The Nordic Countries Are Not As Sustainable As They Seem To Be

December 15, 2020

The Nordic countries have long since been the leaders of the sustainability movement across the globe due to their “leadership in governance, innovation, human capital, and environmental indicators.” For example, Norway plans to be carbon neutral by 2030, while the EU doesn’t plan on doing the same until 2050. ROBECO, a team of international investment engineers, ranks Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland to be the top 5 most sustainable countries as of October 2020. Meanwhile, the Sustainable Development Report from the Sustainable Development Solutions Network also lists Sweden, Denmark, and Finland as the top three most sustainable nations in the world.

Norway plans to ban all petrol cars by 2025 and triple wind power capacity by the end of this year, with a $3 billion investment approved in 2013. Denmark, on the other hand, has cut down its CO2 emissions by half since 1996. In 2019 46% of Denmark’s energy was powered via wind power. However, not everything is as it seems. Denmark is the European Union’s largest oil producer, and Norway falls close behind. In fact, 20% of Norway’s economy is funded by oil production.

A colorful waterfront city in Denmark

Furthermore, Norway delayed collecting $10 billion in taxes to help oil companies during the coronavirus pandemic. This was met with mixed emotions by the citizens of Norway. Kari Elisabeth Kaski, a lawmaker from the Socialist Left Party, said, “This illustrates how oil-dependent we are.” Both Denmark and Norway pride themselves on being some of the ‘greenest’ nations on the globe. And one can’t deny all of the progress they’ve made; however, one does have to wonder how such sustainable nations still are big players in the oil industry, one of the world’s most polluting industries.

Although these countries increasingly power their own nations with clean energy, the oil they produce keeps the world shackled to dirty power that poisons our water systems, air, and food. On the outside, these countries look like leaders on the environmental front. Still, we need these changes to be worldwide and not just on a national scale that makes the countries look good in rankings. People worldwide are being affected by climate change; therefore, it’s not enough to just not use the oil produced. Production must be stopped altogether. Denmark’s climate minister, Dan Jørgensen, seems to be moving in this direction. The minister announced recently that the nation will ban all oil production by 2050.

However, again we must ask if this will be enough or if it will be too late. After all, Denmark is the EU’s largest oil producer, and this ban will not go into effect for another three decades. We’re getting more and more reports from scientists that we’re running out of time to fix our mistakes and save future generations from an uninhabitable planet. Thirty more years from one of the biggest oil producers may be too much than the Earth can handle. Whenever I hear about these new bans that are several decades into the future, I always have a thought of, “oh, well, the ban can always be moved up if more research shows lawmakers that we need faster action.” However, Jørgensen outright shot down this hope of mine during his announcement. The minister explained, “obviously, the industry is not happy about the cutoff date. […] But on the other hand, I think they will be happy about knowing exactly what conditions they have. Because when we say 2050, then that also means we’re not going to change that to 2045 or 2040.”

There doesn’t seem to be an absolute answer on the sustainability and actions against climate change the Nordic countries have taken. However, with the dependency they hold on oil production, we have to continue demanding more action from them just as we do from the rest of the world.

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Photo by Ava Coploff on Unsplash

Iga is a freelance writer based in Colorado, but originally from Poland. She follows the vegan, sustainability and zero-waste movements while trying to live a practical lifestyle! When she’s not writing she likes to practice yoga, read, play with her dogs and just be outside in nature. You can find more of her work at her website


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