Norway fights climate change targets with oil production
Walking the streets of Oslo, Norway feels like it’s stepping into a low-emission future.
Trams and electric buses run alongside generous cycle paths and bypass parks designed to store carbon. But the real proof of the city’s low carbon footprint actually lies deep underground, in a vast network of tunnels housing its power lines.
Related: The âemotional boostâ of the majority during the climate crisis
It was only recently that Oslo had to relocate power lines underground – due to unprecedented new demands for electricity.
“We are busy digging another tunnel for what we know is happening.”
“We are busy digging another tunnel for what we know is happening,” said Henrik Glette, a representative for Statnett, the state-run electricity company.
What is coming is the electrification of transport, industry and buildings to meet Norway‘s ambitious goals of being carbon neutral by 2030. Norway can afford to invest in radical initiatives in favor of the climate: it has the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, valued at 1,100 billion dollars.
But this wealth comes with an inherent contradiction: It was built from five decades of oil extraction.
Related: UN scientists warn of worsening global warming
And, even as cities like Oslo become world leaders in climate policy and investment, the government has refused to set an end date for oil drilling. In this week’s parliamentary elections, some wondered if this contradiction could be resolved – as the Green Party campaigned on a platform to stop oil production by 2035.
Meanwhile, in cities like Oslo, the shift away from fossil fuels is happening quickly. In the city center, things get eerily quiet, including at a construction site, where battery-powered shovels and excavators move the pavement with only a faint, barely noticeable hum.
Sjur Helljesen, a representative of NASTA, the company that makes these construction vehicles, says government incentives can be thanked for this. In 2018, Oslo decided that all new public construction projects should be zero emissions. Helljesen says this has spurred innovation and investment.
âTwo years ago, these machines that you see today, they didn’t exist,â Helljesen said.
A few miles from the coast, Heidi Neilson, Environment Officer at the Port of Oslo, describes another operating Oslo electric fleet: the ferry system.
Related: Glasgow climate negotiations: African negotiators mobilize for climate finance
âWe have between 70 and 100 electric ferries along the Norwegian coast because the government had a procurement strategy,â Nielson said.
The port has also electrified its equipment and installed âshore powerâ – electrical connection stations that allow ships to turn off their diesel engines while in port.
All over Norway, these changes are gaining momentum, making Norway one of the world leaders in the use of renewable energy. But the export market sends a very different message.
In 2020, Norway exported around 415 million barrels of oil. Burning it emits 30 times more greenhouse gases than the Norwegian population each year. And the country is still approving new oil wells.
For many Norwegians, this contradiction becomes untenable. It was a key issue in this week’s national legislative elections.
âIt’s definitely hypocritical. If you want to invest in renewable energy, you have to invest in renewable energy and not invest in more oil in order to make a transition in the future. Because we don’t have time for this.
“This is definitely hypocritical,” said Arild Hernstad, deputy leader of the Green Party of Norway. âIf you want to invest in renewable energy, you have to invest in renewable energy and not invest in more oil in order to make a transition in the future. Because we don’t have time for this.
âIf everyone here lives in a zero-emission city, works in the oil industry at the same time and exports a lot of [carbon dioxide], that’s a little ridiculous, âHernstad said.
But Norway’s two biggest parties don’t see it that way. Benjamin Jakobsen is a Labor politician who has emphasized that sustaining oil extraction is about jobs.
âNorway has a moral dilemma, of course, but we can’t really put 200,000 people at risk for their jobs because it will hurt the economy,â Jakobsen said. âWe will not be able to meet our climate goals if people are unemployed. “
Related: First-ever Athens Heat Officer Says Historic Heat Wave Worrisome, ‘Prequel’ to City’s Future
This prospect prevailed in the national elections on Monday. The Labor Party has claimed a majority, as expected, meaning there is no end date for oil drilling. The Greens did worse than expected and did not win enough votes to secure a decision-making role in Parliament.
But Johannes Bergh, who studies the national elections with the Norwegian Institute for Social Research, says the Greens still have momentum, despite this year’s disappointment.
âIn fact, I would say the political winds in Norway are blowing towards the Green Party,â he said.
Bergh said this year other issues like social inequality and the pandemic have taken center stage. But in the long run, as the younger generations make up a larger part of the electorate, climate issues will prevail.
Until then, it seems, the Norwegians will continue to live with the contradictions. And by 2030, they may well be a country that claims to be carbon neutral but still exports a million barrels of oil a day.