Stoltenberg offers own progress report

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Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg held a pre-Christmas press conference on Tuesday and claimed that 2010 will be a “climate year,” with real progress for the fight against climate change. Progress will come, he said, despite the watered-down deal that emerged at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen last week.

“It’s easy to point out the weaknesses in the agreement from Copenhagen,” Stoltenberg said, acknowledging its failure to demand concrete emissions cuts that would be legally binding.

“When we didn’t come any further in Copenhagen, I think that’s because of heavy economic interests colliding with one another,” said the prime minister, who spent most of his time addressing climate issues.

“When you’re sitting there trying to agree, it’s not possible to hide national interests.”But I I think the agreement in Copenhagen is important. Measures tied to the rain forests can result in a third of the cuts needed by 2020.”

Stoltenberg defended his own government’s environmental record, despite criticism around Norway’s own emissions levels, consideration of more offshore oil exploration and removal of tax exemptions on biodiesel fuel.

His government’s “main vision,” he said, revolves around strengthening “the world’s best social welfare state,” creating new jobs and being a leader on the environmental front. He claimed Norway has promised to cut emissions by 40 percent by 2020, and its funding for rain forest preservation will go a long way towards emissions cuts globally.

He also aims to start what he called a “climate group” involving the “most important” rain forest nations like Brazil, Gabon, Papua New Guinea, Guyana and Indonesia. He will invite their leaders to Oslo for their own meeting in the spring.

The goal, he said, will be to coordinate and contribute to measures that will halt or at least hinder deforestation.

While Stoltenberg seemed most concerned about climate issues, he said he also was worried about unemployment in Europe. Norway’s own unemployment rate is only around 3 percent, but he noted that it’s approaching 10 percent in neighboring countries, and that can hurt the Norwegian economy as well.

The government will be taking some days off over the holidays. Stoltenberg will make the prime minister’s traditional end-of-year national address on January 1st, after the king speaks on New Year’s Eve. Both speeches are broadcast live on national radio and television.