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Norway’s move to drill in the Arctic is inconsistent with its climate leadership

29 Jul 2016  |   Jonathan Hill

Tags: Arctic

Norway has been and continues to be a leader on climate change. However, just two months ago they took steps that would tarnish the country’s environmental record. 

In mid-May, Norway issued a tremendously laudable joint statement with the US and other Scandinavian countries to combat climate change and protect the fragile Arctic environment. The countries agreed to “work towards the highest global standards, best international practice, and a precautionary approach, when considering new and existing commercial activities in the Arctic, including oil and gas operations.”

Then, just five days after issuing this landmark statement, Norway made an apparent about-face on this “precautionary approach” to the Arctic. The country awarded new offshore drilling leases in the Arctic for the first time in over twenty years, some of which were in areas so far north they had previously been protected from drilling by sea ice. This illustrates one of the cruel ironies of Arctic drilling, an area now accessible to drilling due to climate change, which is in turn made worse by the carbon pollution released into the sky when oil from the Arctic is drilled and burned.   

This sudden assault on the environment comes as a particular shock since Norway is one of the most renewable-energy-friendly countries in the world. The usually progressive Scandinavian state plans to generate almost 70% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, and was one of the first countries to ratify the Paris Agreement. Indeed, the nation plans to be carbon neutral decades before its goal outlined in the Paris deal. 

Norway also pushes ahead in spite of overwhelming evidence of the impacts we are already feeling from climate change, including in places like the Arctic. This past winter across the world’s Arctic region was the hottest ever recorded. On June 9th, it was warmer in the capital of Greenland than it was in New York City. The Arctic sea extent was the lowest in the first 6 months of this year since satellite records began. Clearly, Norway’s expansion of offshore drilling could not come at a more critical time for our earth’s climate and the Arctic, and it is a step in the wrong direction. At a time when we must use every tool in our toolbox to accelerate our transition to clean energy to address climate change before it’s too late, opening up areas of the Arctic for long-term drilling signals the world to plan for a future of ever-expanding fossil fuel production.  In other words, to plan for climate failure.  

With drilling starting as early as next year, it’s high time to let Norway know just how hypocritical their recent actions have been on climate change. But how can we, as Americans, have our say in the policies of foreign nations?  A fairly simple way is to sign LCV’s petition to the Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg, urging her country to turn against Arctic drilling.  The more signatures it has and the more international outcry provoked by Norway’s move into the Arctic, the more the government will feel pressure to reconsider its actions. 

In the fight against climate change, we are all stakeholders. Norway’s recent expansion of drilling in the Artic is not only a threat to the region’s delicate environment, but it is also a threat to the climate of the entire world. As Norway showed by signing the Paris Agreement and the joint statement with the US and other Scandinavian countries in early May, the country is eager to combat climate change. Now is the time for Norway to put its money where its mouth is. 

Cover Photo: Troll A Platform, the deepest oil well in the world, sits off of Norway’s northern coast. Photo by Swinsto101 (Wikimedia)

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