Norway’s Unprecedented Oil Revenues Exacerbating Climate Change Skepticism – Environmental Experts

By Joseph Kato

Fisher Aled, a renowned environmentalist, and member of the global climate change activists’ association dubbed Friends of the Earth has blamed Norwegian’s unprecedented oil and gas revenues for increasing climate change skepticism, especially in the global south.

The global south countries such as Uganda which expects to join the international oil market in 2025 as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo which also has numerous oil well sites in the rain forests believe it is a deliberate move by the global north to frustrate minerals extractions that would rejuvenate their economic statuses.

For instance, Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s president, has vowed that no amount of pressure from the European countries will antagonize the country and her partners’ efforts to have oil extracted starting in 2025.

“We will not accept one rule for them and another rule for us. Europe’s failure to meet its climate goals should not be Africa’s problem,” the Africa News website reported months ago. Museveni’s criticism of the climate change fight spearheaded by the global north came at the time when Egypt was hosting the COP27 summit.

Aled in the recent interaction with international journalists and journalism students at Friends of the Earth head office, in Oslo, Norway argued that as much the climate change effects are already being witnessed and the studies showing the worst is yet to come, Norway’s current earning from oil cause doubts about environmental degradation.

Norway government figures and media reports show the country that has been bagging over 288 billion kroner (over $130m) from oil and gas transactions every year now earns over a trillion kroner annually. Norway’s oil and gas earnings increased by more than 200 percent in the year 2022. For instance, CNBC reported in January this year that Norway earned 1.17 billion kroner last year after becoming almost the only alternative for oil and gas following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Many European countries put trade sanctions against Russia and now largely rely on Norway’s oil and gas.

Such mouth-watering revenues from oils have seen African leaders like Museveni accusing European countries of having double standards and being hypocritical in environmental protection calls.  “We will not allow African progress to be the victim of Europe’s failure to meet its own climate goals. It is morally bankrupt for Europeans to expect to take Africa’s fossil fuels for their energy production but refuse to countenance African use of those same fuels for theirs,” Africa News December 2022 reported.

Aled agrees that such earnings from oil and gas make Norway appear contradictory in her proposals to reduce carbon emissions. This, Aled backs with studies about greenhouse gas emissions that have shown that Africa emits less carbon into the air compared to countries like Norway which has for decades emitted large volumes of carbon through her oil and gas industry.

To reduce injustices in the climate change fight, Aled thinks global south countries should perhaps be allowed to extract their minerals for a restricted period but under well-guided measures.

“Norway should be calming its emission faster than any other country in the south. Maybe some countries should be allowed to increase their emission for a certain period. Norway owes the south a climate debt; environmental debt,” Aled said.

Aled noted that Norway’s intensive oil extraction to meet the current demand crisis in Europe contradicts the Paris Agreement which was an international treaty aiming at maintaining the rise in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. The Paris Agreement also calls for tracking energies to edge the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

The Paris Agreement which was adopted in November 2016, has objectives of empowering nations’ efforts to acclimatize to the effects of climate change. This would in return ensure the promotion of both climate change mitigation intended to achieve “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Countries, while deliberating about the Paris Agreement pledged to prioritize long-term low greenhouse gas emissions, develop plans that are environmentally friendly, and also have well-written roadmaps that will ensure low carbon emissions.

Norway, according to Aled does not only contradict Paris Agreement but also her own 2021-2030 climate action plan. In the introduction part, Norway acknowledges that anthropogenic climate change has serious and irreversible impacts on nature and society throughout the world.

The Norwegian government explains that changes are already happening and the effects are also visible in the Scandinavian country. Because of the visible climate change impacts, Norway indicates that: “It is vital to prepare society for change and to adapt to a changing climate. Combating climate change requires a vigorous and concerted global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Norway is stepping up and taking responsibility. We will do our share of the work at both national and international levels. These efforts will come at a price, but the cost of climate inaction will be far higher than the cost of tackling the problem now.”

Photo Courtesy of Norwegian oil extraction

Norwegian political leadership in its plan also acknowledged that the world is already experiencing regular, intense extreme weather events, rising temperatures, and snow as well as ice melting. Other issues regarding climate change the government document highlights include rising sea levels, seawater becoming more acidic, and wildfires that have become synonymous.

“Vulnerable species and ecosystems are disappearing. Climate change will intensify in the year ahead. Preventing catastrophic environmental degradation is crucial to safeguarding the well-being of future generations,” the Norwegian government adopted 2021 document reads in part.

But Aled argued that Norway’s action plan is still largely on paper despite the fast approaching 2030 and increasing visible climate changes. To Aled, it is perturbing seeing Norway still dividing oil blocks, inviting companies to apply for the specific blocks to extract oil. “When the Norwegian government divides the oil blocks, it invites companies to apply for the specific blocks. They open a huge area. Some oil blocks are between Norway and Russia. It has a lot of sensitive wildlife. This is a climate change issue. What would happen if there was a leak?” Aled asked.

Like Lars Michelsen, arguments about Norway’s extraordinary oil earnings captured by CNBC in January this year, Aled noted that whatever Norway has earned in the last year should be termed as taking advantage of a vulnerable scenario to violate its own and UN efforts to mitigate climate change.

Michelsen, who is the director of the Norwegian Climate Foundation told CNBC that countries in Europe are economically being impacted by the Ukraine-Russia war, however, Norway is getting much richer. Aled also thinks Norway has seized Ukraine -Russia war to be wealthier and ignores research that has been done in areas where oil is being or going to be extracted. Norway’s government does not only ignore climate dangers studied by its research institutes but also civil societies.

Aled and Michelsen believe Norway should distribute the money collected from oil transactions to countries already hampered by climate change including supporting economies that are struggling to find alternatives to fossil fuels.

Norway’s political leadership has been responding to the question of whether the country still has the moral authority to speak about climate change. Eivind Vad Petersson was quoted by CNBC a month ago refuting claims that the country has taken advantage of Ukraine -Russia to prioritize money-making at the expense of global environmental safety.

Petterson argued that the situation in Ukraine was not certainly for amassing wealth but they were being driven by forces of demand in Europe amidst war effects. Jonas Gahr Store, the country’s prime minister was quoted by AFP early this month disagreeing with any proposals that the country should give out the money earned from oil to Ukraine and other climate restoration programs.

However, Aled maintains that no amount of explanation Norway can give for the intensive extraction of oil purposely to milk Ukraine -Russia war, but completely neglecting her pledge to reduce carbon emissions. Although Norway does not use more than 90 percent of its oil, Aled said it must be held responsible for all the emissions that happen wherever its oil is sold and utilized.

“Most of the Norwegian oil is not used outside Norway. 97 percent of the Norwegian oil is sold to European countries. Norway says it cannot take responsibility for emissions burned elsewhere. For us, we say you have to take responsibility. If you want the Paris Agreement to succeed, you must allow some oil and gas to stay in the ground,” Aled said.

Climate change injustice

Aled said telling countries like Uganda or DRC not to extract their oil that would eventually revamp their economies would be appropriate to save nature. However, when that argument is quantified to what Norway is doing to efforts intended to contain climate change, Aled said that would translate to injustice.

David Pellow and Timmons Roberts in their 2015 scholarly writing about climate justice and inequality categorized the discussion into three factors; social inequalities that drive overconsumption thus becoming a vital source of unsustainable levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The second factor was the impacts of climate change that are differently faced by the rich and poor thus noting that the effects are likely to become enormous in the generations.

The third climate justice and inequality factor popularised by Pellow and Roberts are the policies designed to avert climate change. The duo argued that the policies are unlevelled and measures proposed and debated in most cases exclude the global south countries which are powerless in aspects of technology and economy.

Aled said without discussing the parameters that would not make global south countries feel undermined in policies intended to address climate change, it will continue to stifle disagreements and most of the solutions could remain on paper rather than being practical. If a climate change policy talks about living oil in the ground, Aled said there must be tangible and convincing solutions, especially for developing countries that have hope in extracting their minerals to elevate their economic statuses.

Uganda has stuck her ground that it must proceed with oil extraction which is expected to fetch more than 47 percent of the country’s budget annual budget. When you compare what Uganda hopes to be earning annually from oil with what Norway has earned in the last year supplying oil and gas to Europe, the former’s earnings will be more of peanuts. The 1.17 trillion kroner Norway earned last year is equal to 45 trillion shillings in Ugandan currency. That translates into three trillion shillings less to equal Uganda’s current fiscal year budget of 48 trillion shillings.

“We can confidently say that we are ready for the commercialization of Ugandan oil. The projects are technically mature since infrastructure and investment required for the development have been agreed upon and the necessary framework and processes to ensure environmental and social co-existence are being put in place,” Museveni quoted by Oil in Uganda website in October 2020.

Other than direct revenues from oil, Uganda expects the project managed by TotalEnergies in partnership with China National Offshore Oil Corporation, and Uganda National Oil Corporation will create jobs, and lead to infrastructure development. The surplus electricity, according to TotalEnergies will be exported to the pipeline and the Ugandan grid.

Uganda has been criticized for among other things; the construction of the underground East African Crude Oil Pipeline covering 1,443km between the Kabaale district in Uganda and Tanga port in Tanzania.  But environment activists say the digging of the ground to plant the pipeline will affect the environment, has led to the eviction of people, would increase carbon emissions during extraction, and also antagonize the cultural sites.

For instance, the Tilenga and EACOP projects according to TotalEnergies require a land acquisition program for approximately 6,400 hectares thus leaving about 100,000 people affected including 761 households. Out of the 100000 people going to be affected by the project, 5,000 must be relocated nearby before 2025. The government of Uganda, UNOC, and TotalEnergies say the figure of 100,000 people refers to the total number of people who have an asset impacted by the implementation of the project, “either because it is located on a permanent right of way or because it will not be accessible during the work.”

Such figures have been a center of contestation from human rights and environmental activists against the government of Uganda, CNOOC, and TotalEnergies. But the response has been that most of the owners of land located on the EACOP route will have access to their land again once the works are completed.

“It is important to gain the support of the populations with whom we work on site: 93% of the Tilenga compensation agreements have now been signed. In addition, all relevant stakeholders are regularly consulted and informed of the progress of the project,” TotalEnergies said in one of its latest statements. TotalEnergies further explains that $19m has been set aside to compensate victims of the Tilenga project which translates into an average of approximately $3,500 per person affected by the project.

“Total in-kind compensation amounts to approximately $22 million, including $10 million for the construction of new principal residences. For EACOP, the total amount of financial compensation is approximately $32 million, an average of approximately $2,500 per PAP. Total in-kind compensation amounts to approximately $68 million, including $25 million for the construction of new principal residences,” TotalEnergies said.

Barely two years ago, Greenpeace Africa, the Rainforest Foundation UK, and the Rainforest Foundation Norway were up in arms with the DRC government for deciding to lift a ban on new industrial logging concessions in the globe’s second largest rain tropical forests. Despite the hullabaloo regarding DRC’s decision to give away such important forests, one fact that remains constant for such a country is the need for money to cater to her national demands.

Although environmental activists such as Irène Wabiwa Betoko, Greenpeace Africa Congo Basin forest campaign leader, and Joe Eisen, executive director of the Rainforest Foundation UK express their disagreement over DRC’s decision, it did remove the fact that the country needs money.

“The Minister’s attempt to dress up the lifting of the ban as a ‘good governance’ measure isn’t fooling anyone. It’s a cynical plan that will simply turn over more of DRC’s territory to foreign companies eager to trash the rainforest, opening a new lucrative highway for loggers,” Greenpeace reported on its website.

To prove her need for money, DRC in July 2022 announced that 27 blocks for oil exploration and three for gas will be auctioned off. Of these, the RFI news site reported that three are located on the coast of the Congo River basin and nine in the huge central basin rainforest region on the country’s western side while the other 15 rainforests are in the eastern side adjacent to the great lakes of Albert and Tanganyika.

As they did in 2021, environmental activities protested DRC’s move to auction oil exploration blocks. The climate change and environmental activists explained that oil extraction which in all aspects leads to the cutting down of huge tree corridors in order to transport equipment could cause a disastrous and unmanageable impact on rare species and also add more carbon to the already disturbed in the atmosphere.

To hold back countries like Uganda and DRC, Aled said Norway needs to lead by example by giving money almost equivalent to what they would have gotten from such projects. Alternatively, Aled re-echoes that countries that have not largely contributed to the current carbon emissions need to be allowed and supported with technologies to utilize their resources in a friendly manner.

“Norway has given climate financing but it is still not enough. They could say don’t develop oil and gas but we will give money and technology and you develop renewable energies. In Norway, you have so much money from oil and it goes national investment fund,” Aled said.

Geir Ramnefiell, a veteran climate change journalist, in his recent interaction with international journalists, argued that Norway is stuck in oil because it largely depends on it as a source of income.  Ramnefiell, however, said Norway can set an example by reducing oil extraction as it ventures into technology-oriented sectors.

Aled and Ramnefiell have expressed worry that Norway’s overreliance on oil will hamper its economy in 10 to 15 years to come since many European countries are on a fast shift to renewable energies and other environmental friend economic activities.

“Norway largely depends on oil and gas revenues. This oil debate was a huge factor in the 2021 elections. Oil means money, oil means fighting poverty, is almost everything to the politicians. However, in a political sense, you need to think ahead. Where will be oil extraction in the next 10 to 15 years?” Ramnefiell said.

Is Oil Norway’s Bread and Butter?

The Norwegian government’s 2021 document on reducing carbon emissions shows efforts are being undertaken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These efforts are attributed to the adoption of the Paris Agreement together with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which provide a solid framework for global climate action in the future.

“Norway has communicated a nationally determined contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 % and towards 55 % by 2030 compared to 1990. This is a crucial step on the path towards Norway’s target of being a low-emission society by 2050. The action taken by Norway and the rest of the world over the next ten years will determine whether or not it is possible to check anthropogenic climate change,” reads the Norwegian government commitment document.

However, the country expresses economic concern about the impact that will come with greenhouse gas emissions reduction. The government said green growth is possible but requires a policy that enables the business sector to develop and deploy new technologies to replace yesterday’s fossil solutions.

“Norway will have to go through a major transformation process, which will involve reducing emissions but not hampering development. The Government will therefore pursue an ambitious climate policy that will make it possible to achieve climate targets and at the same time provide a good framework for more jobs, greater welfare, and sustainable growth of the Norwegian economy,” the government said.

Aled said Norway has been stuck in the excuse of losing jobs in the oil industry and this has made all the plans it had toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions remain on paper rather than being implemented. Aled added that there is no science needed to know that Norway can survive without oil. Aled backs this argument citing alternatives such as fishing, and clean hydropower energy would sustain the country’s economy even when it stopped oil extraction. Aled cemented his argument by citing an example of Norway’s former ice export to European countries but it was overtaken by refrigeration technology and the citizens continued living.

“It has always had an open economy. They have always traded. Norway used to export ice before refrigeration. You could break a big piece of ice and sell. When refrigeration was coming, they were worried but they survived. It is the same time now. They survived refrigeration, they can survive without oil. Sweden is not a poor country, they have no oil,” Aled said.

Ramnefiell also believes that Norway is doing itself a disservice by persisting on oil and gas. To him, politicians better realize that their neighbours will be far ahead in the next decade or two and the oil will be nowhere to be sold.

“Knowing what to do is very important. It is important to tell people and politicians. Should we continue to invest in oil and gas? Do you think the transition will just come at once? The jobs in the oil industry will be no more, the money will be no more,” Ramnefiell said.

Aled said many Norwegians haven’t realized the impact of their own lifestyle and activities on climate. The frequent air travels to places outside Norway’s capital Oslo, according to Aled show, the citizens are not aware of what climate change is.  “The Norwegians fly four times than European average countries. People say Norway is a bigger country. Most plane traffic is between Oslo and other cities within the country. It is much cheaper, why spend seven hours on the train when you can fly for two hours? Norwegians have had higher emissions for a long time,” Aled said.

Ismail (pseudo) who leaves in Oslo as a refugee and a university student said the debate on Norway’s dependence on oil is hard to discuss. Ismail has lived in many parts of Norway for the last nine years until two years ago when he came to Oslo for University studies. In the many years Ismail has lived in Norway including at the country’s borders like Sweden and toward Russia, he has seen Norwegians living and surviving on various economic activities.

“Every time I hear people talking about climate change and oil. I have seen climate change protests. I read that the country is making a lot of money from oil. When I speak to my friends, many are not supporting climate change protests, and many support oil extractions,” Ismail said. The 29 years old man left Syria at 18 years as a refugee, settled in other countries until he crossed into Norway, and prefers speaking with a pseudo-name.

The Fisheries and Aquaculture report released in 2021 shows Norway produced four million tonnes of fish on the local and international market thus earning more than a billion US dollars in molluscs and crustaceans. The fishing industry has been growing every year and currently creates more than 31367 jobs every year.

All that said and done, Africa is one of the regions that are experiencing the effects of climate change even though they are the least contributor to carbon emissions. The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) 2021, stated that Africa’s rain patterns have already been disrupted, lakes are shrinking and glaciers disappearing.

“The worsening crisis and looming famine in the drought-stricken Horn of Africa shows how climate change can exacerbate water shocks, threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and destabilizing communities, countries, and entire regions,” Petteri Taalas, WMO’s Secretary General was quoted.  

WMO warned that extreme weather and climate change would undermine human health and safety, food and water security, and socio-economic development. Taalas noted that Africa accounts for only about two to three percent of global greenhouse gas emissions but disproportionately suffers from the impacts.

At least 250 million people on the African continent are likely to be affected by high water levels and this will result in the displacement of over 700 million individuals by 2030. Meanwhile, over 40 African countries were credited in 2021 by WMO and in 2022 by United Nations for revising their national climate plans to align them with the climate changes and efforts to avert the impacts.

Nevertheless, Aled and Ramnefiell said all countries’ efforts towards climate change would make sense if the leading contributors to carbon emissions take lead and set examples. Aled said Norway which discovered oil in 1967 cannot compare itself with countries like Uganda that haven’t or just started extracting fossil fuels.

Aled and Ramnefiell note that the majority of Norway’s oil extraction contracts have been given out in the last 10 years yet seven of which were after the adoption of the 2015 Paris Agreement. This, Aled said explains that the willingness of oil giants like Norway to do away with oil is still very low.

“Most oil and gas contracts have come after the Paris Agreement. They say the oil and gas are not burnt in our country. This is why we are signing agreements and we are undermining them. Europe is going through a transition faster than Norway thinks. Norway thinks will need gas, Norway is going to be in a position in 10 to 15 years where they will have money in oil but they cannot sell it,” Aled said.

Ramnefiell said countries like Norway should stop telling other countries, especially those in the global south to look for other alternatives other than oil when they are still largely depending on the same. Ramnefiell reasoned that Norway has strong commercial agreements with EU countries despite not being a member. Ramnefiell added that politicians in Norway know what they are doing has consequences on the climate but they are fronting economic benefits at the expense of nature.

“Things change, society changes but Norway hasn’t changed. Norway has a good record of making transitions and even this time they will. It is crucial to highlight that the natural world is changing and we must do something. If we don’t, the world will be inhabitable,” Ramnefiell said.

Aled said they have often found themselves suing the Norwegian government over its continued disrespect of the Paris Agreement by demarcating oil sites and inviting bidders. This, according to Aled is done deliberately because the constitution gives citizens a right to protect their environment and nationals must be given information regarding their resources.

“The Norwegian constitution gives everybody a right to the environment and resources can use to live. The constitution gives access to environmental information and information about the future generation. The state has to take measures to enforce this right. Unfortunately, the courts do not interpret this as a legal right but they see it as an instruction to politicians. I or anybody living here can go to court and say you are bleaching my right. But we lost,” Aled said.

Aled highlighted the ‘weak’ court system as one of the reasons why Norwegian politicians have continued to risk the environment. He said the Supreme Court which is very critical in any country, ‘fears’ meddling in political gymnastics. This, Aled blamed on the citizens who framed the judiciary with less power in fear of breaching democracy.

“People are naturally a little bit afraid of giving courts more power. They believe that can lead to a breach of democracy. The constitution is the most democratic or important thing and you can’t change it like that. But our young people have taken the Norwegian government to the European Court of Human Rights. That shows they are determined to protect the environment,” Aled said.

Aled added that countries like Norway which have largely contributed to carbon emissions need to set visible examples by scaling down oil production rather than drafting policies that are never implemented. Norway, according to Aled is a powerful country with enough resources to share with countries like DRC which are moving toward oil exploration but also must encourage citizens to minimize the frequent air trips to upcountry towns.

Similarly, Ramnefiell said Norway should stop telling other countries to protect the environment when it actually does the opposite. If other countries are to believe what is being said about climate change and available alternatives to oil exploration, Norway should show people that renewable energy and fishing can sustain the economy. Aled and Ramnefiell believe that if the global north doesn’t lead in fighting carbon emissions, campaigns against climate change will have a lesser and lesser impact.

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