Norway must accept an oil & gas-free Arctic

Publish date: December 5, 2022

Last week, Norwegian daily Dagens Næringsliv wrote about the looming failure of Norway and the EU to conclude a “Green Industry Deal”.This was originally scheduled to be signed during this year's COP27 climate summit. The reason: Norway and the EU do not agree on what the agreement should say about oil and gas activities in the Arctic.

The Norwegian government may fail to conclude a green industrial agreement with the EU, unless Norway accepts the EU’s demand for a fossil-free Arctic in the agreement. Failure to conclude such an agreement would be to the detriment of future-oriented industries in Norway, like offshore wind and batteries.  

– “When the EU launched its Arctic Strategy last year, laying the foundation for a fossil-free Arctic, I said this would be challenging for Norway. At the time I was laughed at. But I think I had a point”, says Bellona founder Frederic Hauge. 

The draft agreement that Dagens Næringliv has access to shows that the negotiation stand-still boils down to a disagreement about fossil fuels. Norway wants wording that support further Norwegian oil activity after 2030, which the EU rejects. The EU, on the other hand, wants Norway to agree that oil and gas should remain in the ground in the Arctic, in line with the EU’s Arctic plan. Norway is resisting this. 

For decades, Bellona has fought for the EU to set restrictions on fossil extraction in the Arctic. In October 2021, the EU took a stand in its Arctic Strategy to halt oil and gas activity in the Arctic and also signaled intentions to put an end to imports of oil and gas originating from the region. Earlier that year, US President Joe Biden suggested that the Arctic must be protected against all fossil activity. 

At the time, Bellona-founder Frederic Hauge said: 

– “Norway is completely out of step with the world when they insist on continuing to search for oil and gas in the Barents Sea, which is part of the Arctic. I’m in danger of becoming an opponent of Norwegian EU membership – because we cannot risk Norway gaining influence and destroying the EU’s climate policy.” 

Last year, the EU put forward its Arctic Strategy, which involves working toward a moratorium on oil and gas activities, as well as the intent to not buy hydrocarbons from the region. In an interview with Dagens Næringsliv last autumn, the then newly appointed Norwegian climate and environment minister Espen Barth Eide said that he was not worried about the signals from the EU about the Arctic. 

Bellona-founder Frederic Hauge now believes that the realities are catching up with Norway. 

– “The EU expects Norway to contribute to climate action, even where it hurts and is difficult. One can wonder whether there will be an agreement at all, if Norway does not agree to phase out oil and gas activities in the Arctic. I don’t think the EU will give in”, says Hauge. 

Is Norway willing to risk future industries for Arctic oil and gas?  

On a number of occasions, the Norwegian government has emphasised the importance of a June meeting between Timmermans and the Norwegian Minister of Energy Terje Aasland. This meeting has been referred to by the Norwegian government as proof that the EU wants more Norwegian oil and gas. The reality is that what the Norwegian’s tout as an agreement between Timmermans and Aasland, is a dialogue with the Commission, expressed in a Joint Statement.  

The green industrial agreement currently being negotiated would be something entirely different as it’s an agreement with the entire EU and must be negotiated with all the countries in the EU. The statement from the meeting with Timmermans cannot be taken as evidence that the EU wants Norwegian oil and gas from the Arctic.  

Bellona believes that while the intention of the June statement was initially good, namely to strengthen EU-Norway (energy) relations in the face of Europe’s biggest geopolitical crisis since the Second World War,  that statement has now ended up being taken hostage in Norway’s lobbying to get the EU to finance gas pipelines from the Barents Sea. Bellona is aware of  intense lobbying from the fossil industry to get this on the agenda.  

It will be a major defeat for all the other Norwegian industries if the Green Industry Deal falls through because of the Arctic oil and gas issue. Not least because it will damage Norway’s standing with the EU, as it will only strengthen the impression that the Norwegian authorities are willing to be a mouthpiece for oil and gas, at the expense of other industries.