Norway plans to expand oil production, raising international criticism for ignoring its climate goals

Posted on 09 June 2021

(9 June 2021) - The international community is urging Norway to stop expanding its oil industry, as the government today issued 84 new areas for exploration and production of petroleum, and is expected to issue even more in the coming month. Neither the Norwegian minister of oil and energy, Norwegian unions, nor majority state-owned oil company Equinor are planning to slow down.
 
WWF Global Lead Climate & Energy, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, said, “There is no future for fossil fuels in the new-climate aligned economy emerging in the push to have net-zero emissions by 2050. Norway has often been a leader on climate issues and is well-positioned to lead on the energy transition. By standing on the side of fossil fuel interests, Norway risks having stranded assets. Norway’s position will increase the risk of the world reaching fragile climate tipping points, which in turn will cause devastating impacts on the natural world on which we depend. I urge Norwegian leaders to embrace the new world that is coming.”
 
Sandrine Dixson-Declève, co-President of The Club of Rome and Initiator of the Planetary Emergency Partnership said, “The Norwegian government and industry cannot ignore science. Norway must follow the IEA’s strong and substantiated warning that there cannot be any new investments in oil, gas, and coal from today if we are to limit the dire consequences of climate breakdown. We look to Norway for leadership and ambition on the energy transition – not complacency and backtracking. Looking the other way will seriously take away from growing global political momentum to shift our energy system from stranded fossil energy assets towards low carbon energy. Shifting our energy system and ensuring systemic low carbon transformation, as outlined in the Planetary Emergency Plan, is a crucial pillar in realizing the goal to halve our global GHG emissions by 2030 and to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.”
 
This week, the Norwegian government will be releasing a white paper on the future wealth creation from Norwegian energy resources (“Stortingsmelding om langsiktig verdiskaping fra norsk energiressurser”). Rather than planning for a managed decline of its oil and gas industry, the plan is expected to facilitate further expansion. The government is also expected to issue new oil licences shortly after. Majority state-owned oil company Equinor is also this week set to publish its new Energy Perspectives, which is expected to be not compatible with the 1.5°C-degree goal.
 
Last week, Eirik Wærness, Equinor's chief economist, admitted to Norwegian newspaper Klassekampen that the energy company does not make investment decisions based on a 1.5 degree goal.
 
Mike Coffin, Carbon Tracker Senior Analyst, said, “Equinor’s goals are insufficient in reflecting the climate crisis. And although we are looking forward to seeing their new energy perspective, the recent signals from the company are worrying. Equinor currently has a number of different goals within its ‘net-zero’ strategy, but it has significant shortcomings. Its ‘absolute greenhouse gas emissions without offsets’' target for product sales in Norway covers only 15 percent of their total emissions, as does its goal to achieve ‘carbon-neutral global operations’ by 2030. Its ‘net carbon intensity’ goal of global product sales has an intensity, rather than absolute approach to reductions towards net-zero, thereby failing to reflect finite climate limits – in fact, emissions could even rise in the short to medium term. The IEA highlighted that a 1.5-degree scenario means no further oil and gas development; given its continuing development of new projects, Equinor’s strategy seems to assume failure of climate goals.”
 
Norway’s plans to further expand oil production come in the wake of the landmark Net Zero report by the International Energy Agency (IEA). The authoritative energy organization indicated that to achieve net-zero and keep temperature rises to 1.5°C, there should be “no new oil and gas fields approved for development”.
 
Greg Muttitt, Senior Policy Adviser, International Institute for Sustainable Development said, ‘“Limiting warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels requires rapid decarbonization. Given the committed emissions from oil and gas extracted over the lifetime of existing fields, there is no room for opening additional fields, as the IEA report confirmed last month. The world needs wealthy countries to take the lead in phasing out their fossil fuel production. A first step must be to end the award of new licences to explore for and extract yet more oil and gas. When in a hole, you have to stop digging.”
 
The Norwegian fossil fuel industry’s position, adopted by some ministers and unions, risks posing a major threat to Norway’s prosperity and jobs, experts warn. As governments and non-state actors accounting for over 50% of global GDP are committed to net-zero, it is increasingly likely that a sudden acceleration in the energy transition will drive oil prices down. The implications for Equinor and Norway’s steady oil revenue stream are substantial: oil and gas projects turning into stranded assets, wasted capital expenditure, potential job loss unmitigated by appropriate just transition policies. While putting in jeopardy its domestic economy, Norway risks also seeing its international leadership being considerably undermined, as the world moves on from oil and gas.
 
Loukina Tille, a youth climate activist from Switzerland said, “Norway is playing with the future of upcoming generations by proposing false solutions, especially since they are one of the countries best suited to implement a just transition to a renewable economy. Gambling on technical solutions like CCS and blue hydrogen from fossil gas is in the best case a risky path to sustainability and in the worst case an excuse for continued fossil fuels production. It’s a dangerous strategy – with our generation taking the risk”.

For further information contact Mandy Jean Woods mwoods@wwfint.org.

 
Bunker fuel in Norway.
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