinary harsh requiring species, such as the polar bear, to exploit vast areas in their fight for survival.

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