CICERO - Center for International Climate Research

Norwegian Imports and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Climate news - News and opinions about climate science

Published 04.05.2009

Norway avoids domestic greenhouse gas emissions by importing products. Do Norwegian imports offset domestic greenhouse gas mitigation, asks researcher Glen Peters.

As a small and open country Norway dependents on imports to meet industry and consumer demand. The booming oil industry and resulting trade surplus hides Norway’s dependence on imports. In fact, Norway is a net importer of goods and services if oil and gas exports are removed.
The greenhouse emissions to produce Norway’s imports are hard to calculate since it is necessary to have a model of the production system in all the countries that Norway imports from. Despite this difficulty, several studies have evaluated the emissions from Norway’s imports.
For the year 2000, Peters and Hertwich (2006) found that the CO2 emissions from the production of Norwegian imports represented 67% of Norway’s domestic emissions. Around a half of the embodied emissions originated in developing countries, yet they represented only 10% of the value of Norwegian imports.
Peters and Hertwich also found that if it was assumed that the imported products were produced in Norway, the emissions would have been lower by a factor of 2.5. This primarily relates to Norway’s almost exclusive use of hydropower in electricity generation. Electricity generation in China emitted over 200 times more carbon per unit then in Norway, which partly explains the large share of emissions from China despite a relatively small share of imports.
The Peters and Hertwich study does not imply that Norway should stop or reduce imports. However, if Norway reduces domestic emissions but increases imports then the domestic reductions may be offset – a process known as carbon leakage. Thus, of particular interest is how the emissions from producing imported products change over time relative to domestic emissions.
Due to the need for a large global database, it is time consuming to calculate the emissions to produce Norwegian imports on an annual basis. This is not due to lack of data, rather more resources are needed to keep and maintain a consistent database. Despite this, simple estimates can be used to determine how the emissions have changed over time.
Using a different database, a recent WWF report found that the emissions to produce Norway’s imports increased from 29 Mt CO2 in 2001 to approximately 39 Mt CO2 in 2006. Much of this increase is due to the growth in imports from China (2.4 Mt CO2 in 2001 to 6.8 Mt CO2 in 2006). While these growth rates seem high, they are confirmed by studies which find rapid growth in emissions from the production of exports from China (e.g., Weber et al., 2008).
Using data from Statistics Norway, since 2001 the weight of imports into Norway has increased 20%, but most of the growth has occurred in developing countries. There has been a 65% increase in imports from developing countries, 82% from Asia, and 132% from China. Most of the growth has been in various types of manufactured products.
The strong growth in imported emissions from developing countries, and China in particular, has been replicated in several recent studies. It is likely that a significant share emissions growth in developing countries is due to the production of exported products, and this has been recently verified for China. Thus, Norway and other developed countries are partially driving increases in global emissions, despite emission stabilization in some developed countries.
Dealing with emissions from the production of imports in climate policy is challenging. Not least, without regular and consistent measurement, a political response is unlikely. An important first step is for systems to be put in place to allow regular monitoring of the emissions to produce imported products. Regular monitoring may place increased attention on finding a solution to carbon leakage, particular in manufactured products.
While current trade patterns may increase global emissions, this need not be the case in the future. International trade may be a key component of future greenhouse gas mitigation strategies as countries with comparative advantage may produce environmental products.
An increased focus on imports also brings the role of consumption into climate policy. A focus on consumption allows the partial participation of developing countries and greatly reduces carbon leakage and competitiveness concerns, but at the expense of increased complexity (Carmody, 2008; Peters and Hertwich, 2008).


  • Carmody (2008). “Effective Climate Change Policy: The Seven ‘Cs’”, Geoff Carmody and Associates, Policy Note Number 1.
  • Peters and Hertwich (2006). “Pollution embodied in trade: The Norwegian case”, Global Environmental Change 16: pp. 379-389.
  • Peters and Hertwich (2008). “Post-Kyoto greenhouse gas inventories: production versus consumption”, Climatic Change, 86 (1-2): pp. 51-66
  • Reinvang and Peters (2008). “Norwegian Consumption, Chinese  Pollution”, WWF Norway and WWF China Programme Office.
  • Weber et al. (2008). “The Contribution of Chinese Exports to Climate Change”, Energy Policy, 36: pp. 3572-3577

Denne artikkelen ble opprinnelig publisert i Magasinet Klima nummer 1, 2009