By: Hilde Nagell, Advisor in the think tank Agenda

In the novel The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, the King decides to build a cathedral in Kingsbridge, a rather isolated location. The King envisions a vast, magnificent building stretching to the sky. This compels the engineers and stonemasons to build in new ways, and they construct arches and windows never seen before.

Innovation, jobs and new businesses were created because the King had assigned to them a social mission, without prescribing a detailed recipe. It is a way of thinking that also suits today’s society. According to the well-known British-Italian economist Mariana Mazzucato, business policy today should define just such ‘missions’, or social missions. Social missions create new demand and coordinate the efforts of various actors, while at the same time providing the business community with predictability and stable framework conditions, and contributing to alleviating risk. One obvious area for such assignments in Norway is the sea.

A vision for new ocean investment

Norwegian companies are highly progressive. They do not need to be controlled in detail, but more and more are calling for political leadership, clear expectations and greater predictability.

One social mission should be sustainable management throughout Norway’s maritime economic zone. Together with 13 other countries, Norway has committed itself to managing its ocean space 100 percent sustainably by 2025, and in April 2021, a report was submitted to Parliament on comprehensive conservation of maritime resources. This work must now be followed up. Regulation and more sustainable use in themselves create new jobs, and can be an important export item for Norway. New technology such as drones and sensors in combination with machine learning and artificial intelligence can help monitor and control marine conditions.

Another social mission can be the production of sustainable fish feed based on Norwegian resources, something the government has already promised in the Hurdal platform. Thinking based on a social mission means seeing entire value chains in context: If we are to have a sustainable aquaculture industry, we must ensure sustainable feed. When the state stimulates increased production of Norwegian-produced sustainable feed, it can create new jobs.

A third social mission could be the fight against marine plastics. Plastic pollution poses a significant threat to people and the environment. In February, the UN Environment Programme adopted a new agreement to stop plastic pollution in the world. Governments, the private sector and civil society must work together on this. Here, Norway already has significant technology and expertise that can give the impetus to innovation and create new jobs.

A fourth social mission is green shipping. The government stated in the Hurdal platform that they will present a green restructuring package for climate-friendly solutions for ships. When diverse tools are used in concert to achieve a common goal, incredible things can happen. Purchases in the ferry segment combined with decisions on zero emissions in the World Heritage fjords have, for example, contributed to the rapid development of battery and hydrogen technology in short sea shipping. Longer sea voyages are slightly more demanding, and more tools are needed here. Norwegian ships are well positioned to be able to deliver on this.

Steering clear of the reefs

The ocean is literally full of opportunity. But there are also reefs to be avoided.

The biggest challenge is probably coordination. The think tank Agenda has previously proposed that an ocean ministry be established. That was not to be. But we did get a Minister of Ocean Policy. Admittedly with a hyphen. Bjørnar Skjæran is Minister of Fisheries and Ocean Policy. He has been given responsibility for coastal management, maritime policy, green shipping and coordination of national maritime initiatives. In sum, his ministry has been given significant new tasks. How can we ensure that individual sectors and industries do not enter into dialogue and set targets for emissions, but that they work together on stated common goals? The OECD points out that Norway needs an agenda-setting mechanism that makes it possible to set common goals and move in the same direction.

Another challenge is what is often called “rent seeking”, or “tilkarring” in Norwegian. How to prevent strong players from setting the agenda and defining terms and conditions? Shell, Aker and Equinor have plenty of money for the green shift. The industry giants have shown a willingness to take the lead. Going forward, it is important to ensure a level playing field, extensive openness and broad dialogue about social tasks.

A third challenge is financing. Climate partnerships and support for the green shift will incur considerable costs. Many are discussing a CO2 fund where climate taxes go to finance the green shift. We also need to talk more about how we manage the community’s resources. The ocean resources belong to us all. It is therefore both fair and sensible to introduce a ground rent tax on this natural resource, as we have done with oil and hydropower.

In Europe, the idea of social mission is now being implemented in practice. Such assignments are broader than a single instrument, but more specific than overall emission targets. Norway supports EU’s programs with substantial funding. It is important that we in turn receive support for good Norwegian projects.
To achieve the Paris goals, we must readjust, and the task is formidable. Social missions must be designed as binding goals and cooperation between the authorities and the business community, and involve the business partners in the follow-up of progress. A major investment in sustainable seas and coastlines will counteract climate change and stop the loss of species diversity, while creating new and green jobs. Expectations that the government will follow up are now high.