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OIL

Norway’s Equinor sets green goals but activists unimpressed

Norwegian oil giant Equinor unveiled Thursday objectives to reduce its climate impact but the plans disappointed environmental activists.

Norway's Equinor sets green goals but activists unimpressed
An Equinor employee speaks to a reporter on one of the company's Norwegian oil rigs. File photo: AFP

The state-controlled firm said it aims for overall carbon neutrality by 2030, reducing by half emissions that cause global warming by 2050, and a 10-fold increase in renewable energy capacity by 2026.

“Today we are setting new short-, mid- and long-term ambitions to reduce our own greenhouse gas emissions and to shape our portfolio in line with the Paris Agreement,” Equinor's chief executive Eldar Sætre said in a statement.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement nations agreed to pursue efforts to limit the increase in global temperatures to under 2.0 degrees Celsius in an attempt to avoid severe consequences from global warming.

“It is a good business strategy to ensure competitiveness and drive change towards a low carbon future, based on a strong commitment to value creation for our shareholders,” Sætre added.

The targets go beyond ones the firm announced just one month ago which aimed to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from its onshore and offshore drilling facilities by 2050.

“As part of the energy industry, we must be part of the solution to combat climate change and address decarbonisation more broadly in line with changes in society,” said Sætre.

Not all the details are known, but Equinor would likely need to power its facilities from renewable electricity and turn to offsets to achieve overall carbon neutrality.

While Equinor is already involved in the massive Dogger Bank wind farm project off the coast of Britain, Thursday's announcement indicates a shift to a greater role in renewable wind power in the future.

“It's good that Equinor understands as well that it must contribute by reducing its emissions but the problem is that Equinor continues to search for more oil and gas,” said Silje Lundberg of the Norwegian branch of the Friends of the Earth environmental group.

“These are two objectives that don't square up over the long term unless Equinor only considers the emissions from producing oil and gas and not those from burning” the fuel which are much larger, she told AFP.

Equinor plans a 7.0 percent increase in oil and gas output this year and will spend around $1.4 billion on exploring for new oil and gas.

The firm, which announced annual results as well on Thursday, fell victim like most other energy groups to a drop in global oil and gas prices.

Net profit plunged to $1.8 billion last year from $7.5 billion in 2018, with the drop explained also by a dip in production and write downs in the value of assets.

Equinor's shares were down 2.3 percent in midday trading while the Oslo stock exchange's all-share index edged up 0.1 percent.

READ ALSO: 'Call me Equinor': Statoil changes name

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ENVIRONMENT

France gets help from EU neighbours as wildfires rage

Firefighting teams and equipment from six EU nations started to arrive in France on Thursday to help battle a spate of wildfires, including a fierce blaze in the parched southwest that has forced thousands to evacuate.

France gets help from EU neighbours as wildfires rage

Most of the country is sweltering under a summer heatwave compounded by a record drought – conditions most experts say will occur more often as a result of rapid climate change.

“We must continue, more than ever, our fight against climate disruption and … adapt to this climate disruption,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said after arriving at a fire command post in the village of Hostens, south of Bordeaux.

The European Commission said four firefighting planes would be sent to France from Greece and Sweden, as well as teams from Austria, Germany, Poland and Romania.

“Our partners are coming to France’s aid against the fires. Thank you to them. European solidarity is at work!” President Emmanuel Macron tweeted.

“Across the country over 10,000 firefighters and security forces are mobilised against the flames… These soldiers of fire are our heroes,” he said.

In total, 361 foreign firefighters were  dispatched to assist their 1,100 French colleagues deployed in the worst-hit part of the French southwest.

A first contingent of 65 German firefighters, followed by their 24 vehicles, arrived Thursday afternoon and were to go into action at dawn Friday, officials said.

Among eight major fires currently raging, the biggest is the Landiras fire in the southwest Gironde department, whose forests and beaches draw huge tourist crowds each summer.

It had already burned 14,000 hectares (35,000 acres) in July – the driest month seen in France since 1961 – before being contained, but it continued to smoulder in the region’s tinder-dry pine forests and peat-rich soil.

Since flaring up again Tuesday, which officials suspect may have been caused by arson, it has burned 7,400 hectares, destroyed or damaged 17 homes, and forced 10,000 people to quit their homes, said Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Mendousse of the Gironde fire and rescue service.

Borne said nine firefighting planes are already dumping water on the blaze, with two more to be in service by the weekend.

“Gigantic”
“We battled all night to stop the fire from spreading, notably to defend the village of Belin-Beliet,” Mendousse told journalists in Hostens.

On several houses nearby, people hung out white sheets saying: “Thank you for saving our homes” and other messages of support for the weary fire battalions.

“You’d think we’re in California, it’s gigantic… And they’re used to forest fires here but we’re being overwhelmed on all sides — nobody could have expected this,” Remy Lahlay, a firefighter deployed near Hostens in the Landes de Gascogne natural park, told AFP.

With temperatures in the region hitting nearly 40C on Thursday and forecast to stay high until at least Sunday, “there is a very serious risk of new outbreaks” for the Landiras fire, the prefecture of the Gironde department said.

Acrid smoke has spread across much of the southwestern Atlantic coast and its beaches that draw huge crowds of tourists each summer, with the regional ARS health agency “strongly” urging people to wear protective face masks.

The smoke also forced the closing of the A63 motorway, a major artery toward Spain, between Bordeaux and Bayonne.

The government has urged employers to allow leaves of absence for volunteer firefighters to help fight the fires.

Meanwhile, in Portugal, more than 1,500 firefighters were also battling a fire that has raged for days in the mountainous Serra da Estrela natural park in the centre of the country.

It has already burned 10,000 hectares, according to the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).

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