The Norwegian parliament has recently voted to ban its national biofuel industry from importing palm oil, effectively becoming the first country in the world to adopt such a measure. The move represents the concluding step in the Norwegian executive’s plan to combat the importation and use of palm oil within its own borders, having previously restricted government purchases of the product.
In this sense, the decision can be read not so much as part of a wider policy shift but rather as an expansion and reinforcement of existing measures, with the ban being more encompassing and enjoying a broader parliamentary support than previous legislative measures. The prohibition, which comes after palm-derived fuel usage peaked last year in the Nordic country, further tarnished the reputation of a product which was once seen as a greener alternative to petrol. However, now it is almost universally repudiated due to its linkage to tropical deforestation as well as to its low carbon efficiency. It is failing to comply with both European and American criteria in terms of sustainability.
Though laudable, Norway’s palm oil ban pursues a goal – ending deforestation – which is not entirely within the country’s reach. While the cultivation of palm oil is indisputably one of the leading causes of deforestation worldwide, it is hardly the sole factor behind the systematic destruction of Earth’s so-called ‘green lungs’. For example, in the Amazon, the world’s biggest rainforest, beef production is by far the primary use given to newly deforested land. Still, for all its limitations, Norway’s bold approach to countering deforestation represents a beacon of hope in a sea of inaction, paving the way for how governments across the globe should tackle climate change: directly and without reserve. However, it is easy to wonder why governments elsewhere are not living up to the Norwegian example. While such widespread passivity can be attributed to various factors, as a rule of thumb, experts point mainly to two: the costly (and radical) nature of the measures needed to effectively confront global warming and the general perception of climate change as something to occur in a distant future. Despite all indicators pointing otherwise, from the California fires to the heightened sea levels, global warming has already had fatal consequences that have irreversibly affected the livelihoods of many.
Norway’s key to success lies precisely in recognizing this immediacy, and in its politicians’ rare ability to leave partisanship aside in the face of adversity. Combating climate change entails first and foremost a willingness to initiate profound structural changes to our form of societal organization. This is a process which will require states to intervene in the economy beyond the monetary and fiscal realms. Even within the bounds of capitalism, such a strategy must necessarily be devised from a fiscally-progressive perspective. However, the costs of the ecological transition should be proportionally distributed across the class system, or else politicians will face the risk of a popular unrest akin to that which has recently swept across France. Crucially, this class component to environmental action must apply not only to individual citizens but also, and perhaps more importantly, to the world’s largest corporations. Governments should devote the fiscal benefits of policies such as carbon taxes to financing the inevitable transition to a greener model of socioeconomic organization.
At the end of the day, the fight against global warming constitutes a race against time, and by all accounts we seem to be losing. In this regard, Norway’s unambiguous determination seems to be the only possible way out. Whether other countries follow its lead or not is not so much a question of political convenience but an urgent necessity in the face of catastrophe.