French news site blasts ‘Bergen gas cloud’

A searing blog post on a major French news site has caused concern among Bergen politicians and tourist authorities by highlighting pollution readings in the western city that are five times higher than acceptable levels.

French news site blasts 'Bergen gas cloud' screenshot

The net newspaper’s two million readers have locals fretting over lost tourist kroner. But others are happy for the spotlight on the smog that makes life hard.

A media issue every winter, the air quality in Bergen is blamed on anchored, ocean-going vessels belching mono-nitrogen oxide, or NOx, gases; metal-studded tires pulverizing city roads; and on the fjords funneling in and trapping heavy sea mists. 

“Norway, with its fjords, its clean air … is the most polluted [country] in Europe," the French-language wrote on Monday, adding, “Norway, which boasts about its clean air, has to re-examine its self-image.”

Rue89 blogger Diane Berbain’s entry has local politicians mortified. They worry she’ll convince the thousands of French people who visit picturesque Bergen every year to stay away. Newspaper Bergens Tidende reported 20,000 tourist days worth millions of kroner are at stake if too many of the online publication’s visitors think instead of the photo of Bergen’s smog cloud accompanying the blog.

“I never would have believed the newspaper would put it on the front page, but the editors thought it was very exciting,” blogger Berbain told BT.

“People are surprised since Norway sells itself as a clean country,” she said.

Berbain is a Bergen resident and secretary to the local branch of the Green Party.

Rue 89’s Bergen smog story was read 10,000 times on Monday night alone, a nod to rising interest in Norway stories on the continent. The country’s July massacre tragedy and the possibilities afforded three million adults enjoying unassailable petro-wealth have captured the international imagination.

Bergen tourist authority boss, Ole Warberg, is worried the gas-cloud blog will trigger a spin-off effect of negative articles about his city.

“It’s this we fear, that it’ll get out of control,” Warberg told BT.

“I refuse to believe that Bergen is so much worse then other cities,” he added.

Indeed, the capital Oslo’s poor-winter-air index has already started flashing colour-coded warnings for asthmatics and people enduring respiratory ailments.

To shrink its own cloud, Bergen is contemplating fees of 25 kroner [$4.30) for cars coming into the city. Oslo already charges 30 kroner for cars entering city limits. With its dependence on cruise ships, coastal liners and offshore oil and gas shipping, Bergen has appeared more inclined to levy a fee on cars than ships.

Meanwhile, surgical masks are worn with increasing frequency, as southern Norway endures a rotating low pressure system which has brought three weeks of dense fog.

For Bergen and Oslo, heavy, NOx-filled winter air is just around the corner. Wretched Bergen air in the winter of 2010 appears to have prompted Berbain’s blog: 200 micrograms of NOx was “the worst in the world” and far worse than the acceptable levels of 40 micrograms NOx.

While thousands of cars pass through the city’s tiny downtown every day, nearby mountains constrain their emissions and those of idling rows of offshore vessels and cruise ships

An Australian Maritime Journal report available online suggests ships burn lower-quality fuel when at quay, and several reports assert the emissions of ships to be the same as “10,000 cars” or up to “50 million cars”, depending on whether the assessment comes from the US Environmental Protection Agency, the European Union or climate consultants.

The EPA, the EU and Norway are already establishing low-emissions shipping zones near land, but these are aimed only at sulphur emissions and not NOx.

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How do Norway’s CO2 emissions compare to other countries?

Norway can be seen as either a relatively green country or one of the worlds largest polluters, depending on whether you include emissions which occur abroad as a result of its oil trade.

Pictured is the chimney of an industrial building emitting fumes. When taking emissions per capita into account Norway is one of the worlds top 20 CO2 producers.
Pictured is the chimney of an industrial building emitting fumes. When taking emissions per capita into account Norway is one of the worlds top 20 CO2 producers. Photo by veeterzy on Unsplash

Norway has long been in the strange juxtaposition of being perceived as one of Europe’s greener countries while being one of the continent’s biggest natural oil and gas producers. 

While most new cars sold in the country are electric, and the coalition government has announced several carbon-cutting goals as part of its government policy platform, the nation of 5.3 million will continue to develop its oil industry and press on with exploration for gas and “black gold”. 

Within its own borders, then Norway is only the world’s 61st biggest CO2 polluter, according to data on the country’s carbon dioxide output provided by climate researchers Cicero and the Global Carbon Project for broadcaster NRK

The country emits 41 million tonnes of CO2 annually, according to figures it submits to the UN. This pales in comparison to the 329 million tonnes released by the UK, the 1.5 billion tonnes emitted by Russia, the 4.7 billion tonnes the USA has reported to the UN, and the more than 10 billion tonnes China discharges.

By this metric, Norway looks to be relatively green. However, when emissions per capita are considered, Norway leapfrogs the UK and China, emitting 7.7 tonnes per person.

These figures don’t consider the environmental impact of the country’s oil and gas trade. Most of the industry’s emissions occur outside of Norway and are therefore not included in the national figures. 

READ ALSO: How will climate change impact Norway?

When emissions released by the oil and gas trade outside of the country’s borders are accounted for then Norway becomes the 17th largest nation in terms of CO2 output. 

Additionally, when emissions produced outside its borders are taken into consideration, carbon dioxide generated per person in Norway jumps from 7.7 tonnes to 93.6. This puts Norway fourth overall, behind oil giants Qatar, Kuwait and Brunei. 

Norway’s petroleum minister, Marte Mjøs Persen, told NRK that the country wasn’t responsible for emissions produced abroad as a result of oil and gas exports. 

“Not according to the Paris Agreement. There we are responsible for the emissions we have in the Norwegian sector,” Persen told NRK.