Just weeks after the firmly pro-oil Progress Party withdrew from Norway’s conservative government, the now-minority coalition has registered new emission reduction goals of at least 50 percent by 2030 under the UN’s Paris Agreement. That’s highly ambitious in a country that didn’t meet its 2020 goals, and both climate advocates and researchers were surprised.
The Paris Agreement requires all its adherents to register new or updated climate goals every five years, beginning this year. The deadline is February 9, with Norway among the first to register on Friday. New Finance Minister Jan Tore Sanner of the Conservative Party claimed that’s because Norway wants “to take a leading role and cut emissions both nationally and internationally,” in close cooperation with the EU.
The new government offensive startled even the climate movement in Norway. “We were quite sure Norway would not meet (Sunday’s UN deadline), so someone must have made a quick decision and that’s good to see,” Lisa Sivertsen of the humanitarian organization Kirkens Nødhjelp (Norwegian Church Aid) told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) early Friday afternoon. “This is very good news, first and foremost for the world’s poor.”
Katrine Sund-Henriksen of the Forum for utvikling og miljø (development and environment) seemed cautiously optimistic. “What we want to see now is how these cuts will be made,” Sund-Henriksen told NRK. “We want the most possible to be made nationally (within the country).” Norway, which has long had high emissions per capita because of its oil and gas industry, has a history of paying other countries to cut emissions and then getting climate credit for them. That has so far allowed Norway to resist reining in its oil and gas production that produces the lion’s share of Norway’s emissions.
The new goals, announced by no less than three government ministers on Friday, come just a week after the government released its so-called “Climate Cure” that outlined new and extensive emissions-cutting proposals. Government officials said at the time that they also would work on actual climate policies ahead of 2030. Friday’s new goals were thus described as “very surprising” by Steffen Kallbekken of Norway’s Cicero center for climate research because “I and many other thought they would wait with announcing new (emissions) goals until they’d worked out the policies.”
Norway’s new minister in charge of climate and the environment, Sveinung Rotevatn of the non-socialist Liberal Party, said he and his government colleagues thought it was most important “to be at the forefront here, not least to influence the EU and other countries that we think should strengthen their goals.” Norway’s new emission reduction goal by 2030 will lie between 50- and 55 percent below what they were in 1990.
“We hope this will contribute to the EU also being brave and setting goals of 50- or 55 percent,” Rotevatn said. “We hope as many countries as possible will sharpen their climate goals.” The EU Commission’s new president Ursula Von der Leyen is already trying to win a commitment to a 55 percent-cut by 2030 but it’s unclear where the EU will actually land.
Reaching the goals is the biggest challenge of all, however, not least since Norway’s emissions are still higher than what they were in 1990, not less. Strict means of cutting emissions from the transport, agriculture and other sectors were already expected to hit hard in order to meet a 30 percent reduction. It’s unclear how Norway could cut emissions by 50-55 percent without a major reduction in the oil sector.
The government’s new climate goals were quickly downplayed by former partners in the conservative Progress Party, which wants to open new areas of the Arctic to oil and maintain production levels. So has Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the Conservatives. Progress’ former transport minister Jon Georg Dahle thus dismissed the goals as “evidence that symbolic politics are the most important in forming climate policy.”
The goals can likely only be embraced by other opposition parties in Parliament, however, including the Greens, the Reds and the Socialist Left that have long espoused tough climate measures, while Labour and the Center Party are also latching on to them as well.
Details of Norway’s goals registered with the UN can be seen here (external link to the UN’s NDC Registry. NDC stands for “nationally determined contributions.”)