Climate goals full of contradiction

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The Norwegian government is once again being accused of presenting contradictory climate goals and even hypocrisy as it unveils plans to cut carbon emissions. While the minister in charge of climate issues is warning of strict and expensive crackdowns on motorists and farmers, his fellow transport- and oil ministers are moving ahead with plans for more oil and gas exploration and roadbuilding.

Olje- og energiminister Tord Lien under åpningen av Ekofisk Sør (Ole Berthelsen/OED)

Oil & Energy Minister Tord Lien is bullish on the oil industry and actively opening up new areas of the Arctic for exploration and production. Critics claim that’s at odds with his own government’s climate goals. PHOTO: Olje- og energi departementet/Ole Berthelsen

“Climate and Environment Minister Vidar Helgesen can’t possibly have been speaking with the transport minister (Ketil Solvik-Olsen) or the oil and energy minister (Tord Lien) on what types of climate measures are necessary,” Ingrid Skjoldvær, leader of the environmental group Natur og Ungdom (Nature and Youth) told newspaper Dagsavisen. She claims that their various plans for the future are entirely at odds with one another.

While carbon emissions have been declining in most European countries, they’ve kept rising in Norway, largely because of the country’s major oil and gas industry. Norway has, however, attached itself to the EU’s climate goals and was ordered just a few weeks ago to cut its own emissions by 40 percent over the next 14 years.

While the need for emissions cuts is generally accepted and supported in Norway, it remains questionable how it can really be met without the country finally paring back on its oil exploration and production. The government’s ambitious plans for more exploration and, eventually, extraction in Norway’s offshore Arctic areas seem particularly at odds with other plans for cutting emissions.

Climate and Environment Minister Vidar Helgesen wants more motorists to take the bus, but his measures to cut emissions within transport and agriculture will be more than offset by his own government's ongoing support for the oil industry. Critics claim he and his fellow minister Tord Lien, in charge of oil and energy issues, are on a collision course. PHOTO: Klima- og Miljødepartementet

Climate and Environment Minister Vidar Helgesen wants more motorists to take the bus, but his measures to cut emissions within transport and agriculture will be more than offset by his own government’s ongoing support for the oil industry. Critics claim he and his fellow minister Tord Lien, in charge of oil and energy issues, are on a collision course. PHOTO: Klima- og Miljødepartementet

“Every measure (proposed by Helgesen) to reduce emissions in Norway is microscopic compared with the emissions from pumping up and burning oil and gas from the Barents Sea,” Skjoldvær told Dagsavisen.

Her organization presented a report late last week highlighting the inherent contradictions in the Norwegian government’s plans. It contends that Oil & Energy Minister Tord Lien’s enthusiasm for awarding new exploration licenses in the Barents Sea will create so many sources of new emissions that they’ll more than offset his fellow minister Helgesen’s plans for emissions cuts. So will plans announced this summer by Transport Minister Solvik-Olsen for highway expansion and more new roads in Norway, which can encourage more driving, not less.

Skjoldvær said it was “correct and reasonable” for the EU to direct its toughest demands for emissions cuts at Norway, not least because it’s seen as a wealthy country. She can’t see, though, how Helgesen can possibly meet them given his fellow ministers’ plans for ever-more emission-creating ventures.

‘Typical’ political posturing
She thinks it’s “typical” for Norwegian politicians, both those in the former Labour Party-led coalition government and those in the current conservative coalition government, to “say one thing about the climate when they’re out in the big world and something else completely about the same theme when they’re home.”

Labour has traditionally backed Norway’s oil and gas industry because of the jobs it creates. The Conservatives back it also because of its jobs and its source of wealth creation. Labour, which also has traditionally fronted an environmentally conscious image, has also failed to block once and for all plans by the oil industry to drill off scenic Lofoten. The current government put those plans on hold during its current four-year term because of the controversy surrounding them.

Natur og Ungdom’s new report claims that if all the gas and oil in Norway’s portion of the Barents Sea is drilled up and used, its emissions will amount to nearly 80 times Norway’s annual emissions at present. Even though most of the oil and gas is sold and used abroad, the organization cites the importance of solidarity in climate negotiations. Norway should not, the organization concludes, extract more fossil fuels that will only contribute to more emissions when used.

‘Recognize the consequences’
“The fact that Norway contributes towards an increase in global emissions, by continuing to rely on growth of the oil and gas industry, does not enhance confidence (in Norway’s claims that it also wants to cut emissions),” Skjoldvær said.

She also points to how the UN’s climate panel claims that 70 percent of the world’s fossil fuel resources must remain unused to avoid global warming of more than 2 degrees.

“We’re looking for oil policies that recognize the consequences of this, and that will lead to a decline in emissions, both through reductions in exploration and usage,” Skjoldvær said. Lien and oil ministers before him have instead claimed repeatedly that while a “green shift” is underway, the world will still need oil and gas for decades to come, and Norway, with an economy still reliant on the oil industry, is keen to provide it.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund