Norway, caught between being climate-friendly and protecting its oil and gas industry industry, looked set to drive a hard bargain as the UN climate summit gets underway in Paris this week. Norwegian politicians have committed themselves to cutting emissions, but still want to be able to buy their way out of making the toughest cuts at home, and that’s making more natives restless.
Thousands of Norwegian took to the streets over the weekend, demanding that their government negotiators and others from around the world finally get serious about efforts to halt climate change. It was the biggest climate demonstration in Norway ever, with an estimated 3,400 people marching in Oslo as similar marches took place in 17 other Norwegian cities and town all over the country. The Norwegian activists were part of a worldwide effort, with demonstrations all over the globe, to push for international agreement in Paris.
Their message was clear: Norway must cut emissions in line with UN recommendations, Norway should cut more than other countries that haven’t generated as many emissions over the years as Norway has, and Norway must step up its so-called “green shift,” with more emphasis on climate-friendly jobs, faster introduction of better public transport systems, and much more use of alternative energy instead of fossil fuels.
“I’m optimistic,” Anja Bakken Riise, political adviser to the environmental organization Framtiden i våre hender (The Future in Our Hands), told newspaper Dagsavisen just before the weekend. Riise and and many of her colleagues feel there is now so much pressure on government officials and their negotiators in Paris that something constructive must emerge from the summit.
Others aren’t so sure, and in Norway, there’s disappointment in many environmental quarters that Norwegian negotiators still want to be able to buy so-called “climate quotas” after 2020. The climate quotas are a much-debated market mechanism that allows wealthy countries, especially oil-producing nations like Norway that belch out far more emissions per capita than many other countries, to basically pay for emissions cuts in other poorer countries. If Norway provides funding for rain forest preservation (as it has, in the billions) or other projects that cut emissions abroad, it can take credit for the cuts at home.
Hollow emissions accomplishment
There was a bit of hyperbole in Norway earlier this month when officials could boast that Norway had met its latest emission goals because of its purchase of emission cuts abroad. That promoted the Socialist Left party (SV) to call for a halt in all purchases of climate quotas, to force real emission cuts in Norway itself. Norwegian politicians have been using climate quotas for too long, claimed SV, in order to avoid cutting emissions at home.
The problem is, and has been for years, that real and substantial cuts within Norway can only be achieved through more restrictions on the country’s oil industry. Even though it’s currently hard-pressed because of the sharp decline in oil prices, Norway’s oil and gas industry still fuels the country’s economy. Ongoing economic growth and prosperity still relies on a vital oil business, so the politicians have hesitated to curtail it. At the same time, there are only 5-plus million Norwegians, and no matter how much effort or sacrifice they may be asked to make by giving up their cars, paying even higher fuel and energy taxes or going along with other emission-cut measures, they can never reduce emissions as much or as effectively as the country could if the government simply ordered some oil fields to shut down.
Heikki Holmås, environmental spokesman for SV, has support from the Liberal Party and the Greens in calling for elimination or at least curbs on more use of climate quotas that essentially protect Norway’s oil industry. Holmås called the Conservatives-led government’s support for climate quotas “Oil-Norway at its worst,” especially after Environment Minister Tine Sundotf’s chief negotiator in Paris, Aslak Brun, told Dagsavisen that Norway would oppose any end to the ability to buy climate quotas. “The agreement in Paris cannot exclude market mechanisms,” Brun said. If that comes on the table, he said, Norway won’t go along.
“It will be a scandal if Norway torpedoes an international climate agreement because we can buy cheap quotas in underdeveloped countries instead of cutting emissions at home,” Holmås said. Anders Haug Larsen, climate adviser for Norway’s chapter of Friends of the Earth (Naturvernforbund), agreed: “It would be very strange if such mechanisms become an absolute demand from Norway,” Larsen said.
Farmers finally forced to cut
Norway’s government, which has committed to cut emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030 compared to their level in 1990, already is in the process of imposing major emissions cuts on Norway’s transport and agricultural sectors. The latter has literally been a sacred cow for years, and ranks as the most protected industry in the country given the subsidies it gets and import restrictions it enjoys.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg told her Conservative Party’s national board last week that Norway must cut its emissions dramatically and that agriculture, which stands for 10 percent of carbon emissions in Norway, will be among the areas ordered to cut the most. Sundtoft, Solberg’s climate and environment minister, noted that farmers have been shielded so far, with agriculture the only industry that has not been hit with taxes on emissions.
“If we don’t do something within agriculture, we’ll have to do even more within transport,” Sundtoft told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). Plans have long been underway to build two new metro line tunnels under Oslo, a new tram line and massively improve train transport in Norway.
It’s not expected that Norway will prevail in Paris with its call for a price on carbon emissions, Dagsavisen reported over the weekend. Solberg, meanwhile, was already in Paris on Sunday and had her first bilateral meeting, reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). It was with Brazilian officials, at which she promised more funding for rain forest preservation until 2020. Solberg will also be attending opening sessions of the UN summit on Monday, before national leaders are sent home to allow the negotiators to do their job.