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.