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  • A study from 2006 showed that the air quality of a popular Norwegian fjord, Geiranger, was as on par with some European metropolises, like London.

  • Growing cruise ship traffic is causing local towns to be blanketed in polluted air, bringing health hazards to the population.

  • Now, the country’s politicians have required that the government rein in fossil fuel-powered cruise ship travel.

Every year, tourists are swarming to Norway’s fjords for their natural beauty.

But even though they may seem like the pinnacles of purity, the air quality in many fjords is anything but. A study released in 2006 showed that the popular Geirangerfjord, which attracts some 300,000 tourists per year, was actually as polluted as several European metropolises.

The study, conducted by the Norwegian Institute of Aeronautics (NILU) on behalf of Aftenposten, a newspaper, showed that on selected days, when three to five cruise ships visited the Geirangerfjord, the concentrations of nitrogen dioxide was on par with cities like London, Barcelona or Oslo.

The 180 micrograms per cubic metre measured even approached the European “illegaly bad” air mark 200.

The phenomenon has only gotten worse as Norway has grown more popular with tourists. The number of cruise visitors in Norway have increased from about 200,000 to almost 700,000 between 2000 and 2015, a study by Norway’s Institute of Transport Economics found.

Since the ships’ emission are easily locked in by nearby mountains, pollution can on some days be visible above towns by the fjords.

Opposition to government: Build an electric charging network along the Norwegian coast

Only recently have there been calls for reining in the pollution. The country’s opposition politicians are now calling on the government to require ferries to run on fossil-free fuels.

Several members of opposition Labour Party (Ap) and the Socialist Left Party (SV) have put forward a proposal to make that happen.

“There are two reasons why this is important: one is the emissions of greenhouse gases, and second, to avoid the enormous air pollution we’ve experienced in the fjords in the past years,” said Lars Haltbrekken, a politician of SV, to Aftenposten.

Besides reducing health hazards, the politicians argue that electrification would give Norway an opportunity to claim global leadership in sustainable ferry travel. It could also be a way to attract more tourists in the long term, they argue.

To make electrified ferry travel feasible, Ap and SV propose that a charging distribution network be built along the coastline. The network, they propose, should be completed within five years, after which all cruise travel should be required to run on electric power.

The Norwegian minister of Climate and Environment, Ola Elvestuen, has earlier said that the environmental requirements on the cruise ship industry are too lax. He so far hasn’t commented the opposition’s move.

A recent study made on behalf of the ministry, which looked at the environmental impact of Norway’s three World Heritage fjords, including Geirangerfjord, proposed a number of specific measures to reduce emissions. Specifically, this concerned putting emissions limits on visting cruise ships, most of which were built before 2000.

“Based on the scientific assessments and surveys made, it emerges that the level of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in Geiranger and Flåm at times exceed values that could have a negative impact on health,” the report states.

On a global scale, emissions from cruise ships have increased 13 percent per year.

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