On Target

How Norway might accomplish its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.

By David Sokol

In April, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg announced at the Labor Party’s annual congress that the Scandinavian country would be carbon neutral by 2050, making it the first in the world to commit to such a goal. The prime minister also promised that Norway would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2020. At this early juncture, Stoltenberg’s words are just that. So Plenty spoke with Nina Witoszek, a cultural historian affiliated with the Centre for Development and the Environment at the University of Oslo, and independent energy consultant Tore Brænd, about the inspiration behind these decisions and how they could be implemented.


What spurred the Norwegian government to make a commitment to carbon neutrality?

Nina Witoszek: Norway’s not far away form the Arctic Circle, so in a sense we’re more intimate with what’s happening up there. And the south and the west have witnessed a dramatic change in the last decade. It’s no longer white Christmas in Oslo; it’s basically London weather—and two hours’ less sun.

Norwegians don’t need a Day After Tomorrow situation to make them aware of global warming?

Tore Brænd: Nature is dramatic enough here. We are scared that we may not be able to go skiing 10 or 15 years from now. We have a self-image of Norway as a skiing nation, so if you can’t do that anymore, what are we then? It’s like Americans and their guns!

Achieving carbon neutrality is, of course, easier for a small, rich country.

TB: On the surface, it looks very impressive. But it depends on how Norway is going to achieve this goal. The Green Development Mechanism is one of three Kyoto Protocol methods: It’s a way of financing projects in developing countries that will reduce emissions; the countries paying for the project will get the credit. Another mechanism is to trade emissions between the industrialized countries. Norway is stinking rich, so if we use this money to buy emission rights, it would actually be quite cheap to achieve these impressive goals. We wouldn’t have to do anything with our own domestic emissions.

Do you think Norwegians could go the third route of good old-fashioned sacrifice?

NW: The noble causes are more the domain of the politicians and policy makers than the domain of civil society. There’s kind of a passive attitude of most well-fed Norwegians toward the way in which these problems can be solved.

A lot of Norway’s power is hydroelectric, which is clean. What are the country’s biggest sources of emissions?

TB: The oil and gas industry is responsible for 23 to 25 percent of our emissions. And then we have the transportation sector, which accounts for about 30 percent. We also have some heavy industry like aluminum production, which emits quite a lot of greenhouse gases. These three sectors make up for the lack of emissions from electricity production.

Does that mean it’s doubtful that Stoltenberg will vow to, say, install photovoltaics on a million homes’ rooftops?

TB: It’s true that homes have hydro-powered electricity and heating, but Norweigans are building bigger homes, and if that continues, we’ll have to devote more rivers to hydroelectricity, or import power from nuclear and coal-fired power in northern Europe. On the reverse side, if you can stop using electricity for heating and start using heat pumps, more efficient insulation, and bioenergy, then we can free some domestic electricity production for other uses. Maybe we could export it to our neighbors that are dependent on coal and nuclear plants.

The tough problem will be determining how to handle the emissions from transportation and commercial buildings. The transportation sector is especially difficult because Norway is spread out and there are few areas suitable for rail transport.

What would curbing vehicle emissions entail?

TB: The most important thing is to put a cap on the emissions, and charge the necessary steep taxes in order to achieve this. Another course would be to implement urban planning that minimizes the need for transportation.

Does Norway have what it takes to reach carbon neutrality without just reaching into deep pockets?  

TB: Naturally, it is very difficult for politicians to make any kind of unpopular decision. On the other hand, I think Norway, just as much as the rest of the world, has suddenly woken up and realized that climate change is real and it is here. There is a surge of interest in this issue, which has put pressure on the politicians and given them a mandate to impose tougher restrictions. We might see that happen this fall, as the coalition government’s Socialist Left and Centrist parties push for limits.

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Way to go, Norge!!!
This is great, even though they're a 'rich' country. Its the wealthier nations who most need to reduce, so that fits just fine.
I have lived in Norway and really doubt that solar power makes sense there, at least not half of the year. hm...
wind and tides are more likely, it seems to me.

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