STAVANGER, Norway – Oil and gas from the North Sea have helped make Norway one of the richest countries in the world. But as Norwegians go to the polls on Monday, fears over climate change have put the future of the industry high on the campaign’s agenda.
The ruling Tories, led by Prime Minister Erna Solberg, and the opposition Labor Party, which leads opinion polls, are both calling for a phasing out of fossil fuels which continue to support the economy.
But the big parties rarely rule alone in Norway; small actors are usually required to form a majority coalition and they can have a disproportionate influence on the government’s agenda. Some are calling for a more radical break with the country’s dominant industry and income stream.
“Our demand is to stop looking for oil and gas and to stop issuing new permits to companies,” said Lars Haltbrekken, spokesman for the Socialist Left Party for Climate and Energy, a likely partner. of the Labor coalition. He says after eight years in power, the government is protecting a status quo at a time when the country craves a post-oil future.
A report released in August by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicting flooding and fires around the world created a wave in Norway that peaked throughout this election campaign.
It also forces Norwegians to fight against a paradox at the heart of their society.
With their hydropower grid and electric cars, they are among the most enthusiastic green energy consumers in the world, but decades of oil and gas exports mean this nation of 5.3 million people benefits from a generous well-being buffer and sits on the world’s greatest sovereign wealth. funds.
Tina Bru, Minister of Petroleum and Energy, said it was unthinkable for the country to end the country’s largest industry, which is responsible for over 40% of exports and directly employs over 5% of the work force.
“My question is always: what happens after you stop? What else are you going to do to make sure the world meets its climate goals? It could affect our own climate budget, but it won’t make a difference globally, ”she said.
She agrees with a report highlighted by the Norwegian Oil and Gas Association, an industry group, that ending Norwegian production would have a net negative effect on global emissions. Demand would remain the same and cleaner Norwegian production would be replaced by other countries with higher emissions, she said. She prefers a longer term approach that focuses on demand.
“It’s a little disappointing in this campaign where we see that the only way to discuss politics and have credibility on your desire to reduce emissions is to stop producing oil and gas. It’s a much more nuanced question involving other things like agriculture and transportation. “
Some 70% of all new cars sold in Norway are electric, with consumers continuing to benefit from government subsidies, and the government has signaled that environmental taxes will increase. Earlier this month, he also proposed an adjustment to the existing tax regime, where some explorers will have to take more of the risk of looking for oil.
Labor supports the approach and admits that it charts a similar future for the industry. But he pledged a more interventionist industrial policy that will channel support to new green industries, like wind power, “blue hydrogen” which uses natural gas to produce an alternative fuel, and carbon capture and storage. , which seeks to bury carbon dioxide under the ocean.
However, any post-election bargaining risks being heavy for Labor. The socialist left says it will not offer its support lightly, and the other likely partner, the Center Party, is also demanding a more aggressive approach to energy change.
“Right now our plan is to run with our two old friends from these parties,” said Espen Barth Eide, spokesperson for Labor’s Energy. “We still think it works. But if their open position is to end exploration, that won’t happen. … We will try to have a mature dialogue on the next phase of the oil industry.
Most of the country’s oil and gas still comes from mature areas of the North Sea, but most of the untapped reserves lie in the Barents Sea, above the Arctic Circle – a red line for conservationists. Eide says a possible compromise could be found by focusing on where oil exploration can be done in the future.
However, Haltbrekken, former chairman of Friends of the Earth Norway, a climate charity, says the new government needs to be more urgent. “The IPCC report made a huge impression on the people. But there is one thing that I fear more than what was in the report, is that apathy and despair are taking over. People might think this is such a huge problem that there is nothing we can do about it. But we can. There is a lot we can do to solve it. It just needs to start now. “