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Norway Leading Environmental Issues

norway_environmental_issuesNorwegians used to grow up with images of polar heroes freezing into the ice in their attempts to reach the North Pole and other areas where man had never before set foot. Today, the Arctic is quite literally ‘on thin ice’, with climate change taking place twice as fast as anywhere else in the world. In the not too distant future, summers there will be ice-free, making the once remote region ever more accessible. This gradual loss of a cooling layer over the Arctic has the dramatic effect of further accelerating global warming, with consequences for all regions of the world.

There is an urgent need to curb global warming and to counter its damaging effects. The Norwegian government’s policy is to push Norway to be a leading nation on environmental issues. The country is striving for a more comprehensive and ambitious climate agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol and a global agreement is needed to ensure a maximum global mean temperature rise of 2C compared to the pre-industrial level. This means that global emissions will have to be reduced by 50 to 85 per cent by 2050 – and most likely towards the upper end of that figure. In order to try and achieve this, Norway will follow up on commitments and reduce emissions nationally as well as internationally.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, Norway has an international obligation to ensure that its average annual greenhouse gas emissions in the period from 2008 to 2012 do not exceed the 1990 emission level by more than 1 per cent. Norway has unilaterally decided to strengthen this Kyoto commitment by 10 per cent, by looking to reduce emissions to 9 per cent below 1990 levels. Norway stands to comply with the Kyoto Protocol, allowing countries to supplement national measures to fulfill their commitments with measures undertaken abroad.

In the context of 2009’s Copenhagen Accord, Norway established an intermediate target to reduce emissions by 30 to 40 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020. The 40 per cent target will only come into effect as part of a global and comprehensive agreement for the period beyond 2012, where major emitting parties agree on emission reductions in line with the 2C target. In the absence of such an agreement, the target will be 30 per cent. Domestic emission reductions should amount to about two-thirds of total reductions, the other third being purchased on international carbon markets.

It is a long-term objective for Norway to become a low-emission society. Norway has made a political pledge to achieve carbon neutrality, aiming to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 100 per cent of its own emissions by 2050 at the latest. If an ambitious global climate agreement is achieved in which other developed countries also take on extensive obligations, Norway will look to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 at the latest.

International initiatives

To promote emission cuts internationally, Norway has pioneered efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in tropical countries. Deforestation in the developing world accounts for about one-sixth of total global emissions, which is more than all the world’s ships, cars, trains and planes combined. Measures to reduce deforestation can be a cost-effective way of achieving large emission cuts, while safeguarding valuable biological diversity and safeguarding local forest communities. It will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to limit global warming to 2C without a significant reductions in deforestation.

New approaches have been sought, in close cooperation with other donors and stakeholders. The idea is essentially to pay developing countries to protect and sustainably use their forests and to protect the earth’s climate. Norway collaborates closely with countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, Guyana and Tanzania to develop incentives to reduce emissions from the forests. The aim is to demonstrate results in terms of reduced forest loss, laying the basis for international guidelines and future mechanisms in this important area.

Since the Copenhagen summit in 2009, US$4 billion has been pledged and more than 70 countries have come together to form a partnership to coordinate international efforts to combat deforestation. In Indonesia, the world’s second largest rainforest country, the President has now asked some of his most respected public servants to develop the country’s strategy to reduce deforestation from forest and peat land destruction. A first important milestone was the recent ordering of a two-year suspension for issuance of new licenses for conversion of primary forest and peat land.

Norway has also taken an active role to follow-up on the decision from Copenhagen to mobilise US$100 billion per year for climate-related incentives in developing countries by 2020. Acting on a mandate from the UN Secretary General, Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi Asres led the UN High-Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing, reporting on how these funds could be made available. The subsequent decision in 2010 to establish a Green Fund under the UN should help raise significant sums from new and traditional sources, both public and private.

Climate change hits the poorest the hardest. The poor are the most vulnerable, lacking the resources and infrastructure to adapt to drought, floods and extreme weather. Norway has a long-standing tradition of international environmental cooperation, which also covers areas such as clean energy and oil for development  – areas where Norway has experience and expertise. The Norwegian government has gathered the environment and international development portfolios under one minister, Erik Solheim, in recognition of the strong links that exist between these two areas.

National goals

Climate change has been high on Norway’s domestic agenda since the late 1980s.  Norway was the first country in the world to introduce a CO2 tax for the petroleum industry in 1991. Although not an EU member country, Norway is also fully linked with the European Emission Trading Scheme (ETS).

Over 70 per cent of domestic greenhouse gas emissions are either covered by the ETS or subject to CO2 tax or other taxes aimed at their reduction.  Nonetheless, certain emission sources cannot be incorporated into this scheme. In such cases, the authorities use other instruments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Examples include economic support to produce biogas from manure and regulation by the Climate and Pollution Agency of the waste sector.

In addition to market-based instruments like emission trading and taxes, Norway supports research and innovation of climate-friendly technologies such as renewable energy solutions and carbon capture and storage (CCS).

The government is working with Statoil to develop a full-scale carbon dioxide cleansing plant at Mongstad, near Bergen, including an international technology test centre on carbon capture and storage. In doing so, Norway hopes to inspire technological developments that will help pave the way for commercially viable solutions in the future and help end the world’s reliance on coal-fired power stations.

Norway’s climate policy is currently being revised in light of the 2020 target, which entails a reduction of Norwegian CO2 emissions by 15 to 17 million tonnes, of which two-thirds are to take place within Norway.

Domestic emissions must be brought down. Starting with a White Paper on Norwegian climate policy in 2007, the country has embarked upon a process taking a deep look at the emission reduction potential of key sectors. Sector targets have consequently been set up for petroleum and energy; transport, manufacturing and primary industries; and waste management.

In 2008, a ‘climate cure’ group was set up to undertake a more thorough analysis of further options and measures in light of the 2020 target. Indeed, a full review of Norway’s climate policy and use of policy instruments will be presented in a new White Paper to be published later this year. We expect a lively and well-informed political debate ranging from international politics to everyday measures that affect everything from housing and heating to transport.

The days of rallying around polar heroes may be over, but most Norwegians agree that man-made climate change is a very real danger. We must pull together as a global community and put our best foot forward to tackle this key challenge of our time.


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