Norway: green ambitions and oil exports

Dylan Prazak

This Economist article on Norway should make interesting reading for Canadians interested in questions of energy, environment, and politics. It highlights how Norway is both progressive on climate change – with a carbon tax and a grid almost completely dominated by hydroelectric power – and a major indirect emitter on account of its large exports of oil and gas. Oil and gas sales produced 413 billion kroner ($75 billion Canadian) in revenues in 2008, and such exports have allowed Norway to build up an oil-revenue fund worth 2.1 trillion kroner ($382 billion Canadian).

The challenge of being a hydrocarbon exporter at a time when future human prosperity depends on the fairly rapid abandonment of fossil fuels is an acute one. While carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies may eventually help square the circle a bit, that is by no means guaranteed. Indeed, placing excessive confidence on the rapid and economical deployment of that technology will leave states in the lurch if it doesn’t deliver as rapidly as promised.

In addition to discussing carbon pricing instruments and oil exports, the article examines the practice of ‘offsetting’ emissions by paying to have them reduced somewhere else, then taking the credit for doing so by counting those avoided emissions against your own. As discussed before, it is an idea not entirely without merit. That being said, it must be rigorously operated, or it will risk being abused.

Norway’s considerable efforts to respond appropriately to climate change deserve to be both applauded and, where appropriate, replicated in Canada. As for balancing the desire to do what’s right against the temptation of cash for dirty fuels, hopefully Norway will opt to show other oil producers that the temptation can be restrained without destroying prosperity, and that there are big opportunities to be found in alternative, renewable sources of energy. Depressingly, it may only be with strong examples of this type elsewhere that Canada will even begin to seriously contemplate such a shift.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

18 thoughts on “Norway: green ambitions and oil exports”

  1. “Yet if anything, Norwegians are moving away from environmental self-denial. A recent rise in petrol tax, of 0.05 kroner per litre, caused a political storm. Many drivers, especially around congested Oslo, are also incensed by the government’s reluctance to build more roads. And there is a growing sense that the government is tying itself in knots in its efforts to square its green ideals with the grubby reality of Norway’s hydrocarbon wealth.
    The Progress Party, which has the support of roughly a quarter of the electorate, has seized on these complaints.”

    This shows how there is always political opportunity in eliminating self-imposed restrictions. Most governments have a sorry record of raiding pension funds and otherwise taking actions that provide a moderate immediate bonus at a high eventual cost.

  2. Norway’s oil fund drops Barrick stock

    The Associated Press
    January 30, 2009 at 6:45 AM EST

    OSLO — — Norway’s oil fund has blacklisted the U.S. conglomerate Textron Inc. and the Canadian mining company Barrick Gold Corp. [ABX-T] over concerns that their operations violate the fund’s ethical guidelines, the government said Friday.

    Textron, with interests that include the Cessna and Bell aircraft companies, was excluded because its defence unit makes cluster bombs, Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen said. Norway led a drive to ban the munitions in a treaty that was signed by 93 countries in Oslo in December.

  3. Norway’s ruling parties delay oil sands vote
    Mon May 18, 2009 8:12am EDT

    OSLO (Reuters) – Norway’s center-left government effectively delayed a parliamentary vote on Monday on whether majority state-owned oil and gas producer StatoilHydro should withdraw from a $2 billion Canadian oil sands venture.

    The oil sands issue has put the government in a bind four months before a general election, with political opponents saying state support for the oil sands project was hypocritical given the cabinet’s self-professed environmental ambitions.

    Affluent Norway — the world’s No. 6 oil exporter and third biggest gas exporter — likes to see itself as a champion of green policies and the government even plans to make the country carbon-neutral by 2050.

    It is hard to square such ambitions with activist views that producing oil from tar sands damages the environment and produces large amounts of carbon dioxide emissions.

  4. StatoilHydro shareholders reject tar sands exit

    Tue May 19, 2009 3:58pm EDT

    OSLO (Reuters) – Shareholders of Norwegian oil and gas producer StatoilHydro overwhelmingly backed the company continuing its Canadian oil sands venture despite attempts by environmentalists to derail the project.

    At its annual shareholders meeting on Tuesday, owners with 3.64 million shares voted for Greenpeace’s resolution for StatoilHydro to withdraw from its $2 billion tar sands project, Greenpeace said. Investors representing a further 22 million shares abstained.

    The figures correspond to 0.1 percent of total shares backing the oil sands exit and 0.7 percent abstaining.

    Excluding the Norwegian government, which owns 67 percent of Statoil shares and voted against the motion, only 0.3 percent of free-float investors backed the plan and 2.1 percent abstained.

  5. The StatoilHydro vote is a disappointment, but I suppose it should not be surprising. After all, those investing in oil companies must still believe that fossil fuels have a future. If you believe that, unconventional options like the Canadian oil sands are among a dwindling number of new investment options.

  6. “The situation is epitomised by my recent trip to Norway. I hoped that Norway, because of its history of environmentalism, might be able to take real action to address climate change, drawing attention to the hypocrisy in the words and pseudo-actions of other nations.

    So I wrote a letter to the prime minister suggesting that Norway, as majority owner of Statoil, should intervene in its plans to develop the tar sands of Canada. I received a polite response, by letter, from the deputy minister of petroleum and energy. The government position is that the tar sands investment is “a commercial decision”, that the government should not interfere, and that a “vast majority in the Norwegian parliament” agree that this constitutes “good corporate governance”. The deputy minister concluded his letter: “I can however assure you that we will continue our offensive stance on climate change issues both at home and abroad.”

    A Norwegian grandfather, upon reading the deputy minister’s letter, quoted Saint Augustine: “Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.”

    The Norwegian position is a staggering reaffirmation of the global situation: even the greenest governments find it too inconvenient to address the implication of scientific facts.

  7. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris, however, can’t be so easily dismissed. In diplomatic language, the organization tore a strip off Alberta for its short-sightedness in energy policy. In contrast to Norway and Chile, the OECD found that Alberta isn’t building up a fund from oil and gas revenues to be used for the benefit of future generations.

    Worse, the government transferred $3.6-billion from its Alberta Sustainability Fund to pay for its deficit this year. Worse still, said the OECD, the government intends to keep drawing down the fund until it has fallen to $4.7-billion from the $16.8-billion it reached in the 2007-2008 fiscal year.

    Norway, by contrast, saves all its oil and gas royalties, drawing down just 4 per cent of the fund’s value each year – so future generations of Norwegians will benefit from today’s bounty. Today’s generation of Albertans, however, is hogging the revenues and building up a pittance for the future. Me, me, now, now seems to be the attitude of Albertans and their government.

  8. Pingback: Egypt and oil
  9. So much for Norway’s eco-friendly image

    By George Monbiot, published on the Guardian’s website 20th November 2012

    One of the biggest political shocks of the past decade has been the transformation of Canada. Under the influence of the tar barons of Alberta, it has mutated from a country dominated by liberal, pacific, outward-looking values to a thuggish petro-state, ripping up both international treaties and the fabric of its own nation.

    Prepare to be shocked again. Another country, whose green and humanitarian principles were just as well-established as Canada’s, is undergoing a similar transformation. Again, it is not the people of the nation who have changed – in both cases they remain, as far as I can tell, as delightful as ever – but the dominant political class and its destruction of both national values and international image.

    I am talking about Norway. It is famous for the size of its aid budget, the maturity of its decision-making, its reasoned diplomacy and above all its defence of the environment. Of course there has been for a long time a fundamental contradiction: Norway’s image as the saviour of the ecosystem is somewhat undermined by its massive oil industry. You might already be aware of other contradictions, such as the clash between its protection of wild fish stocks and its destructive farmed salmon industry.

    But what I am about to relate cuts to the heart of Norway’s image as a broad-minded, liberal, green nation. It repudiates those advertisements emphasising the country’s natural beauty and astonishing wildlife and suggests that the sensibilities of Norway’s current political class are no more sophisticated than those of the frontiersmen of the Wild West in the late 19th Century.

    Tomorrow (Wednesday) there will be a meeting between the Norwegian and Swedish governments, at which Norway intends to lay claim to some of the wolves which live on the border between the two nations. This may sound like a good thing. The government’s purpose is anything but.

  10. Many young Norwegian greens want to wean their country off oil.

    Yet although Innovation Norway, a state-owned agency, has in recent years done a good job of promoting startups, Norway’s economy will remain dominated by oil for the foreseeable future. Petroleum has transformed the country since it was discovered at the Ekofisk oilfield in the North Sea in 1969. Norway is one of the world’s largest oil exporters. Hydrocarbons account for half its exports and 19% of gdp. And another oil rush is beginning. Johan Sverdrup, a giant new oilfield in the North Sea, could earn Norway an estimated $100bn over the next 50 years.

    Sveinung Rotevatn, the 32-year-old newly appointed minister of climate and the environment, admits that Norway is a paradox—one of the world’s leaders in the use of renewable energies and technologies, but also a fossil-fuel giant. Almost all Norway’s electricity comes from renewable sources. Heating with oil will be banned this year. Half of newly registered cars are electric (Norway is one of Tesla’s biggest markets). Oslo was the first city in the world to set a ceiling every year for its greenhouse-gas emissions. In late 2018 it removed nearly all parking spaces from the city centre, replacing them with benches, bicycle docks and more pavements. In October last year Norway’s $1.1trn sovereign-wealth fund, the world’s largest, established in 1990 to prepare the country for a post-oil future, announced that it would sell all its shares in companies dedicated to oil and gas exploration.

    “There is no future for oil,” insists Mathias Mikkelsen, the 29-year-old ceo of Memory, a startup that developed an app to track time at work. Oil is the new coal, so clever investors are putting their money elsewhere, says Inge Berge, ceo of Wastefront, which, backed by Innovation Norway, is building a factory to recycle tyres. Yet both Mr Mikkelsen and Mr Berge benefited from the ecosystem for startups financed by oil wealth—and would have a much tougher time building their companies without it.

  11. ‘Battle for the nation’s soul’: Norway faces debate about gas and oil wealth | Norway | The Guardian

    According to its finance ministry, the Norwegian state is likely to have earned almost 1,200bn Norwegian kroner (€113bn) from petroleum sales by the end of 2022, meaning Russia’s war of aggression has made every Norwegian citizen at least €20,000 better off on paper. Profits for 2023 are estimated to rise to €130bn, a five-fold increase on 2021.

  12. Paradoxes of Norway’s energy transition: controversies and justice

    Norway exemplifies a number of paradoxes in relation to the just transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy provision. We investigate these paradoxes by focusing on key controversies from the oil and gas sector and onshore wind power. Despite the widespread interest in avoiding conflict and increasing public acceptance, this article sees controversies as useful sites for uncovering justice issues in possible transition pathways. The controversies reveal competing interpretations of just transition amidst an inadequate cross-cutting policy response. Conventional solutions for restructuring petro-maritime industries involve taking controversies out of sight from the public and internalizing the issue of just transition to the sector’s needs. This achieves only shallow engagement with broader society regarding the scope of societal transition needed to meet climate policies. Controversies around onshore wind installations are on the doorsteps of communities themselves and call attention to the difficult social aspects of transition that require a much broader public debate and policy response. We conclude that just transition should not be interpreted sectorally in competing energy futures but rather should infiltrate both the fossil and renewables sides of the Norwegian energy provision paradox.

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