Norway can pay to avoid climate cuts

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A loophole in Norway’s agreement with the EU to cut Norwegian carbon emissions will once again allow the country made wealthy by its oil industry to pay other countries to cut their emissions instead. Some government politicians are already talking about financing emissions cuts in poor Eastern European countries, so that Norway’s oil industry can keep on drilling and producing fossil fuel.

Norway can still walk away from cutting its own emissions, by paying other European countries to cut their emissions instead. That can help keep the Norwegian oil industry drilling and pumping like before. PHOTO: Statoil/Equinor

Newspaper Klassekampen reported over the weekend how Norway still won’t have to actually cut its own emissions. It’s already won credit for funding the preservation of rainforests abroad, an initiative that in turn preserves and protects Norway’s oil and gas industry. Now the Conservervatives-led government, or whoever is in charge of the government in the late 2020s, can do much the same.

Norway has committed itself to cut 40 percent of its 2005 carbon emissions by 2030, a goal that’s already been described as difficult to achieve unless the oil industry starts being phased out. Klassekampen wrote on Saturday that the loophole in the agreement once again “gives Norway access to the purchase of climate quotas,” along with other “flexible mechanisms.” That “allows Norway to keep on polluting as before,” according to the newspaper.

“The emissions cuts are supposed to occur within Norway,” Sveinung Rotevatn, a state secretary for the Liberal Party in the Climate and Environment Ministry, told Klassekampen. “But yes, there are mechanisms where we can pay other countries to cut (their own emissions) by more than they otherwise would have.”

‘Moral obligation’ to cut emissions at home
Several political parties currently in opposition, including Labour, put forth a proposal in Parliament just before the summer recess that asked the government to refrain from making use of such mechanisms in the EU agreement. For Labour, it was a change of position from the time it held government power and managed to avoid major emission cuts at home by launching Norway’s rain forest fund. The opposition parties in June were also undoubtedly aware that their proposal had no chance of being approved, since the four-party non-socialist coalition now in power has a majority in Parliament.

Espen Barth Eide, a former government minister for Labour who now serves as its environmental policy spokesman, has praised Norway’s agreement with the EU on climate cuts. He admits, however, that the “ability and temptation” to simply pay other countries to cut emissions will be great as the 2030 draws closer.

Lars Haltbrekken of the Socialist Left party (SV) that’s one of Labour’s partners in opposition, agreed. “As the world’s richest country we have a moral obligation to cut our own emissions,” Haltbrekken, the former leader of a major environmental organization in Norway who now holds a seat in Parliament, told Klassekampen. That “moral obligation” is not, however, shared by the government.

‘Loopholes always important’
Terje Halleland, energy policy spokesman for the pro-oil Progess Party in government, defends the possibility for Norway to buy its way out of its obligations to cut carbon emissions in Norway. “These loopholes have always been important for us,” he said. “It’s important to be able to weigh costs against results.”

Halleland also claimed that it can be more cost-effective for Norway to pay for relatively inexpensive emissions cuts elsewhere in Europe than expensive cuts at home: “Quota purchases can contribute towards phasing out heavy industry with large emissions cuts in Bulgaria or Romania,” Halleland told the newspaper.

Rotevatn, whose Liberal government party is viewed as more environmentally friendly than the Progress Party, stressed that Norway’s agreement with the EU still demands emission reductions equal to 40 percent of what emissions were in 2005. “We must deliver every year and it will still have great consequences for Norway’s climate policy through the 2020s.

More pressure emerges, also from doctors
His government also received more clear messages from the public over the weekend that the pressure on Norway’s oil industry keeps growing. The youth organizations for the Greens Party in both Rogaland and Vestland, the heart of Norway’s oil industry, declared in newspaper Dagsavisen that their generation “will be the ones to turn off the lights” at Norway’s offshore oil fields. They mightily oppose both conservatives and labour organizations who want to keep the oil industry active for many more years.

So do a group of more than 60 Norwegian doctors who have sent a letter to the President of the Parliament entitled “Doctors demand climate action now!” They called climate change “the greatest threat against public health today,” and demanded “radical changes in Norway’s climate and oil policy.” Another other things, they want “a phase-out of oil and gas production to begin immediately.”

Among those signing the letter were a former health minister for the Labour Party, Dr Werner Christie; a former justice- and social minister for the Conservatives Dr Wenche Frogn Sellæg; and former ombuds for children, Dr Trond-Viggo Torgersen and Dr Anne Lindboe.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund