Paris climate goals threatened by Norway's push for Arctic oil and gas – study

Noway’s role as the world’s biggest fossil fuel exporter undermines its efforts to cut emissions at home, says NGO report

Oil platforms under maintenance near Bergen in Norway
Oil platforms under maintenance near Bergen in Norway

Norway’s plans to ramp up oil and gas production in the Arctic threatens global efforts to tackle climate change, according to a new study.

The research says 12 gigatonnes of carbon could be added by exploration sites in the Barents Sea and elsewhere over the next 50 years, which is 1.5 times more than the Norwegian fields currently being tapped or under construction.

The authors of the report from Oil Change International – an NGO backed by Friends of the Earth, WWF and Greenpeace – say this undermines the 2015 Paris agreement to cut worldwide emissions in order to keep the planet’s temperature rise to between 1.5C and 2C.

The report highlights the “cognitive dissonance” between Norway’s progressive domestic measures to comply with the Paris agreement on emissions cuts and its role as Europe’s biggest exporter of fossil fuels.

Climate campaigners say this is like trying to put the brakes on climate change at home while stomping your foot on the global gas pedal.

Norway has proposed a record number of 93 blocks for oil and gas exploration in the Barents Sea this year, according to the report. Instead of adding new fossil fuel fields, it says Norway should reassert its environmental credentials by relying on existing production.

The study is the first of several detailed country-by-country follow-ups on a broader survey done by the group last year that highlighted the gulf between global pledges and national actions.

They focused on Norway because it has long been a supporter of ambitious global reduction targets and has used part of its oil revenues to develop renewable technologies and tackle deforestation. If it cannot leave fossil fuels in the ground and make the transition to a carbon-free economy, the authors ask, then how can any of its rivals in less developed nations be expected to do so?

The government argues that its oil and gas reserves are the most efficiently extracted in the world and that, so as long as there is demand for these fuels, it is better that they come from Norway. It also puts the number of newly offered exploration blocks closer to 50.

But the authors say this misses the point because Norway exports 10 times more carbon than it emits, which makes this relatively small country the seventh biggest source of the climate pollutant.

Politicians from the two main parties are reluctant to scale back an industry that, as of June this year, provided almost 200,00 jobs and about 40% of the country’s export earnings. But they may not have much choice. Oil prices are less than half of their recent peak of 2014 and related employment has fallen by a fifth.

Globally, it is becoming harder to find investors for fossil fuel projects as renewables, such as solar and wind, become cheaper. Even with the very deep pockets of a $960bn sovereign wealth fund, Norway may yet baulk at the next big oil expansion – a proposed $13bn investment into the Wisting Field in the Barents Sea – that is due to be decided upon in the next two or three years.

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