Climate tops coalition's agenda

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Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has claimed repeatedly that climate issues will be the newly re-elected government’s top priority for the next several months. The coalition he leads, however, has different ideas about how to best tackle climate change. He and his government partners will be spending the next 10 days trying to hammer out those differences and a long list of others.

Government talks got underway Monday and Stoltenberg of the Labour Party needs to come to terms with his coalition colleagues Kristin Halvorsen, leader of the Socialist Left (SV), and Liv Signe Navarsete, leader of the Center Party.

All three claim to be environmental advocates. The degree of their advocacy, however, poses challenges.

Both Halvorsen and Navarsete want to make a lot more emissions cuts at home in Norway, instead of simply paying other countries to cut their emissions. SV, for example, insists that a new power plant at Karstø must either have a carbon recapture system or be shut down. SV and the Center Party (Sp) also want to restrict or reduce oil and gas exploration and extraction off the Norwegian coast.Labour, however, has always been a big fan of industry and job creation and thus hesitates to impose more emissions restrictions in Norway. This has also led to criticism from abroad, including a commentary in the British newspaper The Guardian last week that accused Norway of being hypocritical both on climate and peace issues, the latter because of its weapons industry. Labour also supports, along with Sp, more hydro-electric projects that SV fears will scar the scenery.

The table is set, then, for tough negotiations as the three party leaders and their delegations got down to work this week. Labour is the dominant partner, after logging more than five times the amount of voter support that either SV or Sp got in the September 14 election.Arguing over family leave

The parties also disagree sharply on a long list of other issues, from Norway’s involvement in Afghanistan,to asylum policiesto how best to prop up the schools. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Monday morning that township politicians all over the country are afraid the government negotiations are going to get very expensive as the party leaders hammer out compromises, and that the local governments will be left with the responsibility to carry out and fund the state government’s promises.

Among them are, for example, the schools and operation of enough day care centers that all parents will get slots for their children.

Family leave is another thorny issue. At present, all parents in Norway are entitled to 46 weeks (10 months) of fully paid leave when a child is born, and since July 1, 10 of those weeks are supposed to be taken by the fathers (called pappapermission ). The intention was that fathers should take more of the responsibility for childcare, even though studies show that the mothers still take the majority of the leave and that the father’s paid time off is often used for holiday trips or is taken with mamma still at home as well.

SV wants to increase total paid leave granted in connection with childbirth to 52 weeks (a full year) with 12 weeks of it allocated strictly to fathers. If they don’t use it, they’ll lose it, with the mothers being prevented from using it instead. Labour wants 48 weeks total with 14 earmarked for fathers. Sp doesn’t want to increase parental leave time, but rather split the existing 10 months into three, with the fathers allowed to take 15 weeks, some of them away from the mother.

Stolenberg, Halvorsen and Navarsete must settle on a new government platform within 10 days. Ministerial posts are also up for grabs. Results will be announced at the Soria Moria conference center in the hills above Oslo, the same place with the same coalition announced its platform four years ago. That’s led to the talks being dubbed “Soria Moria II.”