Norway’s Climate and Environment Minister Ola Elvestuen was worried before he traveled to the UN’s climate summit in Poland this week, and he had good reason to be. While he voiced concern over “too many disagreements” among participating nations, Norway itself hasn’t done very well in cutting its own carbon emissions, and tumbled in new international rankings of how countries are contributing to global reduction efforts.
Newspaper Dagsavisen reported Tuesday that Norway has fallen from 7th to 12th place in rankings assembled by three international organizations: Germanwatch, NewClimate Institute and Climate Action Network. They’ve ranked 56 countries plus the EU, and claim that none of the countries is doing enough to limit global warming in line with the UN agreement hammered out in Paris three years ago.
Efforts towards actually cutting emissions to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees are so poor that no country performed optimally. The best was Sweden, which has approved measures aimed at zero emissions that are harmful to the climate by 2045. Morocco, Lithuania, Switzerland and India were among countries doing more than Norway is cut emissions.
The climate watchdog organizations are dissatisfied with Norway’s lack of concrete strategies for both the long-term development of emissions and for how Norway’s ongoing subsidy of fossil fuel use should be reduced. The culprit once again is Norway’s oil and gas industry, which arguably operates in a far more climate- and environmentally friendly manner than many other countries’ oil industries but still produces the fossil fuels that aren’t good for the planet.
Emissions up instead of down
Dagsavisen reported that the experts compiling the rankings also pointed out that the industry doesn’t have to abide by any binding goals for energy efficiency either. That in turn is blamed for another increase in industrial emissions in Norway, up 4.3 percent from 2016 to 2017 according to a new report from state statistics bureau SSB (Statistics Norway).
Norway was also criticized for continuing to invest in oil and gas operations, with no clear strategy for ultimately phasing out its petroleum industry. It’s simply too important for the Norwegian economy, despite all the talk for years about so-called omstilling, a long-awaited restructuring of the economy that will make it more “green” and far less reliant on the oil and gas industry.
Climate Minister Ola Elvestuen much preferred to talk about all the “positive” things Norway is doing to cut its own emissions, like being a world leader in sales of electric cars that are now rising in outlying areas as well as in Norwegian cities. In a meeting with foreign correspondents in Oslo just before flying off to Poland, Elvestuen stressed Norway’s progress in cutting emissions in the entire transport sector, proudly pointing to new electric ferries and tourist boats, and demands for cruiseships to run on electricity while in port.
Various other restrictions loom for polluting cruiseships and other vessels, while cities like Oslo and Bergen have been investing heavily in improved public transportation to wean commuters away from their cars. Oslo’s Labour-Greens-Socialist Left-led government has been waging war on cars since winning the last election in 2015. Public indignation over loss of parking spots, streets closed to private cars and high tolls to drive into downtown is raising questions, however, over whether the left-green coalition will win re-election next year.
Elvestuen, of the non-socialist Liberal Party that’s part of Norway’s conservative coalition government, is under pressure too, but mostly because his party’s green image has suffered in recent years. Political commentator Trine Eilertsen wrote in newspaper Aftenposten recently that Elvestuen hasn’t managed to summon nearly enough attention on climate policy. It’s also been subject to constant compromise with the allegedly pro-wolf Elvestuen even authorizing another wolf hunt, much to the disgust of wildlife preservationists.
His party did manage to keep its Conservatives- and Progress party partners from allowing oil exploration off scenic Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senje in Northern Norway, but has not managed to reduce Norway’s incentives for investing in oil or cutting back on production. On the contrary, Norway’s oil industry has been rebounding from the oil price collapse in 2014 and is once again active and robust, which may explain the recent rise in emissions.
“We know we have large challenges,” Elvestuen concedes. “We need a green shift within the Norwegian economy.” He said the government has been waiting for yet another report, this time from a climate risk commission, that’s supposed to define what policies are needed to make the economy more climate friendly. Elvestuen said he expected it would show that Norway is in an even “more difficult” situation than expected and that debate will follow over what’s to be done.
“Everyone knows that oil and gas must become a smaller part of the economy,” Elvestuen said. Norwegian politicians on both the right and the left have been reluctant, however, to cut back on it because of the jobs and tax revenues the industry creates. Elvestuen also noted that Norway needs to remain a reliable supplier of gas to Europe, a resource often justified because it can replace use of coal.
More waiting time looms as the debate over how to cut back on oil and gas resumes, just as the UN’s secretary general is stressing urgency. Most environmental advocates claim political leaders around the world have already waited too long with measures to actually cut emissions and meet climate goals.
Calling for higher ambitions
Elvestuen himself started off his meeting with foreign correspondents by sounding pessimistic about prospects for real progress in Poland, while he and Prime Minister Erna Solberg claim everyone has to “raise ambitions” and strengthen the Paris Agreement. She claimed on Monday that the goal now is to make cutting emissions profitable, to use markets in favour of the climate and make cuts where they’re least expensive and most profitable. That’s why Norway has spent billions on rain forest preservation measures in Brazil and Indonesia, for example: It’s cheaper to finance emission cuts there than at home. Elvestuen, meanwhile, downplayed concern over the new right-wing government in Brazil that’s not particularly concerned with climate issues: “We have an agreement,” Elvestuen said regarding rain forest preservation that Norway will expect to be upheld.
“It’s all a question of keeping a world that we can recognize,” Elvestuen said, in claiming that global warming now shouldn’t rise by more than 1.5 degrees. “Then we’ll only risk an ice-free Arctic once every 100 years. With 2 degrees we’ll risk it every 10 years.” His own government’s climate platform hammered out just last January is thus already out of date, and needs to embrace a 1.5-degree goal as well.
Rough week ahead
Elvestuen thus faced a rough week as he joined the debate in Katowice, Poland on Monday. He’s also under pressure from Norway’s own Greens Party, for example, and its determined politicians like Lan Marie Nguyen Berg, who’s been pushing all of Oslo’s emissions cuts programs. She was also in Poland for some UN summit sessions this week, to both promote Oslo’s “solutions” and learn from others.
“It’s disappointing that Norway has fallen in the rankings,” Berg told Dagsavisen. “The UN has stressed that everyone needs to do much more and much faster in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. Now it’s even more important that the cities lead the way and how how emissions can be cut.” Significant oil industry reduction, however, could cut emissions more than Berg’s most ambitious and somewhat painful programs ever would.