* Norway to cut emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030
* Eases oil industry worries about tough unilateral curbs (Adds background on past goals, quotes)
By Alister Doyle
OSLO, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Norway will match a European Union goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 under a government plan announced on Wednesday, easing oil industry fears of tougher unilateral curbs.
Norway’s target will be part of a U.N. deal, due to be agreed in December in Paris, to limit rising temperatures that a U.N. panel of climate experts says will stoke more heat waves, desertification, floods and rising seas.
“We will negotiate with the EU about entering ... the EU system,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg told a news conference, adding that the 40 percent goal would stand even if a formal link-up did not work out.
The minority right-wing government is guaranteed backing in parliament for the plan by two small opposition parties.
Last year, the European Union set a 40 percent goal for cuts in emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, below 1990 levels by 2030.
“My first reaction is 40 percent is an amazingly demanding goal,” Eldar Saetre, appointed chief executive of state-controlled oil major Statoil on Wednesday, told Reuters.
But he said he was happy Norway aimed to join a wider EU system rather than set unilateral goals. “It is incredibly important that competition is equal,” he said.
The new goal is far less ambitious than when Norway in 2008 aimed to be “carbon neutral” by 2030, cutting net emissions to zero. Oslo says that plan lapsed because governments failed to agree a strong climate deal at a U.N. summit in 2009.
Norway is already a member of the EU’s carbon market, covering industrial emissions, but inclusion in wider EU goals would give it the flexibility to make cuts by buying emissions quotas from other EU nations.
Norway’s emissions were 3.7 percent above 1990 levels in 2013, far worse than the EU’s performance, reflecting oil and gas output and the difficulty in cutting emissions when almost all Norway’s electricity already comes from clean hydro power.
Stig Schjølset, head of carbon analysis at Thomson Reuters Point Carbon, said the EU link would the dim risks of unilateral measures, such as obliging more offshore oil platforms to lay cables to use electricity from the mainland.
“Now there is flexibility for Norway to buy emissions rights from other EU countries,” he said. That will mark a shift from current policy which allows investments in U.N. carbon-cutting projects in developing nations to offset domestic emissions.
Rasmus Hansson, the lone member of parliament for Norway’s Green Party, denounced the new plan as “a new way to shield the oil sector”. (Additional reporting by Joachim Dagenborg; editing by Dale Hudson and David Clarke)