Norway flaunts its green credentials – so why is it drilling more oil wells?

(The Guardian, 12 Nov 2019) Never mind how many electric cars are sold there – Norway has to change tack and end prospecting for new oil reserves.

On my official UN visit to Norway in September, I found inspiring examples of leadership on climate change. I encountered a nearly emissions-free electricity system, the highest share of zero-emission vehicle sales in the world (almost half of all new cars sold are fully electric), and billions of dollars being invested in a Green Climate Fund that provides support to developing countries, as well as a burgeoning Climate and Forest Initiative.

However, Norway continues to explore for oil and gas at a time when the International Energy Agency and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that meeting the vital 1.5C target in the Paris agreement requires that the majority of existing fossil fuel reserves cannot be burned.

The Norwegian paradox is that its leadership on some aspects of climate action is undermined by its continued dependence on a large fossil fuel industry. Norway, as one of the world’s wealthiest nations and a leading producer of oil and gas, has a responsibility to lead efforts in mitigation, adaptation and, to some degree at least, compensation for the loss and damage caused by those products.

It is this Norwegian paradox that is currently under scrutiny in the court of appeal in Oslo. In a high-profile lawsuit filed in 2016, Greenpeace Nordic and Norway’s Nature and Youth organisation argued that the government is violating the rights of present and future generations to a safe and healthy environment by continuing to issue licences to petroleum companies, enabling them to explore for new oil reserves. In the first week of the appeal hearing, we heard that the Norwegian government challenges elements of established climate science and maintains its argument that Norway is justified in continuing to search for new oil in the vulnerable Arctic region.

In 2018, the district court confirmed that the right to a healthy environment is an enforceable human right protected by article 112 of Norway’s constitution. The government has a legal obligation to respect, protect and fulfil this fundamental human right. However, the judge accepted the government’s claim that Norway has no responsibility for carbon emissions resulting from burning Norwegian oil and gas outside of Norway. Hence the appeal by the environmental organisations.

From a climate change perspective, it is irrelevant where on Earth fossil fuels are burned. The emissions exacerbate the global climate emergency. There is no such thing as clean coal or clean oil, only varying degrees of dirty.

External link

The Guardian, 12 Nov 2019: Norway flaunts its green credentials – so why is it drilling more oil wells?