The question is not whether the climate crisis will affect Norway, but how it will do so. Our foreign policy must be adapted to a warmer world.
- What is the difference between climate change and climate policy?
- Why is there less freedom of choice in foreign policy due to climate change?
- Why is Norway’s reputation affected by climate change in other countries?
- How should Norway balance economic oil and gas interests with climate measures?
“The climate crisis is the biggest challenge of our time.” Few statements have been repeated so often. Nevertheless, the climate issue is not central to Norwegian foreign policy. Norway is admittedly a driving force in international climate negotiations and contributes money to reduce emissions in other countries. But climate is treated in the same way as investing in schools, health and poverty reduction in developing countries, and not as a decisive factor in the assessment of Norwegian interests and foreign policy choices. Discussions about the trade agreement with Brazil in light of the fires in the Amazon and President Jair Bolsonaro’s unwillingness to save the rainforest, clearly show how the climate issue directly affects Norwegian interests. Therefore, it is important to reflect on how Norwegian interests should best be safeguarded in a warmer world.
2: Three future images
There are several reasons why climate will affect Norwegian foreign policy interests:
- Climate change increases the risk of violent conflict and increases migration . The consequences become more dramatic when the effects of climate change hit harder a few years ahead, when extreme weather and drought hit hard.
- The climate policy of our partners is also changing, and will quickly be able to challenge Norway’s desire to separate energy policy, which today is primarily about selling oil and gas, from other parts of foreign policy.
- Norway’s reputation as an international benefactor will come under pressure when other countries have to spend significant resources on dealing with the consequences of climate change, which is partly a result of the oil we have made a fortune on.
There is considerable uncertainty related to how the climate will develop, and what kind of climate policy will emerge internationally. Let us therefore outline three possible future images . These show what is at stake for Norway:
- Quick adjustment: We meet the Paris Agreement’s goal of a maximum 1.5 degree temperature increase.
- Late adjustment: We experience a temperature increase of 2 degrees.
- No adjustment: The temperature increases in the long run by more than 3-4 degrees.
3: Quick change: Norway in the split
Rapid restructuring is characterized by a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions already by 2030. Therefore, the biggest consequences of climate change itself will not come, but challenging climate policy, especially due to a rapid phasing out of oil and coal. Here we get a quick transition to a renewable energy system. According to the UN Climate Panel , up to 85 percent of the world’s total energy consumption as early as 2050 must be emission-free if the two-degree goal is to be achieved.
Such a transition to a new energy system will have major political consequences. New areas of conflict , such as physical and digital renewable energy infrastructure, can be created. The position of power of states that export fossil energy will also weaken. For Norway, it is especially important that a rapid change away from oil and gas will make countries such as Russia more unstable. Russia is the world’s largest energy exporter – oil and gas account for more than half of their exports.
Low oil prices and a rapid transition to a global, renewable energy system will have consequences for Norway’s labor market and economy. But our foreign policy interests are also changing. If oil and gas become less important, the oil and gas nation Norway will remain the same. But Norway will still have certain advantages. Large countries such as Germany will probably need gas for many years to come, not least to replace coal. Norway also has unique advantages as a supplier of hydropower to Europe: A Europe that runs on wind and solar power will need climate-friendly energy when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine.
At the same time, according to businesscarriers.com, Norway will have an interest in selling Norwegian gas to Europe for as long as possible. This is especially true if the oil price is low. Then the gas revenues and jobs associated with Norwegian gas to Europe will be extra important for Norway.
We see signs of this energy split already. In April 2019, Norway signed a declaration to invest in gas as a long-term solution in Europe together with the “climate sinks” in the EU: Italy, Hungary and Poland. Our traditionally closest partners – Sweden, Denmark, the United Kingdom and France – did not sign.
Norway will be in another split in this future picture. A rapid, global transition will require very costly technology projects, such as carbon capture and storage, as well as large investments in renewable energy in poor countries. Rich countries will be asked to finance much of this. Part of the bill may end up with Norway, which has a tradition of leading the way in financing international climate measures. But the ability to pay will be less than before, since this will come at the same time as we have to deal with falling oil revenues, increased unemployment and restructuring costs as a result of a rapid downscaling of oil and gas production in Norway. The world will look to Norway for more money at a time when Norway may have more than enough of itself. This affects foreign policy because money gives status and influence.