Since the Conference of the Parties in 2015, Norway appears to be one of the most loyal countries of the Paris agreement. Oslo has one of the most ambitious plans regarding cutting carbon emissions and addressing climate change, but it is also one of the biggest oil extractors and exporters. This is what specialists call the « Norway’s “paradox”: Norway wants to be at the forefront of international efforts to address climate change, yet it continues to rely on heavily polluting fossil fuel extraction for continued economic prosperity ». But how did they get there?
A bit of History…
The same year where the majority of mankind had their eyes turned towards the sky contemplating the first steps that a Human being has ever taken on the Moon, the eyes of the Norwegians were turned towards a completely different direction, 70 meters below the ground. It was thus in 1969 that Ekofisk was discovered: a field in the southern part of the Norwegian area in the North Sea where the first drops of oil started being extracted in 1972.
Thanks to a strategic proaction plan Norway managed to rely on international enterprises to make their extraction flourish until they did not need foreign companies anymore, and instaurated their own home-companies. This enabled Norway to become one of the biggest oil exporters and one the richest countries in the world.
However, having access to resources does not necessarily make a country wealthy. Mismanagement such as corruption or external factors such as colonialism often lead to an increasing of inequalities.
Norway has a strong democratic tradition and the integrity of its politicians enabled the country to economically thrive. The common good was always put ahead personal interests as evidenced with taxes on the oil extraction going up to 51%. The government made a clear long-term plan so future generations could benefit from this wealth and invested the remaining money.
Yet, the Norwegian economy economy was built and relies today mostly upon fossil fuels, they aim to ban them by the end of the decade. Norway’s target is to be carbon-neutral around 2035, if there is a favourable international cooperation, and by 2050 regardless of other countries’ emission cuts.
Despite, if they are one of the biggest oil exporters, Norwegians are their own worst clients. The country generates almost 98% of its electricity from hydropower, so most of the oil and gas is exported overseas. This remains insufficient for some part of the population which is demanding the Norwegian government completely divest from fossil fuels.
What is the government plan?
The Green Party of Norway had the clearest and most ambitious platform on the « after-oil » economic plan of Norway, but only won three seats of the 169-seat Stortinget assembly.
It is very unlikely that the Greens’ voice will be heard, At last, small parliamentary size excludes them from any coalition.
The Leader of the new coalition, Jonas Gahr Støre, has been elusive on what his government’s ultimate position on Norway’s oil industry will be. As, Teodor Sveen-Nilsen, an energy analyst at Sparebank 1 Markets said “Labour will not make any dramatic changes to the oil industry,” said Teodor Sveen-Nilsen, an energy analyst at Sparebank 1 Markets.
For now, there are still reserves of oil in the Barents Sea. Being located in the Arctic Circle, its access requires more refined techniques, and hence more funding money, which would make oil less profitable. This however could be seen as an incentive for oil extractors to get into a vicious circle: the arctic melting can even be perceived as an advantage as it implies the access to these new oil resources will be easier. Furthermore, it also means that new commercial lanes will be available to reach Asia, something that Russia has well in mind.
Thus, petroleum extraction is likely to stay for a few years in Norway. Norwegian companiess are however claiming to be developing a green oil field which could be a much less polluant way to extract oil. This sounds contradictory in the eyes of Loukina Tille, a youth climate activist from Switzerland said:
“Norway is playing with the future of upcoming generations by proposing false solutions, especially since they are one of the countries best suited to implement a just transition to a renewable economy “.
Furthermore, this seems to leave the main problem unattended, which is that if Norway selling its oil production implies that somebody on the other side of the globe is willing to buy it, which is where the problem lies.
“Divestment from fossil fuel companies is one of the best climate policy instruments we can actively use to combat climate change” Rasmus Hansson, spokesperson of the Norwagian Greens (MDG).
In fact, this contradictory situation opens the door for a broader question: efficiency regarding solving the climate crisis is measured in terms of gas emissions within a country’s border, rather than the actual impact than a state has on a global scale. A more precise and narrow definition of what is considered as success in climate cooperation should perhaps be addressed in further negociations, such as the upcoming Conference of The Parties in Glasgow.
On the whole, Norway reaching their carbon-neutrality targets is not really the issue, as they most certainly will. The major challenge ahead for the Norwegian government remains how to transfer to life after oil and gas, and how to reshape the economy so Norway becomes an actual non-pollutant country.