Svalbard coal mine sparks conflicts

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Environmental activists ended their protests over a controversial coal mine on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, but not because of any support from the ruling Labour Party. Labour claims to be environmental advocates, but not always when jobs are at stake.

Labour already is being criticized for failing to take a stand on the hotly contested issue of oil exploration off the scenic coasts of Lofoten and Vesterålen. Now it’s defending coal mining operations on environmentally sensitive Svalbard, calling them a “pillar” of the community.

Helga Pedersen, the new parliamentary leader for Labour and deputy leader of the party itself, denies the mining activity undermines Norway’s credibility regarding its high-profile attempts to halt climate change.

“Norway’s Svalbard policies rest on three pillars: Research, tourism and mining,” Pedersen told newspaper Bergens Tidende . Even though the first two have been getting more attention, much of the activity on Svalbard will continue to be tied to its coal mines, she said.

Pedersen comes from northern Norway herself and indicated that Labour will support the opening of new veins, possibly at the Svea mines and one known as Gruve 7. She rejected suggestions that Labour’s support for coal mining is hypocritical, given the emissions that use of coal can create.

“Coal operations can be defended within the context of Norway’s climate obligations,” Pedersen told Bergens Tidende , apparently referring to Norway’s pattern of buying its way out of emissions cuts. Instead of banning coal mining, or cutting emissions at home, Norwegian officials have been sending billions of kroner abroad to cut emissions or save rain forests elsewhere.

“Our contribution (to halting climate change) must be measured by what we’re doing in other areas, and not be directly tied to certain emissions or mining operations on Svalbard,” Pedersen said.

Labour’s own government coalition partner, the Socialist Left (SV), thinks differently. SV reportedly wants to phase out coal mining on Svalbard. The third government partner, the Center Party, also has said that the coal operations on Svalbard can’t continue indefinitely.