By Helena Jordheim
If one were to spend time in Norway, they would notice early on the charging stations lining city streets for the growing number of electric cars, the strict recycling policies, the vast number of people using public transportation. Not only do Norwegians push sustainable practices in their own country, but they pride themselves on being one of the leading nations in sustainability and climate protection policies. With one of the longest and most rugged coastlines in the world, reaching up into the Arctic Circle, Norwegians will feel climate change severely and are well-educated on the topic of environmental consciousness.
However, despite their environmentally conscious policies and the general feeling of the population to be mindful of the environment, Norway is one of the world’s most prominent oil producers. Norway’s oil companies, referred to as Big Oil—the largest being Statoil, of which the Norwegian state is a 67% shareholder—uphold their views that they have extracted and produced fossil fuels in Norway in the most environmentally conscious ways possible. But even if the petroleum was extracted and produced in a way that did not harm the surrounding environment, exporting oil results in importing countries producing greenhouse gas emissions. Big Oil has a strong grip on the government of Norway, considering the “petroleum sector provides approximately 9% of jobs, 12% of GDP, 13% of the state’s revenue, and 37% of exports.”1 Norwegian Petroleum, a site run by the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy and the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate, has predicted that 55% of the total petroleum resources still remain untouched on the Norwegian Shelf and has estimated that the Norwegian government’s total net cash flow from the production in 2018 will be close to 183 billion Norwegian kroner (NOK) equivalent to almost 23.6 billion US dollars.
According to Peter Erickson of the Stockholm Environment Institute, “Norway has set out to be a global leader in climate action, yet continued expansion of oil and gas production could eclipse the benefits of Norway’s domestic emission reduction efforts.”2Norway’s domestic environmental policies, while considered some of the best world-wide, contradict their economic dependence on petroleum production, leading the government and Big Oil companies to attempt offsetting their contribution to fossil fuel pollution by buying up huge plots of land in poor countries, evicting the current inhabitants, and building forests. Norway’s contradictory pro-environment and pro-oil policies show the pressure of the democratic power of the people’s voices and the economic power of the big corporations in the government.
With a petroleum sector that has supported the welfare and education systems since the 1970s, Norway has one of Europe’s largest carbon emissions per capita. Despite such high emissions and the ever-present doom of climate change hanging over their heads, Norway’s government has found a way to be ranked number three worldwide from 2017 for environmental policies by Sustainable Governance Indicators.3The reasoning for their high rank is the government’s strong regulatory framework for infrastructure and energy projects and the rate of increased hydroelectric power use.
Recently, there has been a big win for environmentalists: keeping the islands of Lofoten in the Norwegian Sea off-limits to oil drilling for at least the next four years after January 2018. The announcement was a big win for environmentalists, local communities, fishers, and the thousands of unique species living in the pristine, complicated island habitats. It is estimated that 1.3 billion barrels of oil could be drilled from the surrounding area of the Lofoten Islands, so Big Oil companies have been battling the government for control of the region for decades.4While Big Oil is a huge supplier of jobs and wealth, there is still an older and more sentimental piece of Norway: fishing, which has a history of over a thousand years. The fishing industry is Norway’s third largest industry and would be devastated by continued and increased offshore drilling in the Norwegian Sea. Although the fishers won the fight to protect the Lofoten islands temporarily, they are already experiencing decreases in numbers of fish in the area from global warming and pollution from offshore drilling of petroleum. The temptation of greater wealth and job opportunities keeps Big Oil battling with the people to control, explore, and exploit the fossil fuel resources in the warming Arctic. As a result, Norway’s government is constantly the mediator between the mainstream environmental ideology of their citizens and the Big Oil money that never ceases from bombarding the government for increased rights and privileges.
LAND GRABS TO OFFSET CARBON EMISSIONS
Lobbying costs of Statoil have skyrocketed from under 1 million Euros in 2015 to over 3 million Euros in 2017, approximately 1.2 to 3.7 million US dollars respectively.5 Within Norway and in Europe, Statoil is a prominent lobbyist for issues involving environmental policy, research and innovation, the EU Energy Union, and external relations with countries of particular interest pertaining to energy production. Lobbyists advocate for clean energy policies, but also push for huge tax breaks and the right to drill offshore in more areas of the Norwegian shelf, particularly around the Lofoten Islands.
Norwegian supported think tanks in Washington D.C. are advocates for allowing Arctic drilling as well as Norway’s environmental protection plans: two agendas which are complete contradictions. These think tanks are also meant to push for global forest protection efforts, which supports Norway going into poor countries and grabbing their land. Norway promotes forest protection objectives and lobbies United States policymakers to support slowing deforestation. Although it is a noble cause to promote, some label it as self-interested because it would help Norway in offsetting their carbon emissions.
Although companies like Statoil are developing operation blocks in poor countries, they and the Norwegian government are also buying land to rebuild and build new forests, in Mozambique, Tanzania, and South Sudan. Outwardly land grabs are meant to preserve African land for Africans and keep the environment clean. But noticeably, these poor, post-colonial countries that have in the past and do currently experience internal violence are countries susceptible to rich, model nations like Norway. Norway’s land grabbing is not as gallant a cause as it is painted by those buying the land.
According to Oilwatch International, whose object is to protect the lives and livelihoods of local populations affected by oil production, forest protection is simply a “scheme whereby polluters use forests and land as supposed sponges for their pollution.”6 Norway leads the way in planting trees and forests as a means to offset carbon credit in order to balance their own carbon footprint and it is a benevolent method to avoid their own obligation as contributors to carbon emissions.7 With tree plantations in Mozambique, Tanzania, and South Sudan, the Norwegian government and large companies have made it so that millions of poor, rural Africans have lost the rights to use their land for grazing and subsistence agriculture.
Over half of all people living on the African continent make their livelihood by using the land for agriculture. In Mozambique, over 80% of the population works in agriculture, in Tanzania about 70%, and in South Sudan there is no real number data because after years of civil war and little infrastructure, the vast majority has no choice but to survive through subsistence agriculture.8 Although “governments [like Norway] have played an increasingly important role in underwriting and encouraging the advance of new technologies in the business economy,” Norway is satisfied to pull land right out from under subsistence farmers and keep it off-limits to them, thus stifling their economic survival.9 Land grabbers perpetuate a cycle of profiting from the petroleum industry, buying land to plant forests to “soak up” their greenhouse gas emissions, and pushing subsistence workers off their land, thus crippling the already poor populations they profess to protect.
Carbon offset schemes are “like pushing the food around on your plate to create the impression that you have eaten it”10 because all individuals, companies, and governments do with such schemes is make it acceptable to produce more carbon emissions since they are planting trees elsewhere. In this case, Norway is able to continue its dependence on petroleum production and exports by practicing reforestation in poor countries. Norway genuinely wants to maintain living conditions in the Arctic Circle and around the globe by promoting environmentally conscious policies. However, their economic dependence on petroleum gives way to an internal conflict which keeps Norway flip-flopping its ideals from pro-environment to pro-oil. The power relationships within the society award huge political power to Big Oil because of their immense economic power. No matter how hard the government may try, it cannot be a fearless advocate for both.
1 Central Intelligence Agency, “The World Factbook: NORWAY.”
2 Sengupta, Somini, “Both Climate Leader and Oil Giant? A Norwegian Paradox.”
3 Stiftung, Bertelsmann, “Norway.”
4 Nilsen, Thomas, “Norway’s Government Goes Green, Keeps Lofoten Free of Oil Drilling.”
5 “Statoil ASA (STL/STO).”
6 Lipton, Eric, et al, “Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks.”
7 Chelwa, Grieve, “The Land Grabs in Africa You Don’t Hear About.”
8 Central Intelligence Agency, “The World Factbook: NORWAY.”
9 Block, Fred, “Swimming Against the Current: The Rise of a Hidden Developmental State in the United States.”
10 Chelwa, Grieve, “The Land Grabs in Africa You Don’t Hear About.”