Climate minister leaves on high note

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Of all the government ministerial changes announced on Wednesday, the abrupt replacement of Climate and Environment Minister Tine Sundtoft was the biggest surprise. She confirmed, however, that she asked to be relieved of her duties after two years of taking part in what she called “extreme sport.”

Tine Sundtoft, Norway's outgoing minister of the environment, admitted to being "personally relieved" when the Paris climate deal was struck, because she intended to leave her job and pass it on to someone else. Now she may even have more time for hikes in the Norwegian mountains, like here at Dovre. PHOTO: Klima- og miljødepartementet

Tine Sundtoft, Norway’s outgoing minister of the environment, admitted to being “personally relieved” when the Paris climate deal was struck, because she intended to leave her job and pass it on to someone else. Now she may even have more time for hikes in the Norwegian mountains, like here at Dovre. PHOTO: Klima- og miljødepartementet

Sundtoft’s resignation, granted by King Harald V on Wednesday, came just days after she’d won praise and respect last weekend for helping to secure a new international climate agreement at the UN climate summit in Paris. French government officials had given her the important job of drafting the goals in the climate agreement, and she could return to Norway as a heroine.

Even the environmental movement, which had been unimpressed with Sundtoft’s first two years in her ministerial post, was hailing her hard work and accomplishments in Paris. The leaders of Bellona and Naturvernforbund, for example, publicly stated that they thought Sundtoft had done a great job and wanted her to stay on to oversee implementation of the climate pact.

When news first broke on Tuesday that she was among three of Solberg’s minister who’d be leaving the government, they were disappointed. “It’s of course sad that Sundtoft is being replaced just when she finally was really underway,” said Nina Jensen, head of WWF Norge. Jensen described Sundtoft’s work in Paris as “completely fabulous.”

‘Dominating and demanding’ work
Sundtoft had, however, already told Prime Minister Erna Solberg that she’d had enough. When the Paris summit was over, she thought that would be a good time to step down and let someone else carry on. “Sundtoft herself has asked to be relieved after Paris because (the work) has been so dominating and demanding,” Solberg said when announcing her cabinet changes.

“Being a government minister is extreme sport,” Sundtoft told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Wednesday. “I was thrown into this two years ago, and I have a family at home in Lillesand (on Norway’s southern coast).  I have two teenage boys whom I’d like to get to know again before they move out.”

She revealed that those closest to her knew that she had defined the Paris summit as the end of the line. “The Champagne-smile you saw on Saturday was a combination of joy over having delivered something historic in Paris, and personal relief that I could leave on a high note,” she told NRK.

Great expectations for her successor
Sundtoft said she was “just thrilled” that she’d finished the process with her Norwegian team. “We have put an enormous amount of work into the climate work,” she said.

Environmental advocates now have great expectations for Sundtoft’s successor, Vidar Helgesen. “We expect the government to follow up on the Paris agreement,” Lars Haltbrekken, head of Naturvernforbundet (Friends of the Earth Norway). “We expect the new environment minister to be clear that it will have consequences on Norwegian oil and gas production.”

Added Marius Holm of Zero: “We expect him (Helgesen) to follow up with more ambitious climate policies.” Sundtoft, meanwhile, joked that “I have seen to it that Vidar Helgesen and the entire government will have massive amounts of work ahead, after what we agreed in Paris over the weekend.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund