Notes from Norway

Notes from Norway

I have just returned from my first visit to Norway – and I am utterly enchanted with the country. While it certainly is facing environmental challenges, this truly remarkable country is doing so much to “green” the planet …

I was extremely fortunate to be invited to Norway as a guest of Bentley Motors. The purpose of the trip was to drive the new Continental GT, which just happens to be the fastest Bentley ever built (and arguably the most beautiful too).

The country was chosen for the global launch because of its mind-blowing roads; Bentley won’t sell many of these sensational new cars in Norway. That’s not because there’s anything wrong with the Continental GT. Au contraire, it’s one of the most perfect cars I have ever driven, but the Norwegians are intent on saving the planet – so they tend to drive “green” cars.

In fact, they are so passionate about environmental issues that Norway leads the global electric/plug-in hybrid vehicle market. Plug-in electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles represent a whopping one third of new vehicles registered in Norway during the first quarter of this year!

This trend is bolstered by government incentives – such as no import taxes on these vehicles (and taxes are crippling in Norway). As a result, Teslas are as common in Oslo as salmon. (Almost.)

The popularity of electric cars has not been without its challenges. My driver in Oslo explained to me that initially they were allowed to use the bus lanes. “These cars became so popular that they were causing congestion in the bus lanes, so that is no longer allowed,” he added.

That is one of many environmental challenges that the country is facing. Another is the fact that one third of its 200 wild bee species are considered endangered. This is a significant problem, because bees are essential to food production.

The Norwegians are dealing with this by creating the world’s first bee highway (I kid you not). This is not a typical road, but rather a series of safe spots on rooftops that allow bees to move through the city. Each “rest stop” features plenty of flowers and shelter, allowing bees to move along the path and have access to food. The initiative has been the result of a joint effort between state bodies, companies and even private homeowners, who are all offering up space on their rooftops.

Another area where the Norwegians have been busy bees (sorry, could not resist that) is within the field of power generation. Most electricity in Norway is generated from hydropower and the country is doing such a good job in this regard that it will soon be sending its green energy across to the United Kingdom, where it will be used to power 750 000 homes.

The energy will travel under the North Sea, via the world’s longest sub-sea electricity interconnector. The North Sea Network interconnector is due to be completed in 2021 and will have a capacity of 1,4 gigawatts.

It’s certainly not a case of plain sailing, however, when it comes to Norway and the environment. According to the State of the Environment Norway (http://environment.no/), the impacts of climate change are becoming more and more noticeable.

Many changes have already been observed in Norway as temperatures rise on land, in fresh water and in the sea. Animals are reaching sexual maturity more quickly, production and reproduction rates are higher, trees are coming into leaf earlier, salmon leaving rivers for the sea are younger and the spawning areas used by fish in the sea are changing.

A milder climate will also make conditions more suitable for a number of alien species, making it easier for them to survive, spread and become established in Norway. Worldwide, invasive alien species are considered to be the second most important threat to biodiversity, behind land-use change. Steps to prevent the spread of invasive alien species will, therefore, be vital as the Norwegian climate changes.

A warmer climate is also likely to have a major impact on Norway’s seas. Researchers are already seeing signs of change in plankton distribution. This will have repercussions for many other species as their food supplies are affected. For example, the survival rates of fish larvae may be altered, which could have serious impacts on many fish species, and indirectly on fish-eating seabirds.

Norway is not taking this situation lying down. In fact, its government has proposed a reduction of Norwegian greenhouse gas emissions of at least 40 percent by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.

The sceptics say that this will never be achieved; they maintain that this goal is far too optimistic, but the Norwegians are a determined nation. If anyone can do it, they can.

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