Location: Luster, Vestland county, Norway
Photo: Norman Kjærvik

Styggevatn by Jostedalsbreen in Luster municipality in Vestland county is regulated with a dam 55 meters high. The reservoir has a capacity of about 350 million cubic metres of water and is the main reservoir for the Jostedal power plant.

Tired of gloomy global warming reports? There are also climate news that can give hope for the future.

 

Here are five positve climate news

1. Glaciers hold their ground

How can it be that Norway’s glaciers stayed almost the same size in one of the hottest years in recorded history?

The trend from previous years continued, and 2020 went down as one of the hottest years in recorded history. Nevertheless, something remarkable happened to the glaciers in Western Norway. They held their ground.

A favourite among glacier-hiking tourists in Norway is the Nigardsbreen glacier – an arm of the largest glacier in mainland Europe, Jøstedalsbreen. Sadly, the Nigardsbreen glacier has been shrinking steadily for years. 600 meters of ice has disappeared entirely.

Even Loe, a hydrologist at Statkraft, is among the most frequent visitors to the top of the Nigardsbreen glacier. So much so that it has become more than just a place of work, it is the destination for countless family skiing trips and summer excursions.

In 2020, however, it snowed so much that the glacier actually expanded its volume. In other words, it snowed more than the glacier melted. That has to be good news, doesn’t it?

The answer is a combination of yes, no and maybe. Seen in isolation, it is positive news – if somewhat untypical.

“The natural variations from year to year mean you would always expect years when the volume of ice increases even though the climate is getting warmer,” Loe says.

Even Loe
Statkraft hydrologist Even Loe in the "blue lagoon" in the Nigardsbreen glacier. (Photo: Statkraft)

In order for the glacier front to continue growing, you need a steady accumulation of ice over time. The ingredients are snow-rich winters and cold summers, or preferably both.

Although cold summers may seem less and less likely, time and again the glaciers in Western Norway do experience abundant snowfalls. The glaciers are situated at such high altitudes that they can receive a lot of precipitation even though the climate is getting warmer.

But what if we turn the situation on its head and ask: What needs to happen for the glaciers to remain as they are or even grow? The scientific explanation is pretty clear.

“If the sum of the increase in ice volume in positive years is greater than the decrease in negative years for a period of ten years, many of the glacier fronts in Western Norway will probably advance,” says Loe, before warning:

“The dramatic changes will only come when it gets so warm that the precipitation falls as rain in the high mountains through part of the winter.”

We are probably a good way off reaching that stage – for the moment. Perhaps the Nigardsbreen glacier offers a glimmer of hope after all.

Location: Eidfjord, Vestland county
Photo: Tommy Andresen

“The dramatic changes will only come when it gets so warm that the precipitation falls as rain in the high mountains through part of the winter.”

2. CO2 emissions were reduced

The pandemic gave the planet a breathing space. Less air travel and fewer car journeys seem to have reduced carbon emissions on a global scale. How long can it last?

The UN Environment Programme and The Global Carbon Project have calculated that the world’s total carbon emissions fell by 7 per cent in 2020. The largest reductions came in the USA and Europe.

To find out what this reduction really means, we talked to Research Director Glen Peters of the Centre for International Climate Research (CICERO) in Oslo and a member of The Global Carbon Project.

When asked what he thinks of the fall in emission levels, Peters is enthusiastic.

“This result is positive because it shows that we can reduce our emissions. But we don’t need to do it in the same way in the future. Instead, we should try and copy some of the outcomes. People must be allowed to visit their grannies,” he says with a smile.

Glen Peters
Glen Peters, Research Director of the Centre for International Climate Research (CICERO) in Oslo.

The measures taken to contain the pandemic have driven carbon emission levels down, but there is one important observation that Peters also wants to highlight. Globally, renewable energy has made huge advances in relation to fossil fuels.

“Renewable energy has proved resistant and has even grown. On the other hand, the use of coal has plummeted. It’s interesting to see that coal seems to be the most vulnerable energy source,” Peters says.

The climate researcher is keen to see the fall in carbon emissions as an opportunity we must seize. “Will we, for example, be content with less mobility and travel?”, he asks rhetorically, before turning his focus towards a specific means of transport.

“We could encourage people to cycle more... In Oslo, for example, a large number of new cycle paths have been built, and we can continue to extend the network.”

Nonetheless Peters – like other researchers – expects carbon emissions to rise again in 2021, but he is unsure how large or how small this rebound will be. Any increase in emissions can also be planned, he says, and follows up with a ‘rebound scenario’:

“If governments decide to build a heap of solar panels and wind turbines, carbon emissions will ‘rebound’ due to the construction work. But the years after, you will be able to reap the rewards. The same goes for electric cars.”

Location: Norway
Photo: Mer company

The EV charging company Mer has a network of charging stations in Norway and plans to expand in several European countries.

Carbon emissions fell during the covid pandemic, not least as a result of fewer airplane flights and less car driving. What happens after the pandemic? Have we learned?

3. The great nations have given climate promises

The great powers China and the United States have announced to be climate neutral. Are they serious or bluffing?

For the first time ever, China has agreed to set a long-term climate goal beyond 2030. In the autumn of 2020, China’s President Xi Jinping surprised the UN General Assembly. China, the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions, intends to be carbon neutral by 2060.

Not wanting to be outbid, the new US president, Joe Biden, sees China’s pledge and raises it by ten. Biden is, in fact, working to make the USA carbon neutral by 2050 – ten years before China. 

But what do such pledges mean in the grand scheme of things?

“When more and more countries, especially the major industrial countries, join in, the level of ambition on the climate front goes up. It becomes a kind of race,” says Helga Stenseth, Head of Corporate Strategy and Analysis at Statkraft.

“Compared with before, climate pledges may now be advantageous for countries, while it may be a massive disadvantage if countries lag behind with their climate goals.”

Helga Stenseth
Helga Stenseth, Head of Corporate Strategy and Analysis at Statkraft. (Photo: Statkraft)

Although history has shown that climate pledges can be difficult to fulfil, Stenseth is optimistic. China’s surprising pledge will have a positive, indirect impact on, for example, the EU.

“The positive thing here is that China, the USA and other countries are moving in the right direction.”

Stenseth’s optimism is reinforced by the fact that renewable energy is becoming more and more affordable.

“I’m also optimistic because renewable energy is so cheap. In many ways, for example, electric cars represent a better technology – and are significantly more pleasant,” she says.

“When my kids are driving with me in the car, they no longer think it smells awful.”

Location: Unknown
Photo: Shutterstock

Did you know that renewable energy is cheaper than fossil fuels in two-thirds of the world?

4. Green growth on stock markets

Renewable companies have made serious inroads on the world’s stock markets. Are they here to stay?

Take Norway’s Oslo Stock Exchange, for example. From 2016 to 2020, the market cap of listed renewable companies increased fourfold. The Stockholm Stock Exchange in Sweden has experienced a similar surge. Existing renewable companies are gaining in value, and new green companies are sprouting up and floating their shares.

You can see the same tendency in large parts of the world. Blackrock, the world’s largest investment management firm, has put the climate at the heart of its investment strategy.

In 2020, aggregate investments in the ‘green shift’ totalled USD 500 billion – a record figure and a 9 per cent increase on 2019, according to a recent analysis by BloombergNEF.

Renewable energy is at the investment top, and not surprisingly, electrification of transport accounts for an ever-increasing share.

Norway's electric car growth is an adventure in itself, and there is a boom in renewable companies on the Oslo stock exchange. Why are the renewable companies in this country doing so well?

"Norway has a good starting point. We have companies that have worked in renewable technologies for a long time. Electrolysis to hydrogen, for example, has a long history in Norway," points out Statkraft's Strategy and Analysis Director Helga Stenseth.

"In addition, sustainability is now at the top of the agenda of many companies. People are beginning to notice climate change on their bodies. There is generally much more discussion about climate than before."

Stamåsen wind park
Location: Stamåsen, Sweden
Photo: Torbjörn Bergkvist

"Norway has a good starting point. We have companies that have worked in renewable technologies for a long time."

5. Renewable energy is now cheaper

For decades, fossil fuels have dominated as the cheapest source of energy. But the old refrain that renewable energy costs too much is an excuse that no longer holds water.

Both wind power and solar energy now beat fossil fuels on price. Over the course of a decade – from 2010 to 2020 – the cost of producing electricity directly from solar panels has sunk by a whopping 82 per cent, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

In markets with plenty of sunny days, solar energy is absolutely the cheapest alternative.

In the same way, wind power is relatively cheap in countries with good natural wind resources. And thanks to technological advances and more efficient wind turbines, wind power has also fallen in price.

According to IRENA, the cost of onshore wind power has dropped by 39 per cent since 2010, while the cost of offshore wind power has sunk by 29 per cent.

Graph of price development

“It is now cheaper to build new renewable power plants than plants based on fossil fuels,” says Statkraft’s Helga Stenseth.

Asked why this has happened, she replied: “The key is to increase the volume. With larger volumes, you get a steady improvement and greater industrialisation. Volume causes costs to fall substantially. The technology gets a little better each time.”

Nevertheless, it is still cheaper to produce electricity using existing generating capacity than to build entirely new facilities in most countries. But according to Stenseth, this situation will change in a few years.

“If it is decided to build new generating capacity, basing it on renewable energy is undoubtedly the cheapest option. And the best!” she says.

Tysso II hydropower station
Location: Tyssedal in Ullensvang municipality, Norway
Photo: Statkraft

The Tysso II power plant is located by Ringedalsvannet in Tyssedal in Ullensvang municipality in Vestland county.

Investing only in renewable energy

Statkraft has over 100 years of experience in renewable energy. The company develops and operates power plants in Norway and abroad and buys and sells renewable power. 100 percent of the company's investments in further growth will go to renewable energy.

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