Politicians and environmental groups in growing numbers are calling for a shut down of oil production in Norway, western Europe’s biggest producer.
“We’re one of two European countries that have not been able to deliver any emissions cuts,” said Per Kristian Sbertoli, head of renewable finance at the Zero Emission Resource Organisation, a Norwegian climate think tank. “You come here and it’s electric vehicle heaven, but we’re also continuing to drill oil,” he said.
This notable contradiction, of a country willing to divest fossil fuel investments from its trillion-euro sovereign wealth fund, while continuing to support new oil exploration projects, is one that’s being met with hardening judgement.
More attention is going towards cutting emissions, but “without touching the oil elephant in the room”, said Espen Moe, professor of political science at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
The biggest political parties remain supporters of the oil industry but find themselves under pressure from the Green party. Local elections in September saw the party, which has only one representative in the national parliament, gain a record number of votes in the capital, Oslo.
The next general election, in 2021, will be the climate change election, says Sbertoli.
The failure to reduce its emissions is despite the fact that Norway has inspiring examples of climate change leadership. It maintains a meticulous carbon ledger at home, with almost all of electricity coming from hydropower, it has a high carbon tax and is pioneering offshore wind power.
The country is making significant headway in electrifying its transport. Oil riches mean the government can offer generous perks. Buyers of electric vehicles can use bus lanes, are spared VAT charged on petrol and diesel vehicles, pay no road tax, and enjoy a 50 per cent discount on road tolls.
Almost half of cars bought in Norway this year are electric. By 2025, the country hopes that all new car sales will be either electric or hydrogen.
“Car tax here is extortionate, so exemptions make a difference,” said Moe. “We’re leaps ahead of everyone on electric.”
Short-distance electric-powered ferries, meanwhile, are starting to replace older models in the country’s fjords. “Ferry emissions are enormous – pretty much equal to those of the entire car fleet of some of our cities – so we can claim big savings here,” Moe said.
Hydrogen trucks are appearing on roads and there are efforts to run zero-emission construction sites.
Despite these initiatives, many are now warning they are not making a sufficient dent. There is a “clear feeling, especially among the young, that we’re not doing enough,” said Sbertoli. “We are green but not as green as we’d like to think. There is an increasing sense of urgency.”