Beautiful sights, northern lights and oil - Norway’s greenwashing

Written by Konrad Gunderson

Posted on 04/02/22

Norway is a nation that prides itself on its beautiful environment and breathtaking sights. Search ‘’Norway’’ on Google, and the first images to pop up are photographs of colorful harbors, serene fjords, glorious northern lights, snowy mountain peaks and other spectacular landscapes – stunning, but ultimately misleading imagery concealing far more sinister matters and truths.
Norwegian fossil fuels

Despite Norway’s portrayal of itself as a pillar of sustainability and natural beauty, its economy is extremely dependent on fossil fuels – non-renewable energy sources that degrade the very environment the country so openly cherishes. Norway discovered rich oil and gas fields off its coast in the 1960s, and ever since then its economy has boomed along with its fossil fuel exports and contributions to greenhouse gas emissions. Today, crude petroleum, refined petroleum and petroleum gas stands for 54% of the country’s total exports. The extraction of these is invasive and harmful to vulnerable ocean ecosystems, and the combustion of fossil fuels releases compounds like carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides which contribute to global warming. In fact, fossil fuels were determined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to be the dominant cause of global warming, seeing as 89% percent of carbon dioxide emissions originate from fossil fuels and industry. As such, Norway’s economical reliance on non-renewable energy is damaging both towards the environment and the climate.

The world’s most sustainable country?

Several rankings put Norway amongst the most sustainable nations of the world, some even declaring it to be number one, as in activesustainability.com’s article. This is a flawed assessment. A significant contributor to Norway’s status as ‘sustainable’ is its production of hydropower. The country being uniquely geographically suited for the production of hydropower, it is Europe’s biggest producer of this renewable energy. A whopping 93% of Norway’s electricity is actually made through hydropower, which sounds great – until you consider the fact that Norway is still very much involved in fossil fuels. Yet, the country is made to seem more sustainable than it really is, as it does not actually use the majority of the fossil fuels it extracts for itself, but rather exports it to other countries. However, this in no way negates the impact of Norway’s actions on the environment and the climate. After all, it is called global warming for a reason – it does not matter where the oil is burnt. Wherever it is burnt it will release greenhouse gases which inevitably contribute to global warming, the effects of which are and will be felt by us all.

This is a reality the Norwegian government has and continues to deny. In fact, government officials often justify Norway’s continued fossil fuel extraction and the expansion of this through the idea that Norway is a ‘greener’ fossil fuel producer than other countries. This is a prime example of the country’s extensive greenwashing, as the majority of fossil fuel emissions are obviously associated with their combustion rather than extraction. Nonetheless, it is an idea the government sticks by – notably, the notion that Norway bears no responsibility for fossil fuel emissions once these have been exported out of the country was referenced during the climate lawsuit. The climate lawsuit was a lawsuit started in 2016 in which Greenpeace and Natur og Ungdom, two environmental activism organizations, sued the Norwegian government based on a paragraph in its constitution stating that everyone has the right to a liveable environment. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court of Norway, where the government unfortunately ended up winning on the 22nd of December, 2020.

Another factor sometimes referred to in sustainability rankings topped by Norway is the country’s ambitious promise of achieving climate neutrality by 2030 by significantly reducing its emissions of greenhouse gases. However, Norway’s climate actions and policies have simultaneously been deemed inconsistent with the Paris Agreement and its goals for 2030 by the Climate Action Tracker, giving Norway’s promise little credibility. This credibility is only lessened by the fact that Norway still remains without any concrete plan to phase out fossil fuels. In fact, Norway’s fossil fuel production is expanding, and the government handed out 61 new licences for oil extraction in 2021.

Furthermore, Norway has also been applauded for its waste management strategies, particularly in terms of recycling. 97% of plastic bottles are recycled, something made possible through ‘’flaskepant,’’ an economic incentive encouraging consumers to recycle their bottles after use and get some money in return. Though this is positive, it should also be kept in mind that Norway remains one of only two countries in the world that still permit the dumping of mining waste into the ocean. In fact, Norway dumps toxic waste into the very fjords it uses to advertise and declare itself as a peak of environmentalism and appreciation of nature. Due to the devastating effects pollutants from mining have on aquatic ecosystems, this has been strongly opposed by environmental organizations, particularly Natur og Ungdom, who have turned to civil disobedience to physically intervene into the issue. Even so, the dumping of waste into the ocean remains a legal practice.

Admittedly, Norway is certainly not the worst of the worst when it comes to sustainability. But it definitely is not number one either, and portraying it as such gives a very false impression of the country and its actions.

Norway’s untapped potential

Keeping in mind Norway’s economy’s massive reliance on fossil fuels as an export, becoming more sustainable is no easy feat for the country and this should be acknowledged. However, being the 7th richest country in the world and having such favourable conditions for hydropower, Norway undoubtedly has a certain responsibility to use its vast resources and opportunities to overcome this issue and go forth as a role model in the fight against climate change. At the time of writing, Norway’s oil fund contains a massive sum of 12 400 140 000 000 NOK, or 1 220 333 707 053 euro. This fund is built on profits from fossil fuels and is dedicated ‘’to you and future generations’’ – and what better way is there to support our future generations, than to take responsibility and keep global warming to a minimum to ensure their quality of life as well as ours? Norway has the means to revolutionize its economy and energy production, and truly become the pillar of sustainability it wrongfully paints itself as. Only time will tell if it has the willpower to do so.

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