Norway Just Pledged to Be Carbon Neutral By 2030. But Can It Succeed?

An oil refinery in Hammerfest, Norway. CREDIT: FLICKR/ROGER GREENHALGH
An oil refinery in Hammerfest, Norway. CREDIT: FLICKR/ROGER GREENHALGH

Norway, a major producer of oil and natural gas, pledged late Tuesday to become carbon neutral by 2030, two decades ahead of schedule.

The accelerated plan followed a tight parliamentary vote and the loss of support from two parties, the Guardian reports, but will nonetheless include carbon dioxide reductions and carbon trading to offset emissions from oil and gas production, a sector that in 2014 accounted for 45 percent of Norway’s exports.

But whether the country’s plan is achievable is being questioned. The parliament’s motion didn’t include specific targets, instead noting only that the country could achieve its goal through international cooperation on emissions reductions, project-based cooperation, and through the European Union’s emissions trading system, the world’s first and largest carbon market.

This in part means Norway will fund carbon offset projects abroad and avoid more difficult policy changes. These international projects could include reforestation or energy efficiency programs in developing countries, according to published reports. Indeed, Norway is a big backer of reforestation after it halted its once-widespread practice of deforestation. And earlier this month, Norway said it would become the first deforestation-free country in the world and would no longer award contracts to companies involved in forest clearing.


This is not the first time that Norway has proposed 2030 as a benchmark year for its carbon neutrality. In 2008, it announced a similar pledge, only to backtrack to 2050 after the United Nations’s Copenhagen climate summit in 2009 failed to deliver a worldwide climate plan. With the success of the Paris climate accord late last year, however, Norway has again felt emboldened to aspire to a more ambitious deadline — all while coinciding with France becoming the first major nation to ratify the climate deal Wednesday.

And yet there is much uncertainty as to how Norway will reach carbon neutrality, though the government does plan to return to parliament to develop specifics on how the proposal could be achieved. Moreover, the plan has its share of local skeptics, including Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s climate minister, who is uncomfortable with the proposal. “The reason why we’re not comfortable with this proposal is frankly that the [emissions reduction] methods parliament is pointing to are currently not available,” said Helgesen, according to the Guardian.

Another concern is that Norway may decide to heavily rely on carbon offset projects abroad while omitting national emissions reductions. That’s been a worry ever since Norway, the third largest producer of natural gas, first made the pledge in 2008. As the New York Times reported then, the Norwegian model for carbon neutrality could be based on unreliable calculations of offset goals, and may not be sustainable, since it requires significant investment and there are not enough environmental projects in poor countries to cancel out all the emissions.

As far as policy goes, the country is already showing some contradictions to its vocal stance on climate change. Earlier this year Norway decided to increase its oil production in risky and environmentally fragile areas, raising questions as to whether the country is serious about reducing its carbon footprint. Meanwhile, its greenhouse gas emissions rose 1.5 percent in 2015, mainly after a new oil field went into operation. Norway, a country of some 5 million people, now has higher emissions than it did in 1990.

Climate Action Tracker, an organization that evaluates countries’ efforts to limit global warming below 2 degrees Celsius and thus avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change, puts Norway in the middle of its table. The organization also shows that current policies leave Norway emissions almost intact for decades to come.