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CLIMATE CRISIS

Norway’s future CO2 cemetery takes shape

On the shores of an island off Norway's North Sea coast, engineers are building a burial ground for unwanted greenhouse gas.

Norway's future CO2 cemetery takes shape
A photo taken on April 24, 2022 in Oygarden near Bergen, Norway, shows the construction site for a terminal which will collect liquefied carbon dioxide CO2, which will arrive by ship from industrial facilities in Europe and will run through a pipeline into geological formations deep beneath the sea bed, so that it does not contribute to global warming. (Photo by Alexiane LEROUGE / AFP)

The future terminal is to pump tonnes of liquefied carbon dioxide captured from the top of factory chimneys across Europe into cavities deep below the seabed.

The project in the western municipality of Oygarden aims to prevent the gas from entering the atmosphere and contributing to global warming.

It “is the world’s first open-access transport and storage infrastructure, allowing any emitter that has captured his CO2 emissions to deliver that CO2 for safe handling, transport and then permanent storage,” project manager Sverre Overa told AFP.

As the planet struggles to meet its climate targets, some climate experts see the technique, called carbon capture and storage, or CCS, as a means to partially reduce emissions from fossil-fuel-based industries.

Norway is the biggest hydrocarbon producer in Western Europe, but it also boasts the best CO2 storage prospects on the continent, especially in its depleted North Sea oil fields.

READ ALSO: ‘A code red’: Will Europeans change their habits after climate crisis ‘reality check’?

The government has financed 80 percent of the infrastructure, putting €1.7 billion ($1.7 billion) on the table as part of a wider state plan to
develop the technology.

A cement factory and a waste-to-energy plant in the Oslo region are set to send their CO2 to the site.

But the most original feature of the project is on the commercial side: inviting foreign firms to send their CO2 pollution to be buried out of harm’s way.

Pipeline plans

Using CCS to curb carbon pollution is not a new idea, but despite generous subsidies, the technology has never taken off, mainly because it is so costly.

One of the world’s largest carbon capture facilities, at the Petra Nova coal-fired plant in Texas, was mothballed in 2020 because it was not
economical.

There are only a couple of dozen operational CCS projects around the world, according to the industry-run Global CCS Institute.

But the failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with Paris Agreement goals and a massive influx of government subsidies have breathed new life into the technology.

Energy giants Equinor, TotalEnergies and Shell have set up a partnership — dubbed Northern Lights — which will be the world’s first cross-border CO2 transport and storage service at its scheduled launch in 2024.

A pipeline will inject the liquefied CO2 into geological pockets 2,600 metres below the ocean floor, and the idea is that it will remain there for
good.

READ ALSO: OECD criticises Norway’s climate efforts

On Monday, the Northern Lights partners announced a first cross-border commercial agreement.

From 2025, it is to ensure 800,000 tonnes of CO2 are captured each year at a plant in the Netherlands owned by Norwegian fertiliser manufacturer Yara, then shipped to Oygarden and stored there.

On Tuesday, two energy firms — Norway’s oil and gas giant Equinor and Germany’s Wintershall Dea — announced a project to take carbon dioxide captured in Germany to the Norwegian offshore storage site.

If confirmed, the partnership between Equinor and Wintershall Dea could involve building a 900-kilometre (560-mile) pipeline connecting a CO2 collection facility in northern Germany with storage sites in Norway by 2032.

A similar project with Belgium is already in the works.

On the icy shores of the North Sea, a “graveyard” under construction is raising the hopes of climate experts: soon, the site will house a — small — portion of the CO2 emitted by European industry, preventing it from ending up in the atmosphere. (Photo by Alexiane LEROUGE / AFP)

Not a ‘proper solution’ 

In its first phase, the Northern Lights scheme will be able to process 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 per year, then later between five and six million tonnes.

But that is just a tiny fraction of annual carbon emissions across Europe.

The European Union emitted 3.7 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2020, according to the European Environment Agency.

Many climate experts warn carbon capture is no silver bullet for the climate crisis.

Critics caution that CCS could prolong fossil fuel extraction just as the world is trying to turn toward clean and renewable energy.

READ ALSO: Carbon dioxide to be stored in Norway in ‘milestone’ deal

Greenpeace Norway’s Halvard Raavand said the campaign group had always opposed the practice.

“In the beginning, it was very easy to oppose all kinds of CCS (carbon capture and storage) and now because of the lack of climate action it’s of course a more difficult debate to be in,” he said.

“This money should instead be spent on developing (a) proper solution that we know (works) and that could reduce the electricity bills for regular people, such as insulating homes or solar panels”.

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ENVIRONMENT

Norway’s oil fund demands investments be carbon neutral by 2050

Norway's sovereign wealth fund, the largest in the world, announced Tuesday that it will require that the approximately 9,000 companies it has invested in worldwide achieve zero net carbon emissions by 2050.

Norway's oil fund demands investments be carbon neutral by 2050

 “We set a target of net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest for all companies,” Carine Smith Ihenacho, the fund’s chief governance and compliance officer, said while announcing the fund’s new climate action plan.

“We will engage with the companies to reach this target by setting credible preliminary targets and creating plans to reduce their direct and indirect emissions of greenhouse gases,” she added.

According to the IPCC, the UN climate expert panel, achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 is necessary in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Paradoxically, Norway’s wealth fund is fuelled by the Norwegian government’s oil revenues and it is also known as the oil fund. It is worth more than 12,000 billion Norwegian kroner (nearly $1,200 billion) and holds equity in over 9,000 companies in 70 countries. To date, only about 10 percent of these companies have set a carbon neutrality objective.

The fund’s ambition is to help groups in which it is invested develop a climate plan by maintaining a dialogue with them, using its voting rights at general meetings and, “as a last resort”, divesting its shares, Ihenacho explained at a press conference.

READ MORE: What does Norway do with its oil money?

Governed by a set of ethical rules, the fund is among other things prohibited from investing in companies responsible for serious environmental or climate damage and coal, but it can also drop companies on its own initiative on purely financial merits.

“Sustainability is a prerequisite for good returns in the future,” noted Oystein Borsum, the deputy governor of the Norwegian central bank, which oversees the fund.

The fund has already divested its assets in four companies whose greenhouse gas emissions were deemed excessive. The new plan follows up on the Norwegian government’s decision to strengthen the fund’s climate mandate.

In the first six months of 2022, the fund’s value fell by 1,680 billion kroner, mainly due to turmoil in global stock markets. The only sector to show a positive return was the energy sector, including oil and gas companies, which benefited from soaring prices in the wake of the war in Ukraine.

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