Between politics, climate change and the role of the Church of Norway

by Bishop Tor B. Jorgensen last modified 09 July 2015 11:32 AM
Between politics, climate change and the role of the Church of Norway

© Church of Norway

09 July 2015

During our travels accompanying the northern Norway part of the ecumenical Climate Pilgrimage 2015 project, the two local bishops of the Church of Norway (Bishop Olav Øygard of the Diocese of Nord-Hålogaland and me as bishop of the Diocese of South-Hålogaland) were invited to discuss climate change with people from the petroleum industry and local politicians.

We visited among other places the installation on Melkøya, where LNG-gas is produced. We have had few such encounters in Norway, and I think both parties were a bit anxious about how the meetings would proceed.

Here is what we heard during those meetings:

-  Both parties acknowledge the critical situation for the global climate we are facing, and that this most likely is related to our consumption of energy based on fossil fuels. To me this was an important common ground. There were no attempts to soften the picture drawn by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

- For the Norwegian oil and gas industry the big international threat is, however, the usage of coal. To prevent a further expansion of the use of coal, they advocate that it is necessary to increase production especially of gas. The need for oil will be around for at least one generation, they say. Without being specific on this, the time-horizon was 2040 and beyond. This was presented as a sort of non-negotiable fact.

- The oil industry also found it important to remind us of the fact that oil is used in a lot of other products than energy. A lot of modern equipment are depending on oil in various forms.

- We were also exposed to the social and communal effects of the LNG-production in Hammerfest, one of the world’s northernmost towns, situated more than 600 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The presence of this kind of big and long term industry had changed the local community from a disillusioned and shrinking to an optimistic and growing community in a very impressive way. Part of the conversation was what will happen when the oil-days are gone. Are there any alternatives? The politicians seemed optimistic.

- The industry is also committed to follow the decisions made by the politicians, and work inside the framework given to the industry.

- When it comes to expectations towards the COP21 climate summit in Paris, it seems to us that the Norwegian oil industry would stress the importance of curtailing coal production and creating international regulations giving the industry a secure future of further production of gas and oil.

Our approach, as churches, will be different. The crisis is so urgent that more radical steps are necessary. The focus must be much stronger on alternative energy sources. Therefore, our roles and contributions will follow different roads towards COP21 and during the summit.

We also discussed the role of the church seen from the industry's perspective. There is a long history in the Norwegian society to accept public criticism and civic engagement based on moral values and challenging experiences with industrial enterprises. The church is an important voice in this context, and therefore also an important partner for dialogue.

To me these meetings in the middle of our climate pilgrimage were an important sign of the need to recognize both the moral and social commitment and reflection inside the industry.  We see such commitment in Norway, and at the same time it is clear that we need a quicker and more dramatic change of mode of operation to create a more just future for our globe and for the human family.


The impressions, hopes and ideas expressed in this blog are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.

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