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What Norway can do

Norway's efforts to limit emissions are not impressive. In 1990, we released 51495 kilotonnes CO₂ equivalents. In 2018, emissions had increased to 52022 kilotonnes. During the same period, our neighbouring countries had reduced emissions from 71184 to 51779 kilotonnes (Sweden), from 71000 to 49975 kilotonnes (Denmark) and from 71231 to 56359 kilotonnes (Finland) [L83]. Norway also continues to invest in oil and gas extraction, although world consumption of these raw materials must be significantly reduced in order to achieve an acceptable climate in the future. The Government has even granted new oil licences in vulnerable areas up towards the ice edge in the Arctic. Some environmental organisations have initiated a legal process to take these issues to court. This claim was rejected in the district court and the court of appeal. The decision was appealed to the Supreme Court, which heard the case in plenary [L124]. The verdict came on 22 December. The environmental organisations lost by 11 against 4 votes. An appeal to the European Court of Human Rights is being considered [L138].

Norway's total emissions are admittedly only about 1 per mille of global emissions [L84], but it is important that we do our part of the job. Then we are in a better position to demand that others also do their part.

But in my opinion, our responsibility is much greater than just limiting our own emissions. We are a rich country, and our wealth is created by pumping up oil and gas that other countries burn. In January 2021, the Norwegian Petroleum Fund was worth approximately 1093 billion euros [L70]. We have earned this by filling the atmosphere with greenhouse gases that destroy the climate. Most other countries struggle with net debt. Denmark, for example, has a net debt corresponding to 16% of the gross national product (GDP). With oil wealth, our net debt is negative: -90% of GDP [L85].

The UN aims to limit warming to below 2°C, preferably to 1.5°C. But emissions continue to increase at an accelerating rate. In a UN report, The UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2019 [L86], it is estimated that the emission reductions the Member States in the UNFCCC [L87] have committed to will only limit the warming to 3.2°C. The report therefore calls on all countries to step up their efforts.

We live in a world of economic growth. Each country pursues a policy of internal economic growth, so that it will not lag behind other countries. Therefore, it is almost impossible to slow this growth, and some economists believe that growth must continue to avoid a downturn in the economy. Even if we could stop the growth, and so also help to stop the growth of emissions, this is not a realistic way to go. Such a policy will only lead to stagnation in emissions, which is far from good enough to limit the heating to an acceptable level. We must therefore accept the growth, and rather focus more on a technological transformation of the global economy; replacing polluting power generation with alternatives without emissions, ensuring emission-free transport, etc. Such a transformation of the economy is often referred to as the green shift.

But this requires increased efforts in research and development and investments in new types of companies. All of this requires capital, and here Norway can actually make a big difference by contributing parts of its oil wealth. The Petroleum Fund is now managed with a single goal in mind, namely to increase wealth by investing in the most profitable projects. Admittedly, over time, restrictions have been placed on investments to avoid those that are considered immoral, but the main goal, increasing wealth, is not abandoned. Whether or not the investment contributes to a green shift is not relevant.

We can compare the state of the planet with a boat that is about to sink. All the countries of the world are on board with their own ladles. Our common task is to keep the boat afloat until we reach land. The ladles vary in size and they are used to a differing extent. Norway has one of the largest ladles, but we hardly use it.

My suggestion is to split the Petrolium Fund in two. One part is managed as before, with focus on increasing wealth. The purpose of the second part should be to contribute to the green shift. Initially, for example, one third of the current fund could be transferred to a new climate fund, while the Petroleum Fund retains two-thirds of the capital. The new climate fund should be managed more on the basis of technological expertise, and we should acquire such expertise internationally, not just from Norway. Of course, financial advisers should also contribute to such a fund, but people with a scientific/technological background with good understanding of long-term trends should have the decisive influence. Investments from the fund should mainly take place abroad, but research and development can of course also be done in Norway, provided the domestic economy allows it.

Latest update: 2021-08-13