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Norway vs United Kingdom – GHG Emission Superbrawl

iNsight by Özlem Yetkinoglu Sobhi

After taking a beating in the first round of the Superbrawl, Norway is getting back into the game. Hoping to tackle the United Kingdom on its way to the gold in this prestigious GHG emission tournament.

Climate change: Norway and UK aim to cut greenhouse gas emissions but how much have they progressed?


Atmospheric CO2emissions has raised in an alarming rate since the industrial revolution and we know from ice cores drawn from Greenland, Antarctica, and tropical mountain glaciers that Earth’s climate is altered with changing greenhouse gas levels as CO2and the other so-called greenhouse gases trap heat. As a result, earth’s atmosphere is getting warmer. It is getting warmer at an unusual rate. Ice cores, coral reefs and tree rings show that the global average temperature is stable over long period of times. During about the last century, global average temperature has risen about 1 degree Celsius. 1 degree Celsius might sound small but small fluctuations in the global average temperature causes enormous changes in the environment. Global average temperature is the average temperature over the entire surface of the planet, not regional temperatures. Therefore, it requires enormous amount of heat to warm up oceans, atmosphere and land by 1 degree Celsius. It is important to remember that global average temperature was only about 5 degrees Celsius cooler during the last ice age. In other words, it took many thousand years to raise the temperature 5 degrees Celsius, yet alone in about the past 100 years the temperature got 1 degree Celsius warmer. Climate change is happening too fast for many species to adapt. Humans are no exception. Humans are vulnerable to climate change, changes in climate threatens security of food, freshwater, shelter and health.

Why should we care

Approximately 1% of the world population live in the UK and Norway together and about 1% of the annual global greenhouse gas emissions are produced here. Around 25% of GHG emissions come from China alone. Why should the UK and Norway care? CO2stays in the atmosphere for a very long time. Early industrialized countries like the UK are among the top countries in terms of cumulative emissions, and therefore burdened with more responsibility. National inventories also only focus on the emissions that happen inside the borders of a country. So, they give a picture of how much is produced. But what happens if we look rather at how much is consumed? We would see a very different emission picture for the UK, Norway, if the import of goods from carbon intensive industries like China and outsourcing manufacturing to these countries were to be included.

UK and Norway have set targets to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. They have both adopted the Kyoto protocol which sets national emissions reduction targets against the level in 1990. The UK aims to reduce GHG emissions by at least 80% in 2050 and Norway has committed to reduce 40% in 2030. Both countries also recently ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change.

To meet the committed targets the UK has set legally-binding emission reduction targets for five-year periods known as carbon budgets under the Climate Change Act 2008 which will run up to 2032. The UK has met targets for 1stand 2ndcarbon budgets and is now in the 3rdcarbon budget which is also in track. However, Committee on Climate Change gives red alarm for the 4thand the 5thcarbon budget. Unfortunately, Norway has not been able to decouple greenhouse emissions and energy use from the strong economic growth the country had due to petroleum extraction and thus releases 3% more emissions today compared to 1990 (1,5 million tonnes CO2equivalents).

A brief look at the countries

Before we further examine how the UK and Norway tackle greenhouse gas emissions, it is central to mention that there are demographic and historical economic differences between the two nations and that these differences also play a role in their emission picture today. Britain is the birth place of the industrial revolution which started in the 18thcentury and is still a dominant force in worlds economy. Being no exemption, as an early developed country the UK built its national power system primarily with coal. Being a G7 country, sixth in military expenditure and a founding state of NATO, the UK remains as one of the most influential countries in international politics. UK inhabits 66 million people.

Norway on the contrary had a small economy and ranked below the western average in GDP per capita until the 1970s when oil and gas extraction started. Oil and gas industry have added a total of 14 trillion NOK to Norway’s GDP over the 40 years. Therefore, today Norway has a strong economy and is one of the richest countries in the world. It ranks close to the top in the world in terms of GDP per capita.

Compared to the UK, Norway generates about 15% of the nominal GDP (0,4 trillion US dollars) the UK generates, but has a higher GDP per capita. In terms of km2area, Norway is bigger than the UK, however, twelve times more people live in the UK. The Norwegian economy is mainly stirred with petroleum production, whereas British industry is more diverse.


In Norway a person in average emits 40% more CO2 emissions and consumes 4,5 times more electricity compared to the UK. However, UK is a bigger country and produced in overall nine times more emissions compared to Norway in 2017. In 2017, UK territorially released 470 million tonnes of CO2equivalent greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. This is second highest in Europe after Germany. Norway produced 52,7 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents.


Total greenhouse gas emissions

(million tonnes CO2-equivalents)

CO2emissions (tonnes/capita)













*     ref. ssb, **   ref. BEIS, *** ref. EEA

The Superbrawl

UK has the most significant fall in emissions within its borders in G7. Overall, the UK reduced its national greenhouse gas emissions 43% (324 million tonnes CO2equivalents) compared to the level in 1990. It is important to note that the British economy grew by 70% in this period. 40% of the emission reduction comes from the electricity market and is mainly a result of UK’s policy to reduce and eventually phase out coal power plants.

73,1 million tonnes of CO2equivalent greenhouse gas emissions was released to the atmosphere from power stations in the UK in 2017. Emissions comes from coal, but also from burning natural gas. Dramatic changes have been taking place in the UK electricity market. In 1990, there were no combined cycle gas power plants in the UK. Today about 40% of the total power generated comes from such plants. More than 70% of the power demand was met with coal in 1990 and today only 20% comes from coal. Thus, reduced power supply from the coal power plants are mainly compensated with gas. Energy supply is secured with gas. Combined cycle power plants operate with higher thermal efficiencies than traditional gas and coal plants and natural gas has about the half CO2impact compared to coal. However, it is critical to stress that natural gas is a fossil fuel, thus burning gas also results with CO2emissions in the atmosphere. Just to give some perspective, it can be useful to remark that 128 GWh of electricity was generated in combined cycle gas plants in 2017 in the UK. This corresponds to the national power consumption of Norway.

The UK aims to phase out all coal power stations by 2025. 12,5 GW of 25,8 GW installed capacity is already successfully phased out. The remaining coal plants do not operate at full load. But UK’s plans to build new gas fired power plants to fill the gap of retired coal continues to raise international concerns.

Another remarkable change in the UK’s electricity market is the investment in solar and wind. In 1990 only, hydropower stations were present as renewable power source and provided only 2% of the power. Today 20% of the national power generated comes from renewables. Wind, solar and renewables other than hydro had together an installed capacity of 17 GW in 2017 and today contracts are granted to increase this more. UK has impressively built large scale offshore wind farms. It is estimated that this sector created 14000 new jobs.

Norway, different from the rest of Europe has historically relied on hydropower and therefore considered renewable. Norway has an installed capacity of 31,8 GW of hydropower with a very high reservoir storage capacity. It is also important to add that energy markets both in the UK and Norway are decentralized and marginal power supply is still coal in Europe. This means in days when demand exceeds supply power is imported as open border trade is practiced and power demand is most likely met with base load coal both in Norway and the UK. The UK has imported 3% of the electricity it consumed in the past 10 years, whereas Norway has been a net exporter with about 9%.

Unfortunately, de-carbonizing electricity production is not enough.  Mitigating emissions from transportation, industry, buildings and agriculture are equally important. In addition, increasing carbon sinks via land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) are vital in tackling climate change. Progress in transportation has in general been slow. We see improvements in passenger cars, but no advancement in trucks which produce about equally much. Emissions from trucks are increasing sharply.

Transport is the most emitting sector both in Norway and the UK and road transport is dominating emissions. 114 million tonnes of CO2equivalents of greenhouse gas emissions were produced in road traffic in 2017 in the UK, 60% of which came from passenger cars. Introduction of higher efficiency vehicles reduced emissions. In overall transport, reductions are also achieved in shipping and military aircraft and military shipping. These are offset by a 67% increase in emission from light duty vehicles, and overall emission were steady with an 2% increase compared to the level in 1990.

Norway, on the other hand, has 22% higher emissions from overall transport compared to the level in 1990, mainly due to increased use of light duty vehicles. Railway and sea transport have lower CO2impact compared to road transport. However, we see that both in the UK and Norway, increased demand on transportation of gods is met with the relatively more emitting light duty vehicles. Norway has also reduced emissions from passenger cars, despite increased traffic. Here, we see a 5% emission reduction, which was primarily achieved with a very supportive policy for electric cars, higher efficiency vehicles and blending biofuel into regular fuel.

UK’s buildings made up 19% of the national emissions in 2017, corresponding to 85 million tonnes CO2equivalents. We see a lack of progress in reducing emissions from buildings. Today, 85% of the UK households are heated with natural gas. We also see that cost-effective measures for enhancing energy efficiency are also not widely implemented today. For example, insulation installation rates are at just 5% of the level in 2012. Effective policies can potentially alter the trend here in a cost-effective manner.

In Norway, electricity is the primary source for heating and using oil and natural gas is subject to carbon tax. Heating makes only 2% of the national emissions and this is expected to further decrease as a ban on the use of oil for heating buildings is introduced, which will be effective from 2020.

Industry and mining are major emission categories. Norway had good progress in reducing the strong greenhouse gas PFCs emissions from aluminum production. Industrial combustion including iron and steel, decline in deep-mined coal production and better abatement techniques have reduced British emissions. New abatement equipment that was installed in halocarbon and adipic acid production facilities in 1998 and 1999 has reduced emissions of F-gases and N20 respectively almost to zero (corresponding to a combined reduction of 34,2 million tonnes of CO2equivalents).

UK impressively reduced emissions by 46 million tonnes of CO2equivalents from waste handling, making it the second biggest sector in emission reduction. Landfills leads to high volumes of methane emissions which is a significantly stronger greenhouse gas than CO2. UK produced twice as much greenhouse gas emission per capita from waste handling compared to Norway in 1990, and today it is 25% less. This improvement is a result of the EU landfill directive, which limits the disposal of municipal waste and includes improvements in methane recovery at landfill sites.  Norway has reduced only 17%, indicating that Norway can do more in this category.

UK and Norway extract oil and gas offshore. Petroleum production and transport are power demanding operations and the power is produced locally on offshore platforms via gas turbines by using the extracted gas which in turn results in CO2emissions. Flare, cold vents and leaks also leads to greenhouse gas emissions. Increased oil and gas activities in Norway led to an 78% increase in emissions, making it the second biggest emission category after transport. Emissions are lower in the UK today compared to 1990, as a result of reduced production. Due to the big volume of emissions from power production, transport, industry and buildings, emissions from this category makes only 2% of the UK national emissions whereas in Norway it contributes to almost one third.

Domestic use of natural gas is very low in Norway and almost all gas is exported, making Norway the third largest exporter in the world. Norway is also a net exporter of oil, whereas the UK is a net importer of both. Does this have a meaning for the emission performance? Well, this means that the UK uses the produced oil and gas within its borders and is held accountable for the corresponding emissions. Practically, gas is used as fuel and most of the oil is also used as fuel resulting in greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere. In today’s emission calculation methods, Norway is not held accountable for these emissions. The emission picture of Norway worsens substantially if these emissions were to be included.

Globally, more than 1 billion cattle burp and fart large amount of methane to the atmosphere every day. Managing their manure and producing feed results in N2O emissions. In addition, earth’s agricultural land is mainly used for livestock. More cows mean less trees, thus less carbon sinks. Agriculture is today a major problem for climate change and globally causes more emissions than transportation. Paradoxically, farming is one of the sectors that is most vulnerable to climate change as activities directly depend on the climate. Norway is among top countries in terms of milk consumption per capita. Cow milk production is also at issue as cows are forced to go pregnant and lactate concurrently all their lives. Both UK and Norway are net importers of meat and consumes more meat per capita than the world average. Many studies suggest that the most effective way of reducing carbon print on an individual level is to reduce or stop eating meat.

Vegetation and soil acts as carbon sinks, meaning they remove CO2from the atmosphere. Human activities affect this via land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF). Norway had an effective forestation policy which increased CO2intake by 130% since 1990. Approximately 40% of the Norwegian land is covered with forests and about half of the greenhouse gas emissions produced in Norway are removed by forests and similar. UK land is also a net carbon sink and removes about half of the greenhouse gas emissions that Norwegian land does.


In conclusion, Norway hangs behind in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and oil and gas production is the main reason but not the only reason. Although Norway has given very attractive incentives and subsidies to increase electric cars in traffic, introduced higher efficiency vehicles and blends biofuel into regular fuel, emissions from transport has increased by 22% since 1990. The reason behind is trucks and buses. Passenger cars is given most focus both globally and locally, however emissions from trucks and busses cannot be neglected anymore as their use leads to considerable amounts of greenhouse gases.  Norway’s hydro based power supply, electricity-based heating, progress in energy efficiency and forestation policy have positive impact in nations greenhouse gas emissions and helps Norway in keeping a low profile in the international climate debate. Norway also gives up to 3 billion NOK a year to REDD+ (Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries). Even so, Norway has the biggest petroleum reserves in Europe. In addition to the operational emissions from the Norwegian territory, exported hydrocarbons result in greenhouse gas emissions outside Norway as they are mainly converted to greenhouse gases upon consumption. In the end, the trend today does not support Norway’s goal to reduce emissions by 40% in 2030, yet it looks impossible to meet this target through domestic measures and Norway relies on buying emissions abroad.

The initial focus in the UK has been electricity generation and we see an impressive progress in reducing the share of coal power and increasing the share of renewables. The growth of renewable energy market also had indirect positive effects since it created new jobs. Today, onshore wind and solar power are the cheapest renewable options in the UK and their further deployment will aid towards a decarbonized power system. However, current plans suggest that their potential is being dismissed.  UK also had substantial emission reduction from waste handling. However, challenges remain particularly in buildings and transport. Low insulation rates due to removed grants and natural gas based heating, stand out as unavoidable issues in the building sector. Like in Norway, emissions from passenger cars has decreased slightly and emissions from trucks has increased significantly and requires action.

Finally, the magnitude of import from carbon intensive countries such as China and carbon print of the exported products such as oil and gas are left out in national inventories. It is important to remember that including international trade in emission calculations can give a very different outcome and will worsen the emission picture of both Norway and the UK.

Climate change is a complex web of problem. There is not a single cause and therefore not a single solution. It is a global problem, therefore requires a global cooperation. We need to reexamine how we move from one place to another, how we produce food and what we eat, how we build and warm our homes, how much we consume, and we need progress towards a decarbonized electricity generation. No country is immune. Rising sea levels, loss of land, crops and water, changing weather patterns and increased frequency of extreme weather events will eventually force people to move to safer places and to countries that had a better shot in adapting.  How do we adapt to a big global refugee crisis?

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Check out the first epic battle between Norway and Sweden here

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