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Economist: Norway and the Environment: Binge and Purge

January 22, 2009

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ON THE shores of a glittering fjord, in the shadow of craggy mountains, right at the heart of Norway, stands a new factory belonging to a firm called NorSun. Inside, blond technicians in goggles tease metres-long crystals out of vats of liquid silicon and slice them into the thinnest of wafers, to be used in solar panels. The power for the factory is as pristine as the surroundings: it comes from a nearby hydroelectric plant. “It’s a nice idea,” says Cecilie Holst, one of the employees, “making solar panels with clean energy.”

That is how Norwegians like to think of themselves—as good custodians of the environment, who are helping to move the planet towards a greener future. And so they are in many respects: 98-99% of Norway’s electricity comes from hydroelectric plants. It was one of the first countries to adopt a carbon tax in an attempt to slow global warming, back in 1991. It was also the first country to capture carbon dioxide and store it underground. Making that process easier and cheaper is Norway’s “Apollo mission”, says the prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg. His centre-left coalition government has pledged to make the country carbon neutral by 2030, bringing forward its previous deadline of 2050. Meanwhile, Norway promises to be a “driving force” for a new international treaty on climate change to replace the Kyoto protocol, which expires in 2012.

Yet for all its environmental piety, Norway is also a prodigious polluter. Its greenhouse-gas emissions have grown 15% since it adopted the carbon tax. They are still rising, and are likely to continue to do so until 2012, according to Mr Stoltenberg.

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