Over a thousand years ago, the Norse Vikings raided lands and seized control of whole countries, but their foreign policy has changed drastically since that time.
Recently Norway banned all deforestation, becoming the first country to do so.
Furthermore, the government is now committed to ethically source palm oil, beef, timber and soy — the combination of which contributes to just under half of deforestation worldwide. The latter commitment was part of a pledge the country made along with Germany and the United Kingdom in 2014.
One hundred years ago, Norway’s stance on forests was drastically different. The country was exporting large amounts of timber and using wood to heat their homes. It wouldn’t be until the late 1800s that Norway realized if they didn’t change how they were managing their forests, they were at risk of losing them. What followed was Norway becoming the first country to assess and monitor the health of their forests, which began in 1919. The results have been significant; Norway has triple the amount of forests now than it did 100 years ago.
Norway’s effort to protect forests does not just extend to their own, however.
Norway has paid the country of Guyana hundreds of millions of dollars to not cut down their trees. It’s a pretty sweet deal for Guyana, because cutting down trees is hard work and now they have people paying them specifically not to do that.
The South American country had experienced floods in 2006, leading the government to grow concerned about the impacts of climate change. Guyana originally approached the UK about receiving aid in exchange for not cutting down their forests and removing a large carbon sink that would otherwise help slow climate change. The deal with the UK did not go through, but Norway was willing to pick up the check. In 2009 Norway pledged $250 million to Guyana in order to prevent deforestation, and in 2015 pledged a further $45 million.
In 2014 Norway said what the heck, let’s give Liberia $150 million to not cut down their forests.
There were concerns that the recent Ebola crisis in the region would have led to increased logging as the country scrambled to make more money, and that’s where Norway stepped in. As part of the program, Norway will make direct payments to local communities in Liberia (to ensure the money gets to where it should) and an independent third party will monitor the forests to ensure they have been protected.
Norway has paid Brazil $1 billion to reduce the destruction of the rainforest, and the results have been amazing for Brazil and for the planet.
In the time since Brazil began receiving the funding from Norway, the country has reduced deforestation by 75 percent, a number that has led to 33,000 square feet of preserved rainforest. Scientists estimated that the amount of rainforest saved in Brazil since that time is equivalent to 14.3 million soccer fields, a number so large it has led many to wonder if soccer-field size really is the best way to measure it.
The amount of carbon dioxide this keeps out of the atmosphere is estimated at around 3.2 billion tons, or three times the equivalent of taking all the cars off the roads in the United States.
Norway paid for all that good stuff to occur.
Oil and Norway
Twenty-five percent of Norway’s GDP comes from oil, so damage to that industry could have harsh impacts for the country’s economy. It’s possible that Norway sees efforts to decrease deforestation as their best method for combatting climate change without slowing down investments in their own oil industry. While on the surface this theory might seem to make sense, it should be noted that other policy choices made by the Norwegian government do not reflect an undeterred support of their oil industry. The country has pledged to phase out the use of gas-driven cars by 2025. That’s like the state of Wisconsin outlawing cheese sandwiches.
Norway’s environmental performance
The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) is a set of calculations used to measure the environmental performance of countries and translate it into a numerical value. (If you’re familiar with how football’s quarterback-rating statistics works, it’s just like that.) Researchers at Yale developed the EPI (originally called the Environmental Sustainability Index), and updates on statistics are released every two years.
Norway’s current EPI number is 86.9, which ranks them as the 17th most environmental country in the world. At first this might not seem to be too great of a score for a country doling out billions of dollars to keep trees in the ground, but after considering the country’s reliance on oil for 25 percent of their GDP, it becomes much more impressive.
Norway is the only country in the world to be ranked within the top 20 oil producers in the world (15th) and the top 20 in terms of their EPI score.
Celebrating the descendants of Vikings
It’s important to celebrate the achievements of a government, country or corporation that takes efforts to improve the health of our planet. It seems as though environmentalism often regresses to merely blaming the biggest offenders instead of celebrating achievements.
Some would also argue that many who identify as environmentalists are quick to dismiss pro-environmental actions made by governments or corporations as public-relations ploys. In the case of the government of Norway, however, it seems very plausible that the people have a strong desire to protect the health of the planet — and their government is turning their desires into real action.
— Ian Carey