DISCUSSION Three cheers for Norway! (But don’t forget the elephant in the room

by Yolanda Villafuerte _______9th October 2009
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by Sean Kidney

Norway has just announced they will cut their emissions 40% on 1990 levels by 2020 – if there’s a good Copenhagen agreement. They’ll cut them 30% no matter what.
Great move Norway! We need all rich countries to cut much much more than so far agreed, especially recalcitrants like the US, Canada and Australia.

But … as Greenpeace points out, Norway itself has largely met its reduction targets to date through buying carbon credits from poor countries. Greenpeace is understandably concerned that Norway doesn’t simply use its oil wealth to buy its way out of having to take local action; a fair critique we have yet to see answered.

Allowing the meeting of targets with carbon credits is an awkward sort of blessing. It does transfer capital to developing countries where the CO2 reductions are cheapest to achieve, which is great. But unfortunately it’s still a wild west in carbon credit land, with too little supervision allowing too many doubtful investments. Of course Norway probably does more than anyone to make sure its credits are solid; and it also has a national carbon tax that is meant to drive local effort, better than most countries.

But there’s a bigger problem, a sort of “elephant in the room”.

Norway is of course a big oil exporter; it is paying for its carbon credits by pumping out vast volumes of oil and gas that make global warming worse.

That is not the way out of our mess. Scientists point out that, from the sorry atmospheric state we’re now in, there’s a limited amount of tonnage of carbon we can inject into the atmosphere before we go one step too far and consign ourselves to run-away climate change and an entirely different planet to try and live on. We have to wind down all fossil fuel emissions, and pronto.

Which makes another Norwegian anomaly all the more striking: their state-owned oil company, Statoil, is an investor in Canada’s highly polluting tar sands. Perhaps they’re just waiting for Copenhagen to announce that divestment?

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