Climate- and environmental advocates in Norway finally have something to cheer about, after a state commission concluded that the Norwegian government must launch a strategy to phase out oil and gas production as quickly as possible. The commission also recommends halting all licensing for new oil exporation in the meantime, along with restricting more production or construction of new production plants until such a strategy is in place.
Reining in the oil industry and developing renewable energy sources instead is, according to the commission, the only way Norway can hope to meet the climate goals it has set for itself: Carbon emissions that are 90-95 percent lower in 2050 than they were in 1990.
“In a low-emission society just about all emissions have to be removed for good,” said commission leader Martin Skancke when presenting its report just before the weekend. “Policies must have that as a starting point. The question isn’t whether emissions shall be reduced, but which small emissions will be allowed to remain in 2050. Everything else has to be eliminated.”
The policies of all Norwegian governments since the start of Norway’s oil age have instead been, and remain, just the opposite. Both Labour- and Conservatives-led government coalitions have consistently supported and promoted Norway’s oil and gas industry over the years, because of all the jobs it creates and how much money it generates for the economy.
The current Labour-Center government even still stands behind its strategy to “utvikle, ikke avvikle” (develop, not phase out) the oil and gas industry, defying both the United Nations and the International Energy Agency (IEA), which claim the world already has more oil and gas than can ever be used if climate goals are to be met. Norway’s international reputation has been suffering because of its refusal to stop searching for more oil and gas, even in sensitive Arctic areas, and top Norwegian politicians weren’t invited to speak at a climate conference at last month’s opening of the UN General Assembly.
The commission (called Klimautvalget 2050) was set up by the former Conservatives-led government in 2021 and charged with charting the course needed for a transition to a low-emission society in 2050. Committee leader Skancke, who also led an earlier climate risk commission, has stressed that its members have presented their best recommendations on what needs to be done to cut Norway’s own emissions. The politicians themselves are responsible for carrying them out.
And that’s where the problem lies: Norwegian politicians in power have continued to expand the lucrative oil industry while lagging far behind other countries in developing alternative energy sources. Norway can still boast how most of its own energy comes from hydroelectric sources, while most all of its oil and gas is exported at currently high prices.
Skancke, a former top administrator in both the Office of the Prime Minister and the Finance Ministry, suggests the government’s ongoing hesitance to phase out oil and gas must end. While the pace of energy-related restructuring must quickly speed up, he says, the government should also freeze all further oil exploration. Production activity in the petroleum sector should also be reduced “beyond current expectations,” to avoid a lack of power and energy industry competence needed for a smoother transition to a low-emission society.
“The commission recommends a permanent halt in exploration that’s not directly tied to existing offshore infrastructure,” Skancke said. His fellow experts further urge that no decisions be made to build new infrastructure “that would bind us to emissions as we approach 2050 and beyond.”
The commission’s recommendations face opposition from not only oil and gas producers but also Norway’s large offshore and oil supply industry and many politicians, especially those from areas where oil and offshore activity are an important part of the local economy. Norway’s new government minister from the Labour Party in charge of climate and environmental issues, Andreas Bjelland Eriksen, was sitting in the audience and received the commission’s report on behalf of the government. Eriksen comes from Stavanger, long considered Norway’s oil capital, and he refused to comment on any of its specific recommendations. He had earlier told news service E24, though, that he doesn’t think a specific plan to phase out oil and gas is necessary.
Eriksen pointed to the government’s own new “Green Book” plan that it claims will help Norway meet its climate obligations by 2030, even though it relies heavily on controversial biomass that can threaten other natural resources. The commission doesn’t think biofuels should be relied upon to help cut emissions.
The commission also strongly recommended much tougher regulations to force Norway’s agricultural industry to cut its emissions. That’s also politically sensitive, because the farmer-friendly Center Party currently shares government power with Labour, and it doesn’t go along with anything that would threaten its powerful farming constituency that’s also heavily state-subsidized. As predicted, Center was critical of the commission’s conclusions, especially those directed at oil and agriculture, on the grounds they would create public distress.
“We need to have folks with us, and restructure businesses through development, not shut-down,” Gro-Anita Mykjåland, Center’s climate spokesperson, told NTB.
While the government already appears skeptical to the commission’s report, environmental and climate advocates were delighted. “This is impressive work by the commission,” said the leader of Norway’s chapter of Friends of the Earth (Naturvernforbundet), Truls Gulowsen. “These experts have been able to think long term and systematic while politicians drag their feet.”
The leader of another climate-conscious organization, Framtiden i våre hender (The Future in Our Hands), was also full of praise. “Finally!” exclaimed Anja Bakken Riise. She was especially glad that the commission is skeptical to those relying on technological developments to cut emissions, and thus allowing the oil and gas industry to carry on as usual in the meantime. “While technology for capture and storage (of carbon emissions) is important,” she told newspaper Dagsavisen, “the most important is to reduce oil production … and learn to live sustainable lives.”
Riise doesn’t think a phase-out of oil and gas should be branded as radical. “What’s radical is to pretend that we can continue to produce oil and gas and continue to think we can still restructure the Norwegian economy,” she said.
The leader of the Socialist Left Party (SV), on which Norway’s minority Labour-Center government relies for a majority in Parliament, wants the commission’s report to have consequences. “The government must follow this up with powerful measures to cut climate emissions,” Kjersti Bergstø told news bureau NTB. She thinks the commission’s report shows that Norwegian oil policy amounts to a wager, and that Norway won’t manage to meet its climate goals unless oil policy is changed.
If SV doesn’t support the government, though, it can probably rely on the conservative Progress Party for support to keep searching for and producing oil and gas. Oil proponents like Progress claim repeatedly that Norway’s oil and gas will be needed for years to come.
“We totally disagree with the commission’s conclusion regarding a phase-out of Norwegian oil production,” Terje Halleland of Progress told NTB. “We must increase production of oil and gas on the Norwegian Continental Shelf, not less.”
Climate Minister Eriksen accepted the commission’s report and at least promised to read it. “Some think that perhaps I’ll just put this report in a drawer and close it,” Eriksen said. “I can guarantee that I won’t do that. It will be sent out to hearing and there will be broad debate on it moving forward.”