Norway is predestined to lead stopping climate breakdown but is blocked by greed
Kevin Anderson is professor of Energy and Climate Change at The University of
Bergen (Norway), the Universities of Manchester (UK) and Uppsala (Sweden)
Drilling platform in a shipyard in Ølensvåg, a place in the municipality of Vindafjord in the province of Rogaland, Norway. The place is located at the southwestern end of the Ølsfjorden
Norway is in an exceptional position to trailblaze a global energy transition. But the transition away
from fossil fuels production needs to start now.
Norway is the epitome of how to place a nation’s energy resources at the service of its current
generation. But in so doing this wealthy nation has favoured the short–term and hedonistic wellbeing
of its citizens today, over the prospects for its own children tomorrow. It has also discounted the
climate devastation and human suffering that its unbridled pursuit of evermore oil and gas is already
This is all a world away from the international leadership demonstrated by Norway’s former Prime
minister, Gro Brundtland, and her seminal contribution to the sustainability maxim of “meeting the
needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
In sharp contrast, successive Norwegian governments have fallen for the allure of easy money from
the North Sea, with complete indifference to the needs of future generations.
But all of this is history. It is only the future we can change – with Norway uniquely well–served to
rebuild its legacy of progressive and sustainable leadership.
Norway is a rich nation, with a small and well–educated population, a depth of engineering expertise,
an enviable potential for renewable energy, and a ‘sovereign wealth fund’ of $1.3 trillion. What it lacks
is the courage and political will to envisage a holistic transition to a decarbonised society, focussing
on both consumption and production.
The world has found far more fossil fuels than can be burned if it is to abide by the Paris climate
commitments. Responding to this, our recently published report, “Fossil Fuel Extraction Pathways
Within Paris–Compliant Budgets”, examined the rate at which different countries need to phase out
their oil and gas production, informed by science and guided by issues of equity.
Our analysis demonstrated that Norway needs to be amongst the first countries to rapidly close down
its oil and gas sector. But instead, in March of this year, the government announced new production
licenses for the vulnerable ice–edge zone in the Arctic. Moreover, Equior (67% state–owned) is
planning the world’s northernmost oil field, Wisting. This further reinforces Norway’s position as one
of Europe’s most polluting (per–capita) nations when you include the emissions from the use of the oil
and gas products. A country at the forefront of destroying any chance of keeping global heating below
1.5°C and of ripping up the Paris Climate Agreement.
Underscoring the urgency at the heart of the latest IPCC reports, our analysis delivers challenging
conclusions for all oil and gas producers. To meet the UN’s equity framing of “common but
differentiated responsibility”, wealthier nations less dependent on oil and gas revenues must lead
through higher phase–out rates and earlier closure dates. This offers less privileged nations a sliver of
additional manoeuvrability. For a 50/50 chance of keeping within 1.5°C, the wealthiest nations need
to phase out all oil and gas production by 2034, while the poorest nations have until 2050. Other
nations are distributed variously across this timeframe.
For all nations the implications for new developments is similarly unambiguous. There is no emissions
space for any new production. So no Wistings, nor developments in the Arctic. Still further, Equinor
needs immediately to pull out of any plans it may have for Canada’s Bay du Nord and for Argentina’s
Mar del Plata.
The capacity to transition away from fossil fuel production relates closely to a nation’s non–oil and gas
GDP per capita, with significant differences between rich and poor producing countries. Norway’s oil
and gas revenues represent just 14% of its high GDP per capita, in sharp contrast to that of Iraq and
the Congo, where the figure reaches 65% of a much smaller GDP per capita.
Building on the relative importance of oil and gas revenue to a nations’ economy, our report finds that
the 19 wealthiest oil and gas producing countries (including Norway) must reduce output by 74% by
2030, eliminating all production by 2034.
These blunt findings are a consequence of failing to act meaningfully on climate change for over thirty
years. Yet, for Norway at least, ending new oil and gas development would release a wealth of
engineering expertise to lead the rapid development of renewables and overhaul the country’s aging
transport infrastructure and building stock.
Such an exemplary transition would align with Norway’s original framing of sustainability,
demonstrate political integrity and put pressure on other fossil fuel exporters to follow suit.
The Norwegian Government faces a stark choice. It can continue with its dishonest climate agenda,
locked into the fossil fuel mindset of the twentieth century and hope its own children don’t see
through the feeble facade of ‘clean’ oil. Or it can embrace the climate challenge head on, deploy the
breadth and wealth of its expertise and resources and drive an agenda informed by integrity, courage
and a vision of a prosperous future without reliance on oil and gas.
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