The northernmost country in Western Europe, Norway, the land of the midnight sun, is known for its fjords, or long, narrow and mountainous inlets, along its coast. Two of these fjords, the Geirangerfjord and the Nærøyfjord, feature on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Norway is also known for its Viking history, which flourished from 800 to 1,050 AD. While Vikings are commonly thought of as cruel sea-faring raiders, these people were also explorers and traders. The Vikings also founded several colonies, including Dublin and Normandy.
Because of the effect of the Gulf Stream, the weather in Norway is more hospitable than the country’s latitude might suggest. Temperatures along the Norwegian coast are 41 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit higher than at similar latitudes elsewhere around the world.
Today, Norway is an oil-rich nation with a relatively high standard of living. Started in the 1970s, the Norwegian oil industry supports the country’s robust social welfare, education and cultural programs. Although economic pressures called for austerity measures to be enacted during the 1980s – Norway’s oil-backed economy has flourished. Norway is one of the largest exporters of oil in the world. It is also one of the largest reserves of natural gas in Europe after Russia. The petroleum sector forms the ‘spine’ of the Norway’s economy. Because of which, Norway is one of the richest countries in the world (according to the organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) statistics). Norway’s energy policies on oil and gas resources and revenues ‘promote sustainability and reliability’ as a supplier country.
Environmental Issues of Norway
When Norwegians had their environmentalist awakenings during the 1960s, they began dealing with localized ecological issues and the consequences of using hydroelectric power. These challenges included sewage pollution in the Oslo fjord and several inland waterways, as well as industrial pollution and species decline.
An oil drilling platform in Tromsø, Norway. Image Credits: V. Belov/shutterstock.com
Norway’s emissions of greenhouse gases have risen since the 1990s by 15 percent; a statistic made even more alarming considering the country’s sparse population. The Scandinavian country is one of the top European countries in emissions per capita.
Critics point to the country’s extraction of its oil and natural gas resources as a primary source of its emissions. They go on to say that because Norway is such a prolific exporter of fossil fuels, it is essentially exporting even more emissions en masse to other countries.
Environmental Policies of Norway
Starting in the 1960s, Norway has tried to mitigate the environmental damage caused by its hydroelectric sector by restricting where future dams can be built. Dam construction slowed significantly in the 1980s and subsequently several rivers were officially given protected status.
More recently, Norwegians have been moving away from hydroelectric power and toward other energy sources that have less of an environmental impact. One step the government has taken is to encourage organizations and homeowners to burn wood and other biomass for heat and power, as opposed to fossil fuels.
State-owned companies have several different renewable-power projects under way. For instance, the government-controlled Statkraft has been trying to develop a floating wind turbine, which may be cheaper than current offshore models that rise out of the sea floor.
In the 1970s, Norway began enacting a series of policies designed to mitigate any environmental damage cause by its offshore drilling operations. Several laws were passed to protect the coastal marine environment from oil spills and hazardous industrial substances.
BBC - Norway Environment Story. Video credit: Zs2 Media Group/YouTube
Norway has also started taking a more environmental approach to infrastructure projects. The country’s Highway Department has investigated the ecological impacts of several types of fjord-crossings.
The department found bridges are more eco-friendly than tunnels because vehicles use up less fuel driving across them than they do going down into the tunnels and ascending back out on the other side. Furthermore, tunnels need power for lights and ventilation, as well as run pumps when they flood, while bridges need virtually none of these features.
For crossing mountains, the department also found, the extra emissions from digging a tunnel are rapidly offset by the fuel kept by the cars racing through them, as opposed to winding their way up and down the steep slopes.
Clean Technology in Norway
In addition to embracing more sustainable practices, Norway’s state-controlled businesses are also developing cutting edge clean technology.
Statkraft's has been developing a unique new technology known as salt power. The method involves tapping both freshwater and seawater at the mouths of rivers and fjords. The water is redirected to tanks on both sides of a semi-permeable membrane.
Norway: Environmental Issues, Policies and Clean Technology
Hydroelectric power plants like this one in Gudbrandsdal, Norway, are slowly being phased out by the Norwegian government. Image credit: Bent Nordeng / Shutterstock.com
The Norwegian mountains pose a tricky terrain for vehicles, and there is doubt over which is the best method to cross them. Image credit: Mostovyi Sergii Igorevich / Shutterstock.com
The freshwater is then enticed through the membrane to dilute the saltwater, helping to build up osmotic pressure on that side of the tank. The pressurized water can then be used to turn a turbine to generate electricity.
Both Statkraft and StatoilHydro, which is partly-owned by the government, are pursuing floating wind turbine technology. In addition to being cheaper than conventional offshore turbines, floating turbines could be placed far out to sea, where winds are stronger and more consistent.
A Clean Future?
The possibility of a clean future for Norway appears to be largely dependent on the country's policies for its oil and gas industries.
On other sectors, Norway has made considerable progress. It has the Electric Vehicle capital of the world (Oslo, in Norway), because of the presence of half the electric vehicle market. It has a goal to reach zero emission vehicles by 2025. Efforts to use liquefied biogas to power its ships by 2021 are underway. Road transportations are also looking towards solar energy, biogas, and super charger batteries.
The environmental policies and clean technologies adopted by Norway are enabling its citizens to live a sustainable way of life.
Sources and Further Reading
This article was updated on 7th March, 2019.