Preparedness requires constant practice, like this exercise conducted in Svalbard in 2016. Photo: Norwegian Coastal Authority.

To the future and back: Future governance of environmental risk

How can we manage environmental risk across 1 979 179 km² of the ocean and 100 915 km of coastline? How can we make a contingency plan to protect this vast area? And how can we make a new plan every fourth year with comparable results? That’s what the Norwegian Coastal Administration had to figure out.

Imagine that sometime in the future you want to know about environmental risks in the coastal area where you live. Your internet search shows you a map with little squares in different colours. Intuitively you know that the most intense colours signal the highest risks. You can zoom from a broad overview to details of the coastline. Click on a square and you get more information about the risk: ship traffic density, types of cargo, environmental vulnerability, what species are in the area in different seasons, how vulnerable they are, and so on. A system that can do all this is what the Norwegian Coastal Administration (NCA) is building right now.

The NCA is an agency of the Norwegian Ministry of Transport and Communications. It is responsible for services related to maritime safety and infrastructure, transport planning and efficiency, and emergency response to acute pollution. The Norwegian Parliament expects the NCA to maintain preparedness against acute pollution, and the response must be tuned to the environmental risk at all times. With vast areas of ocean, this is a substantial challenge.

To calculate the risk of an acute spill from an accident at sea one needs information about the ship (its type, size, type and amount of cargo and bunker oil, speed, distance from land and other ships), about conditions (weather, visibility, time of day/year), about risks (probabilities of collision, grounding, fire, foundering, different types and sizes of spills), and much more.

The environmental risk related to shipping accidents is the risk of an oil spill multiplied by the consequences for the environment. These are determined by factors like spill size, oil type, species and ecosystem vulnerability, weather, time of year, recovery time and many more.

Given the huge scope of the task and the data analysis it involves, the NCA must renew its approach to environmental risk assessment. We are now replacing a scenario-based approach with a dynamic and holistic system, based on more detailed knowledge of the risk for shipping accidents and environmental vulnerability. Today’s better access to digital data and computing power allows us to go digital on most of the risk assessment process.

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