Emissions rising: Oil still to blame

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Norway is a major player in international efforts to cut the global carbon emissions blamed for climate change, but now ranks among the worst in Europe regarding its own emissions. They’ve actually risen compared to their level in 1990, because of Norway’s oil and gas production.

Statoil's Mongstad plant has been at the center of climate debate, over its emissions and delayed plans for a carbon capture facility. Government officials insist progress is being made. PHOTO: Statoil / Øyvind Hagen

Norway’s oil industry, and politicians’ refusal to rein it in, is the main reason why Norway’s own carbon emission continue to rise at a time when calls are louder than ever for emissions cuts. Statoil’s Mongstad plant, pictured here, is among the main culprits because of its emissions and unsuccessful realization of plans for a carbon capture facility. PHOTO: Statoil / Øyvind Hagen

As global leaders gathered in Paris this week for the UN climate summit, with a goal of cutting emissions, Norway couldn’t set a very good example on its own home turf. Norway has been clever at financing emissions cuts elsewhere, but newspaper Dagsavisen reported how Norway’s own emissions have risen. The rise in Norway compares to emission cuts of more than 20 percent in the neighbouring countries of Sweden and Denmark since 1990.

The newspaper cited figures from Norway’s own finance ministry with comparable statistics for emissions cuts by EU countries between 1990 and 2012. Only Slovenia, Cyprus, Spain, Greece, Austria and Malta had higher emissions, while all other EU members have cut their emissions, by double-digits in many cases. Great Britain and Germany, for example, have cut their emissions by around 25 percent.

Norway hasn’t practiced what it preaches
Norway, meanwhile, recorded 52 million tons of carbon emissions in 1990 and 53.8 million tons last year. That’s an increase of 3.46 percent, at a time when other nations could record substantial declines. Environmentalists have complained for years that Norwegian officials thus do not practice at home what they preach abroad, and the government minister in charge of climate and environmental issues conceded it’s because of Norway’s oil industry.

“A clear difference between Norway and the other countries is that we have major oil and gas operations,” Minister Tine Sundtoft of the Conservative Party told Dagsavisen. There’s little if any political willingness to curtail them.

State statistics bureau SSB (Statistics Norway) has stated that Norway’s oil industry accounted for 27 percent of all carbon emissions in Norway last year. Annual emissions from oil and gas production alone have increased by fully 91 percent since 1990, in line with huge production increases. That has slowed the past year, because of the dive in oil prices, but as Sundtoft said: “We supply the world with oil and gas, and then we get higher emissions.”

She hastened to add, though, that the petroleum industry pays high carbon taxes and is working to curb its own emissions. “The government urges the oil companies to choose energy-efficient solutions,” Sundtoft said. “We will continue to offer strong incentives for lower emissions in this sector.”

Dubious record
But the sector itself leaves Norway, for all its ambitious environmental and climate goals, with a dubious if not downright embarrassing emissions record at home. That’s why Norwegian negotiators plan to insist at the meetings in Paris over the next two weeks on being able to keep paying for emissions cuts in other countries, via so-called “market mechanisms” like “climate quotas,” in order to get credit for the cuts and help offset Norway’s own emissions.

Norwegian officials have stated that Norway will cut its emissions by 30 percent by 2020, and the current Conservatives-led government has latched on to EU goals of 40 percent cuts by 2030. Prime Minister Erna Solberg admitted to newspaper VG last week, however, that the goal for 2020 may not be met. The finance ministry’s new figures confirm that, if emissions continue at their current rate.

Sundtoft notes, however, that cutting emissions within Norway remains a huge challenge because almost all other energy already is supplied by renewable sources, via Norway’s wealth of waterfalls that produce hydroelectric power. Germany and the UK have been able to switch to more climate-friendly methods, while Norway had been using them all along. “We haven’t had the same possibilities as other countries to actually cut emissions by shifting from fossil-fuel energy to renewable energy,” Sundtoft told Dagsavisen.

And since neither the former Labour-led government coalition nor the current Conservative coalition wants to seriously curtail the oil industry, for economic reasons, Norway faces fewer chances and tougher prospects for making substantial emission cuts. Sundtoft notes that Norway’s emissions would have been even higher than they are now without all the other onerous measures imposed on Norwegians, like high fuel taxes and various other climate-related fees and taxes, all of which are aimed at discouraging consumption and raising funds to finance emissions cuts abroad.

“But there is no doubt that Norway’s emissions must decline,” Sundtoft claimed. “We’re working hard to meet our goals, but it’s demanding. Many of the measures we’re putting into place now may not yield results for many years. But the goals are firm.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund