Norway's Arctic archipelago Lofoten is a potential drilling site. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The sale of oil and gas has been highly lucrative for Norway - but should it continue?

The Scandinavian giant has kept itself afloat amid economic turbulence with a steady flow of natural resources - but is this nature-loving nation prepared to promote growth at all costs?

The recent Norwegian elections have taken the country in a conservative direction. While talk of cost cutting, limits to immigration and religious education reform are at the forefront of the political discourse, the national energy debate is proving problematic for the new coalition government. Reconciling Norway’s all-encompassing apprecation of the natural world with the desire to export gas and oil supplies is proving difficult, forcing the parties to ask themselves which matters more: growth or the environment?

The new blue-blue coalition government, elected this September, has already begun a reversal of some key Norwegian ideologies, turning to privatisations, tax breaks and welfare cuts. The coalition, made up of the Conservative Party (Høyre) and the far-right, anti-immigration (ironically named) Progression Party (Fremskrittspartiet), came to power following the previous Labour government’s nine-year term. Most attributed the change to an overwhelming apathy towards the inclumbent government: they hadn’t done anything wrong, they’d just been there for a while. Although Norway managed to dodge the recession with the help of huge oil and gas reserves (and high taxes), the shift in attitude seemed to mimic corresponding shifts across Europe: fear of potential economic downfall resulting in an abrupt reversion to right-wing policy.

Norway’s attitude to nature is deeply entrenched. Even in the capital city, Oslo, access to nature is easy and encouraged. Lakes, mountains and ski resorts are close by and can be reached by train. Buildings can only be built to a certain height, to avoid overdevelopment. Recycling is strictly enforced, even in student housing and in the most built-up areas. Norway continues to be hugely under-populated, boasting large unspoilt landscapes. To be solitary seems to be an essential tenet of Norwegian life, and to be solitary in nature is the epitome of this.

Norway’s ability to maintain its sparsely populated city and untouched natural resources has been largely due to its huge North Sea oil and gas reserves. In 2011, Norway was the 8th largest exporter of oil in the world, as well as the 2nd largest exporter of gas, maintaining its status as the 4th richest country (per capita) in the word, according to the International Monetary Fund. At the same time, Norway aspires to commit to renewable energy, though this ambition is proving difficult. The country's primary energy source is hydroelectric power (95 per cent, in fact). Norway is ranked 30th in the 2008 list of countries by carbon dioxide emissions per capita, and has yet to achieve its ambition of cutting its emissions by 30 per cent.

Norway faces a dilemma when it comes to energy. It’s exportation of oil and gas causes a huge number of carbon emissions, almost 500 million tonnes. For a country that is in no way struggling financially, even compared to its western neighbours, the government still wants to increase exports of these natural goods - increasing its carbon footprint. The current blue-blue government coalition is desperate to drill for oil in areas of northern Norway such as Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja, but have had to make a deal with the minor parties on the right side not to explore these areas in order to gain a majority. The areas are both very beautiful, and extremely vulnerable, due to the narrowness of the fjords and the harsh climate in those areas, meaning that the risk is higher than drilling in open sea. The potential damage is devastating.

The sale of oil and gas has been wildly lucrative for Norway. A recent article in Aftenposten reported that the “net present value of revenues” from oil and gas in Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja would be 1,925 billion Kroner (about 188 billion British Pounds). If there’s anything that’s going to convince you to destroy some natural habitat, 188 billion pounds is probably it.

It’s clear to see why the government is so keen to drill, but the Norwegian attitude to nature coupled with the smaller parties’ commitment to the environment might delay excavation. It appears that for the next four years, the ecological moral values of most Norwegian citizens, as well as the fjords, will remain untouched. 

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An unmatched font of knowledge

Edinburgh’s global reputation as a knowledge economy is rooted in the performance and international outlook of its four universities.

As sociologist-turned US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan recognised when asked how to create a world-class city, a strong academic offering is pivotal to any forward-looking, ambitious city. “Build a university,” he said, “and wait 200 years.” He recognised the long-term return such an investment can deliver; how a renowned academic institution can help attract the world. However, in today’s increasingly globalised higher education sector, world-class universities no longer rely on the world coming to come to them – their outlook is increasingly international.

Boasting four world-class universities, Edinburgh not only attracts and retains students from around the world, but also increasingly exports its own distinctively Scottish brand of academic excellence. In fact, 53.9% of the city’s working age population is educated to degree level.

In the most recent QS World University Rankings, the University of Edinburgh was named as the 21st best university in the world, reflecting its reputation for research and teaching. It’s a fact reflected in the latest UK Research Exercise Framework (REF), conducted in 2014, which judged 96% of its academic departments to be producing world-leading research.

Innovation engine

Measured across the UK, annual Gross Value Added (GVA) by University of Edinburgh start-ups contributes more than £164m to the UK economy. In fact, of 262 companies to emerge from the university since the 1960s, 81% remain active today, employing more than 2,700 staff globally. That performance places the University of Edinburgh ahead of institutions such as MIT in terms of the number of start-ups it generates; an innovation hothouse that underlines why one in four graduates remain in Edinburgh and why blue chip brands such as Amazon, IBM and Microsoft all have R&D facilities in the city.

One such spin out making its mark is PureLiFi, founded by Professor Harald Haas to commercialise his groundbreaking research on data transmission using the visible light spectrum. With data transfer speeds 10,000 times faster than radio waves, LiFi not only enables bandwidths of 1 Gigabit/sec but is also far more secure.

Edinburgh’s universities play a pivotal role in the local economy. Through its core operations, knowledge transfer activities and world-class research the University generated £4.9bn in GVA and 44,500 jobs globally, when accounting for international alumni.

With £1.4bn earmarked for estate development over the next 10 years, the University of Edinburgh remains the city’s largest property developer. Its extensive programme of investment includes the soon-to-open Higgs Centre for Innovation. A partnership with the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, the new centre will open next year and will supply business incubation support for potential big data and space technology applications, enabling start-ups to realise the commercial potential of applied research in subjects such as particle physics.

It’s a story of innovation that is mirrored across Edinburgh’s academic landscape. Each university has carved its own areas of academic excellence and research expertise, such as the University of Edinburgh’s renowned School of Informatics, ranked among the world’s elite institutions for Computer Science. 

The future of energy

Research conducted into the economic impact of Heriot-Watt University demonstrated that it generates £278m in annual GVA for the Scottish economy and directly supports more than 6,000 jobs.

Set in 380-acres of picturesque parkland, Heriot-Watt University incorporates the Edinburgh Research Park, the first science park of its kind in the UK and now home to more than 40 companies.

Consistently ranked in the top 25% of UK universities, Heriot-Watt University enjoys an increasingly international reputation underpinned by a strong track record in research. 82% of the institution’s research is considered world-class (REF) – a fact reflected in a record breaking year for the university, attracting £40.6m in research funding in 2015. With an expanding campus in Dubai and last year’s opening of a £35m campus in Malaysia, Heriot-Watt is now among the UK’s top five universities in terms of international presence and numbers of international students.

"In 2015, Heriot-Watt University was ranked 34th overall in the QS ‘Top 50 under 50’ world rankings." 

Its established strengths in industry-related research will be further boosted with the imminent opening of the £20m Lyell Centre. It will become the Scottish headquarters of the British Geological Survey, and research will focus on global issues such as energy supply, environmental impact and climate change. As well as providing laboratory facilities, the new centre will feature a 50,000 litre climate change research aquarium, the UK Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Oil and Gas, and the Shell Centre for Exploration Geoscience.

International appeal

An increasingly global outlook, supported by a bold international strategy, is helping to drive Edinburgh Napier University’s growth. The university now has more than 4,500 students studying its overseas programmes, through partnerships with institutions in Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Sri Lanka and India.

Edinburgh Napier has been present in Hong Kong for more than 20 years and its impact grows year-on-year. Already the UK’s largest higher education provider in the territory, more than 1,500 students graduated in 2015 alone.

In terms of world-leading research, Edinburgh Napier continues to make its mark, with the REF judging 54% of its research to be either world-class or internationally excellent in 2014. The assessment singled out particular strengths in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences, where it was rated the top UK modern university for research impact. Taking into account research, knowledge exchange, as well as student and staff spending, Edinburgh Napier University generates in excess of £201.9m GVA and supports 2,897 jobs in the city economy.

On the south-east side of Edinburgh, Queen Margaret University is Scotland’s first university to have an on-campus Business Gateway, highlighting the emphasis placed on business creation and innovation.

QMU moved up 49 places overall in the 2014 REF, taking it to 80th place in The Times’ rankings for research excellence in the UK. The Framework scored 58% of Queen Margaret’s research as either world-leading or internationally excellent, especially in relation to Speech and Language Sciences, where the University is ranked 2nd in the UK.

In terms of its international appeal, one in five of Queen Margaret’s students now comes from outside the EU, and it is also expanding its overseas programme offer, which already sees courses delivered in Greece, India, Nepal, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

With 820 years of collective academic excellence to export to the world, Edinburgh enjoys a truly privileged position in the evolving story of academic globalisation and the commercialisation of world-class research and innovation. If he were still around today, Senator Moynihan would no doubt agree – a world-class city indeed.

For further information www.investinedinburgh.com