Norway may finally meet climate goals

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Carbon emissions in Norway declined 3.4 percent last year, according to new updated numbers from state statistics bureau SSB. Emissions totalling 50.3 million tons were the lowest in 27 years and now officials think Norway may meet its climate goals for 2020.

Norway remains an industrial nation with large oil and gas production, but its carbon emissions are finally going down. PHOTO: Klima- og miljødepartementet

“These are encouraging numbers and show that the government climate policies are working,” Climate and Environment Minister Sveinung Rotevatn of the Liberal Party told news bureau NTB during the weekend. By early this week, the numbers and optimistic prognosis were being confirmed by Norway’s center for climate research Cicero.

“The goal is now within reach,” Steffen Kallbekken, research leader for climate research center Cicero, told newspaper Aftenposten. “Emissions are going down, and that’s very positive.”

Norway, as a major producer of oil and gas, has faced challenges in cutting its emissions and has often controversially paid its way out of it by funding emission cuts in other countries. As late as last fall, Rotevatn had to admit that Norway probably wouldn’t meet its 2020 goals based on figures up to that time.

Transport cuts important
Now emissions finally have begun to fall, both offshore and on land. SSB has calculated emissions through all of 2019, combined with the latest cuts in transport emissions. The oil and gas industry still emits the most, accounting for 14 million tons of carbon equivalents and 28 percent of Norway’s total. They were nonetheless down 2 percent through the entire year, and then came emission reductions especially in the transport sector. There was much less use of fossil fuel emissions from vehicles, thanks largely to Norway’s large pool of electric vehicles, and biofuel use went up.

That resulted in carbon emissions from road traffic falling 8 percent, to 8.4 million tons of carbon equivalents. All told, emissions fell by 1.7 million tons of carbon equivalents last year. Aftenposten reported that if the trend continues, and Norway manages to reduce emissions by another 1.7 million tons, it would land at 48.6 million tons for the year, just what the Parliament landed on during climate negotiations as far back as 2008 and revised in 2012.

Rotevatn pointed to lots of state and local climate measures that are collectively paying off. In addition to a surge in sales of electric vehicles, far more Norwegians use public mass transit than ever before and not just in Oslo. “People aren’t driving as much,” Rotevatn told Aftenposten, “and that’s having a considerable effect.” There also far less commercial transport using fossil fuels, with urban deliveries often made by everything from electric vans and trucks to people on bicycles.

Corona cuts expected as well
It’s also entirely likely that emissions will fall this year after three months of shutdown during the worst of the Corona virus crisis. Airlines haven’t been flying and transport emissions are down to a minimum after Norwegians were told to stay home. The fact that last year’s reduction came well before the Corona crisis bodes well for further reductions this year.

Anders Bjartnes, a former journalist for newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) who now runs the online magazine Energi og Klima (Energy and Climate), wasn’t surprised by the emissions decline. He pointed to “permanent structural changes over time” that are now yielding results. “This is positive and reflects, for example, the shift from diesel and gasoline to electricity in the transport sector,” Bjartnes told Aftenposten, noting that oil-based heating is no longer allowed in Norway either.

Oil production still under pressure
Even opposition politicians had to admit that government policies were having an effect. Lars Haltbrekken, a Member of Parliament for the Socialist Left party (SV) who formerly led one of Norway’s biggest environmental organizations, said it was good that climate goals set by Parliament are being met.

“But the (Conservatives-led) government has set new records in doling out new licenses for oil fields,” Haltbrekken told Aftenposten. “Production and use of fossil energy is still the main reason for the climate crisis.”

SV and other climate-oriented parties and organizations also argue that Norway should take emission responsibility for where Norwegian-produced oil and gas are actually used as well. Factoring that into the calculation would likely push Norwegian emissions up again.

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund