Climate ‘anchored’ in Marrakech

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It took 10 hours of overtime talks, but Norway’s Environment Minister Vidar Helgesen thinks the landmark UN climate agreement struck in Paris last December was “anchored” in Marrakech over the weekend. After two weeks of meetings on how the Paris climate pact will be followed up and regulated, Helgesen doesn’t think even the election of Donald Trump as US President in the midst of it all can derail international efforts to halt climate change.

Norway's Climate and Environment Minister Vidar Helgesen adressing the climate conference in Marrakech that ended over the weekend. PHOTO: KMD/Jon Berg

Norway’s Climate and Environment Minister Vidar Helgesen adressing the climate conference in Marrakech that ended over the weekend. PHOTO: KMD/Jon Berg

“This meeting was about anchoring the Paris agreement and making it clear for implementation,” Helgesen stated, adding that the last two weeks “have shown strong political support for the Paris agreement.”

He admitted that the meeting was characterized by concern over carrying out the agreement and over the US presidential election. Trump has scoffed at climate change, doesn’t think its man-made, wants to re-open coal mines in the US, prop up the oil industry and even overturn the Paris agreement. “This climate conference (in Marrakech) is the last for a quite a while where we’ll see dynamic climate leadership (from the US),” Helgesen, who represents Norway’s Conservative Party, told newspapaer Dagsavisen.

Even though many of the government ministers like Helgesen who traveled to Marrakech are worried about Trump, “we can’t let all the work (against climate change) be stopped by the election in the USA,” Helgesen said.

“There has been a lot of talks among us minister, but it hasn’t affected the negotiations,” Helgesen told Dagsavisen. “Most countries are now determined to demonstrate that we move forward.”

Market forces can prevent derailment
Helgesen thinks it will now be up to the EU to take over international climate leadership. Helgesen also thinks Trump’s views on the climate will meet opposition at home in the US. “Trump says he wants to revive the coal industry,” Helgesen noted. “Well, there are now 2.5 million people working in the renewable energy industry in the US, while 80,000 work in the coal industry. There’s not much future in measures to create jobs in the coal industry. There are strong economic forces that will work towards favourable conditions for renewable energy. The market itself is a strong force.”

That’s also an argument used by others who follow climate issues closely. Ole Mathismoen, a climate commentator in newspaper Aftenposten, doesn’t think Trump can ruin global climate cooperation because it’s no longer simply a political issue. Large corporations have been investing in alternative and renewable energy, with many committed to only using renewable energy within a few years. “In this group we find, for example, BMW Group, IKEA, Microsoft, Adobe, Google and Coca-Cola Enterprises,” Mathismoen wrote. They will need a lot of renewable energy and their transition from fossil- to renewable energy will cut an estimated 56 million tons of carbon emissions, “a bit more than Norway as a country lets out.”

Another global initiative involves commitments to carbon emission cuts by other large companies like Walmart and Kellogg’s. The Chinese government has also made major commitments and demand for renewable energy means there’s money to be made in development of battery technology, electric cars, wind power and other climate-friendly projects. Solar energy has become cheaper than coal, Mathismoen wrote, making it doubtful that coal will or can make a resurgence.

“Trump can perhaps delay the green shift within the US’ borders,” he wrote, “but the global green shift has come too far and become too profitable to be stopped. Almost all new energy production in 2015 was renewable.”

Norway’s oil still a dilemma
If the Paris agreement really does keep global warming under two degrees, though, that should dramatically cut demand for oil and gas, by as much as a third, according to the international energy agency IEA. That in turn would have serious consequences for Norway’s own oil and gas industry, according to oil analyst Thina Saltvedt at Nordea, Norway’s second-biggest bank.

A majority of Norwegian officials, however, still want to keep pumping oil for many years because of its importance for the Norwegian economy. They also claim the world will still need oil and gas and argue that Norwegian production is more climate-friendly than elsewhere, although that’s been hotly debated. Jarand Rystad of the analytical firm Rystad Energy thinks Norway can continue to develop its oil and gas industry as planned, in part because production is likely to decline elsewhere and Norwegian crude is lighter and in greater demand than heavier oil fround, for example, in the Middle East and Canada, Russia and Kazakhstan. Statoil intends to keep extracting oil “from fields that can produce with the lowest emissions,” spokesman Bård Glad Pedersen told newspaper Aftenposten last week.

Helgesen nonetheless claims that Norway will meet its own commitments to cut emissions, and claimed in his own address at the conference in Marrakech that the Paris Agreement must be implemented.

“In the Arctic, glaciers are melting at record pace,” Helgesen said. “In all regions, ecosystems and local communities are at risk.” Without mentioning Norway’s own plans to expand oil exploration and production in the Arctic, he  said Norway would continue to fund efforts to reduce deforestation and that Norway was “deeply committed to the Paris Agreement and international climate cooeprtion.” As fellow government leaders battled over climate measures in the state budget for next year, Helgesen said Norway would “strengthen our domestic climate action plan for 2020” and would deliver “a long-term low-emission development plan well before 2020.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund