Norwegian climate policy: a history of compromise
Political compromises can hinder the advancement of climate technology, according to one researcher. The fate of a CO2 capture plant planned to open in Western Norway is a recent example.
According to researcher Sjur Kasa, technology policy has been the result of compromise between established industrial and environmental stakeholders since the 1990s.
In particular, he points out the challenges associated with technology development for carbon capture and storage (CCS).
Dr Kasa has completed an analysis of the political response to climate issues in recent decades. The study is part of a larger-scale research project funded under the Democracy and Governance in Regional Context programme (DEMOSREG) at the Research Council of Norway.
Problems with ambitious national project
The CO2 capture plant at Mongstad in Hordaland County exemplifies such political compromise, Dr Kasa says.
- As a concession between influential representatives of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) and the Norwegian Labour Party (Ap) – favourable to industry on the one hand – and environmental organisations and the Socialist Left Party (SV) on the other, it was agreed that a testing facility for CO2 capture would be ready in 2010 when the Mongstad refinery was scheduled to open. A full-scale capture plant would be operational in 2014.
The agreement meant that none of the groups got all of their wishes fulfilled, but everyone got something.
- Today we see that the project is severely delayed, and it is unclear as to when it will be realised. The problems at Mongstad demonstrate how consensus-driven policy can hamper technological development, Dr Kasa adds.
How did it end up like this? Dr Kasa sums up historical events to explain how such a policy arose.
- The battle over natural gas power production became particularly intense towards the end of the 1990s. Gas-fired power plants release relatively substantial amounts of CO2. Environmentalists therefore sought to prevent them from being built, he says.
In the 1990s, environmentalists locked horns with influential political stakeholders pushing for an increase in the use of natural gas power, especially for industrial purposes.
Kjell Magne Bondevik of the Norwegian Christian Democratic Party (KrF) was prime minister at the time and was forced to resign in 2000 after rejecting the construction of gas-fired power plants without CO2 capture. There was even strong contention internally in LO and AP between members in favour of natural gas power production and those against it.
The heated conflict surrounding the gas-fired power plant issue ended in reconciliation in the early 2000s. LO and Ap concluded that new technology and CCS should form the basis for continued industrial growth.
- The focus on technology became an important strategy in subduing the conflict over natural gas power. Among other things, the compromise led to a research initiative on CCS and, to a certain extent, climate-friendly products for natural gas-based industry. It has had a cohesive effect politically, uniting the environmentalist movement, organisations within the energy sector and political parties, Dr Kasa explains.
He adds that the announcement in 2005 of Ap, SV and the Centre Party (Sp) forming the coalition government in place today represents a continuation of this compromise.
- This signalled that there would be a greater commitment to an environmentally sound use of natural gas and CCS. At the same time, the Government wished to build up a system of natural gas pipelines for the energy sector and for the domestic use of natural gas for industrial purposes.
Dr Kasa would not go so far as to characterise the present situation as a deadlock. Innovation in the field is taking place despite the tendency towards compromise.
In his eyes, both the establishment of the research programme Maximizing Value Creation in the Natural Gas Chain (GASSMAKS) and the CCS initiatives are bold projects that, in important areas, look beyond the existing development paths for emissions-intensive heavy industry in Norway.
- Natural gas is being used in new areas. Projects funded by the GASSMAKS programme on bioproteins and environmentally sound production of plastics are prime examples. With the aid of new technology, natural gas is being transformed into plastic products, fuel and protein in fish and animal feed.
There is the question as to how this research is politically relevant
- Many of the traditional stakeholders in industrial policy still have substantial influence. They have just organised themselves a bit differently. What research provides is a means to gain important political insight, Dr Kasa states.
Up until the 1980s, energy and industrial policy was a product of formalised cooperation between industry organisations, the state and various regional interests. This form of cooperation was eventually replaced by more informal alliances.
In 1998, the Norwegian Gas Forum was established as a national organisation with the aim of promoting land-based industrial development based on natural gas. A new political network, "Gassalliansen" (the Gas Alliance), brought together the Norwegian Gas Forum, LO and the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO). The alliance played a key role in achieving a parliamentary majority to back the construction of gas pipelines in 2005.
- The Gas Alliance – composed of LO, NHO and the Norwegian Gas Forum – demonstrates how an informal network can exert substantial influence. They went to significant expense to influence the Storting (parliament) and the Government. Such alliances are common in what we often call Norwegian industrial corporatism, concludes Dr Kasa.
Facts about the project
"Multi-level governance and regional development – the politics of gas" headed by Marit Reitan of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in the period 2006-2011.
The project was funded under the DEMOSREG programme at the Research Council of Norway.
Researcher Sjur Kasa (at the time affiliated with the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo (Cicero), and now of the Centre for Technology, Innovation and Culture at the University of Oslo) was a key participant in the project. He carried out research on the struggle over climate issues and innovation policy, publishing his work in, among others, the book Energirikdommens paradokser ("The Paradoxes of Energy Riches" (Norwegian only). Editors: Hanson, Kasa and Wicken), which was published in 2011 by Universitetsforlaget.
The Research Council’s research programme, Democracy and Governance in Regional Context programme (DEMOSREG), seeks to generate knowledge about the local and regional consequences of national and international development trends. Particular emphasis is given to research related to policy-making and governance.
(Translation: Glenn Wells/Carol B. Eckmann)
- Last updated: