All Norwegian political parties say they want to solve the climate crisis. Do they mean that?
Grounded in fact?
Klassekampen, 9 April 2021
Does it matter who Norway votes for when it comes to climate? Norwegian politicians, from left to right, promise a green future in their party programs – in which the ideological differences seem to have disappeared. Recently, the greens of Mdg supported more research into modern forms of nuclear energy, and even the draft party program of the right-wing populist Frp calls for emission reductions. With that open mindset and seemingly universal agreement, it should be possible to finally tackle the climate crisis for real. Right?
If only it were that simple. Just before Easter, it became clear that there will be no widely supported climate compromise in Norway, which did come about in 2008 and 2012. Climate minister Rotevatn had wished this for the climate plan that was presented in January. It states that emissions must be halved by 2030, and down to zero by 2050. But despite support from most parties, the compromise failed because both the right and left could not guarantee a majority from their own side – because of the whims of the Frp and center-left Senterpartiet.
In reality, the green about-face of the Frp does not exist. They mostly want to buy up climate quotas abroad and continue on the same polluting foot at home. In fact, they want a further expansion of the oil and gas industry, and increase exports. To the same countries where the use of fossil fuels has to be reduced, to which their quotas contribute. It is clear: the Frp does not have a serious climate plan, but simply found a new way to frustrate the debate and block serious solutions.
Senterpartiet, as a former green party, does something similar on the left – albeit less transparent. If you look at their draft party program, you will see many good solutions, such as plans for a climate neutral transport sector, capturing and storing the CO2 that is released during cement production, and the use of agriculture and forestry to store more carbon in the soil and in forests. That's great, provided it works. But that's where the shoe pinches.
The holy grail of Senterpartiet is that nature will solve the climate problem for us, with appropriate management by humans. This means, among other things, that they want to store more carbon in agricultural soils – but they also want to increase domestic food production and invest heavily in biofuel. In addition, Senterpartiet wants to plant more trees, but this must not come in conflict with land that can be used for food production. It is therefore unavoidable that this expansion of agriculture and forestry goes at the expense of nature – with climate as an excuse. This is politics that chooses form over substance, which is not only bad for biodiversity, but doesn't work as a climate solution either.
The holy grail of Senterpartiet is that nature will solve the climate problem for us
No one would suggest to cut down a forest to store more carbon in the soil. Likewise, it is a bad idea to plant a forest on soil that already contains a lot of carbon. Trees are more conspicuous, but a larger amount of carbon is stored in the world's soils than in all plants and the atmosphere put together. The best you can do is to leave that soil carbon, for example in peatlands and grasslands, untouched.
In short, this is because many tree species have a symbiosis with certain fungi, called ectomychorriza, with which they exchange nutrients through their roots. Because of this symbiosis, the tree grows faster, but it also absorbs carbon from the soil more easily than many shrubs and grasses. The amount of carbon in the tree may increase, but it decreases in the soil. The carbon balance can then turn out to be negative by planting trees in the wrong place.
Senterpartiet ignores this reality and claims that planting more trees can save about 75 million tons of CO2 – one and a half times the annual emission of all of Norway. Even if this is true, keep in mind that this is spread out over 80 years. The oil industry currently emits the same amount in just over 5 years. Doesn't it make sense to tackle that first?
Well, here we have arrived at the issue for which there is such widespread support in Norwegian politics that there is no need for a compromise: maintaining the status quo of the oil industry. With the exception of the small left and green parties, Norwegian political parties do not have an exit plan, no, not even a stop on the construction of new oil platforms, even though we have already found more oil in the world than we can still safely burn. How do politicians defend this? By making the production of oil climate neutral, which means that national emissions go down, and by neglecting that more than 90% of emissions take place when it is burned abroad. It is like installing clean drinking water in a village, but ignoring the open sewer pipe to the river.
Successful climate policy must achieve two things: tackle the problem at its source, by minimizing greenhouse gas emissions, and also clean up that pollution by capturing and sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere. But the latter makes no sense if we neglect the former. Unfortunately, in Norwegian politics, "climate" has all too often become a populist excuse with which to implement political pet peeves. Don't fall for it.
This text originally appeared in Klassekampen on 9 April 2021