Union boss stirs emissions storm

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One of the most powerful men in Norway, union boss Roar Flåthen, has set off uncertainty over the government’s commitment to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by stating that agreed cuts will be too expensive for Norwegian industry. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg had to quickly step in and claim his government’s agreed cuts still apply.

Environmentalists fear Roar Flåthen may be launching a carefully orchestrated attempt to reduce Norway's goals for emissions cuts. PHOTO: LO

As head of the Norwegian trade union confederation known as LO, Flåthen has the ear of Stoltenberg and his Labour Party. Labour is also pro-industry, because of the jobs it creates, at the same time that it tries to be environmentally progressive.

Three years ago, Labour managed to hammer out a compromise on emissions cuts with all the parties in Parliament except the conservative Progress Party. The three government coalition parties (Labour, the Socialist Left and the Center Party) agreed with the Conservatives, the Liberals and the Christian Democrats to cut emissions by 30 percent by 2020. Two-thirds of the cuts, as much as 17 tons of carbon equivalents, are supposed to be made within Norway. The rest could be achieved through financing emissions cuts abroad.

Flåthen told newspaper Aftenposten on Wednesday, however, that he now thinks the goals for cutting emissions are unrealistic and too expensive for Norwegian industry to carry out. Delays and expense in developing carbon capture and storage technology have, among other things, also prompted the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and government politicians themselves to question whether Norway will meet its goals, and meantime, Norway’s greenhouse gas emissions increased last year.

‘Underestimated the difficulty’
“We see that the politicians have underestimated how difficult it is to bring down emissions of greenhouse gases in Norway,” Flåthen told Aftenposten. “To take two-thirds of the cuts here will be too expensive and challenging. We need a more realistic account of how large a portion of the cuts can be taken in Norway.”

His words were immediately branded by the Socialist Left (SV) as “very disappointing” and “lacking solidarity” with the left-center government. SV spokesman Snorre Valen says it remains “enormously important” that the cuts are made and goals met.

SV had won its battle with government partner Labour and shudders at the thought of any back-tracking now. Labour- and government leader Stoltenberg tried to reassure them he remains committed to the goals.

Raises doubt and uncertainty
Flåthen’s, and thus LO’s, new position nonetheless stirs up doubt and opens the possibility that LO will ultimately persuade Labour to reduce the goals. In addition to sheer expense, Flåthen warned the goals could inhibit new industrial and economic development, while Germany’s decision to close nuclear power plants will boost demand for Norwegian gas, which he claims is better for the environment than more use of coal plants.

Some Labour Party officials have already made similar comments. “We can’t implement measures that only prompt Norwegian firms to move to Sweden or other countries,” Ketil Lund of Labour told Aftenposten last month. Environmental organizations already worried about declining interest in climate issues were preparing for a new battle ahead.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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