Norway is known to be a beautiful country, with a long coastline, ranging mountains and lush forests. We are generally tolerant people, with a strong sense of right and wrong. We believe in peace. And we believe in nature.
So when world governments come together to discuss ways to prevent climate chaos, Norway typically scores high. We support progressive measures and fund action in poor countries. Just today at the United Nations climate talks in Bonn, Norway's environment minister Tine Sundtoft said pretty much what civil society observers wanted to hear – that climate-warming pollution must simply be phased out altogether in a fairly short time:
"We need to approach zero net emissions by the middle of the century."
There is, however, a big elephant in the room. Or a troll in the garden, as the Norwegian saying goes. Our wealth is built on oil, and we don't have a plan B. So we try to pretend it's not a problem.
Strangely, there seems to be a general belief by the leaders of this country that fossil fuel produced by Norwegians – be that oil, gas, tar sands, arctic oil or even coal from the new coal mine Svalbard – doesn't have any impact on the global climate. Actually, just this week, the current Norwegian Minister for Oil and Energy said that we should pump up every drop of oil and all the gas that exists on the Norwegian Continental shelf because it would not impact the climate. The former Minister of Oil and Energy thought we should drill for oil all the way to the North Pole. Some Norwegian politicians even claim pumping more oil and gas in Norway is actually good for the climate! Talk about self-betrayal and double standards…
Norwegian politicians will talk about the importance of keeping within the two degrees target, but their oil company Statoil will search and drill for more oil where ever it can, no matter how dirty or risky. They will talk about the need for a strong and legally binding global climate agreement, and yet allow Statoil to lobby against strong climate policies in Norway, the US and in Europe.
Sometimes Norwegian ministers will also talk about the need for investments in renewable energy projects in both developing countries and elsewhere, and yet they will not let the Norwegian Pension Fund Global invest in renewable infrastructure "because of high risk", despite the Fund's wish to do so. The fund is, however, allowed to invest in almost anything else, like Canadian tar sands, coal, Formula One and real estate to mention a few. Now, how is that for a high risk?
On top of that, Norway, with full blessing from the Minister of Environment, is even opening up new areas for oil exploration in the Arctic, an area so remote and far north that several of the new leases are within the Norwegian Polar institute's scientific definition of the polar ice edge. Drilling close to or in the ice is actually not allowed in Norway, but the politicians' and Statoil's hunger for oil is so strong that environmental concerns must yield.
Norway is still a beautiful country, and I am lucky to live here in this remote, peaceful and rich part of the world. I am, however, quite concerned about the fact that Norway is acting more and more like an oil company and not in the interest of future generations.
Today our minister in Bonn made the following pledge:
"Norway will develop a carbon budget type commitment. I believe this is the right response to the climate problem."
That's good. I believe so too. But it's not just the Kyoto Protocol style budget commitments we need. It’s the global carbon budget – the logic that vast majority of oil and gas in known reserves must stay in the ground – that should define a whole new direction for our country.
To protect the nature and seas we Norwegians love, we must urgently start planning for life beyond oil, and for a new Statoil that produces solutions instead of risks. We, if anyone, must be able to proof that it can be done.
Martin Norman is a Campaigner at Greenpeace Norway.