While Norway has something of a reputation internationally as being “progressive” and “green,” the country’s well fed economy and society is largely the result of a highly productive fossil fuel extraction industry.
In other words, the relatively aggressive electric vehicle incentives on offer there are possible mostly because of the wealth provided by the country’s oil industry. The country’s extensive hydroelectric capacity helps as well … as does the lack of a local auto industry with lobbyists to appease.
While the low population figures for the country and the easy access to cheap oceanic shipping don’t allow for the country to be a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, the reality remains that its state-owned oil and gas industries are a major indirect contributor.
To put that another way, while Norway doesn’t emit anything close to the greenhouse gases much larger countries — such as the USA, Germany, China, Russia, etc. — do, it is one of the largest fossil fuel exporters in the world.
This is a reality that its government seems intent on maintaining, going by its oil and gas exploration plans for the Arctic. This seeming disparity between a stated intent to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Change Agreement and actual actions and plans is the subject of a new report from Oil Change International.
The report argues that the vast quantity of greenhouse gas emissions that would inevitably accompany continued Arctic oil and gas exploration would undermine plans to limit anthropogenic climate warming to under 2° Celsius.
The Guardian provides more: “The research says 12 gigatonnes of carbon could be added by exploration sites in the Barents Sea and elsewhere over the next 50 years, which is 1.5 times more than the Norwegian fields currently being tapped or under construction.
“The report highlights the ‘cognitive dissonance’ between Norway’s progressive domestic measures to comply with the Paris agreement on emissions cuts and its role as Europe’s biggest exporter of fossil fuels. Climate campaigners say this is like trying to put the brakes on climate change at home while stomping your foot on the global gas pedal.
“Norway has proposed a record number of 93 blocks for oil and gas exploration in the Barents Sea this year, according to the report. Instead of adding new fossil fuel fields, it says Norway should reassert its environmental credentials by relying on existing production.”
The report argues that if a country as wealthy as Norway refuses to leave carbon in the ground, then why would poorer nations (which stand to benefit from it even more)? Which is a good question: If even rich countries aren’t willing to back away from the prospect of “easy” money, then why would anyone else?
The Guardian continues: “The government says such accusations are unfair because they run against the convention at international climate talks for the responsibility for emissions to lie with consumers rather than producers. In this regard — of purely domestic carbon use — it is doing better than most nations because it gets 97% of its electricity from renewable sources, has a high carbon tax, is a leader in promotion of electric vehicles, and is pioneering carbon capture and storage at waste plants and cement factories.” That’s a very misleading statement in my opinion. The renewables in question are hydroelectric and have been in use since well before greenhouse gas emissions were even a topic of discussion. In other words, nothing needed to be done to “achieve” that.
“It also notes that oil and gas output is flat, it is unrealistic to assume that all exploration will be successful and the trend for overall production is away from carbon-heavy oil and towards cleaner gas, which is important as a ‘transition fuel’ for countries that are trying to move away from coal. Officials point out that without Norway’s gas the UK would be far further behind in meeting its climate goals.”
As argued by Norway’s deputy minister for petroleum and energy Ingvil Smines Tybring-Gjedde: “We are part of the solution, not the problem. This government is investing more in renewables and energy efficiency than any other. But renewables are not yet at a level where we can switch off oil and gas. We need a bridge.”
The issue with that statement, of course, is that whether we “need a bridge” or not doesn’t matter. If catastrophic climate warming is to be avoided, then much of the world’s remaining fossil fuel reserves will need to stay in the ground. That’s what matters.
Interestingly, a recent survey in Norway found that around 44% of respondents would support a managed decline of oil and gas production. Not a majority of the population, in other words, which isn’t surprising since around 40% of Norway’s export earnings come from its fossil fuel industry.