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Friday, May 20, 2022

Norway backsliding on climate issues

Environmentalists were calling Norwegian Oil & Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe “a public relations agent” for Statoil on Friday, while industrial firm Aker reportedly may shut down its Aker Clean Carbon unit. Concerns are rising that Norway’s government and industry are backsliding on lofty promises to hinder climate change by cutting carbon emissions.

Norway's Oil & Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe is in trouble again, this time for his stance on controversial oil sands projects. PHOTO: Senterpartiet

Moe has been under fire for months, for his promotion of more oil exploration and drilling off scenic coastline and in risky Arctic areas, and most recently for his support for Statoil’s controversial oil/tar sands involvement in Canada. Moe was in Canada this week and upset not only Norwegian environmental leaders but one of his fellow government ministers as well, after telling a leading Canadian newspaper that he thought the oil sands project was necessary for world oil supplies.

Moe also criticizes EU efforts to keep oil from oil sands operations (known for generating high levels of carbon emissions along with using lots of water and tearing up the earth) out of Europe. One of Moe’s own fellow Scandinavians, EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard of Denmark, is among those trying to put cost disadvantages on oil derived from oil sands, because of the pollution it represents.

Moe told The Globe and Mail of Canada that the EU effort is neither scientific nor very transparent, and Moe was portrayed as supporting Canada’s campaign against it. That, however, is not in line with Norwegian government policy. “I’ve noted Ola Borten Moe’s personal views,” his fellow minister, Erik Solheim, told Oslo newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Friday. “I do not agree with him.” Solheim, who’s responsible for environmental issues, added: “The government has not taken a position on this.”

The government has, however, done little if anything to discourage Statoil’s investment in the oil sands project or to rein in Statoil’s involvement in other environmentally controversial projects, even though the government has a controlling interest in the company. Solheim also has been criticized for being too passive on climate issues.

Martin Normann of Greenpeace told DN he was “shocked” over Moe’s comments. “He’s acting like a parrot for Statoil, and Norway is not well-served by having such a spineless oil and energy minister,” Normann said.

Lars Haltbrekken, leader of the Norwegian chapter of Friends of the Earth (Naturvernforbundet), said he was “scared” by Moe’s views. “Just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, it does,” Haltbrekken told DN. “The government has long kept quiet and accepted Statoil’s operations in Canada. Now Moe is sticking holes in the EU’s climate policies.” Moe couldn’t comment, as he was busy touring oil sands operations in Alberta.

Rasmus Hansson of WWF has long accused Norway’s government of being hypocritical, mounting a climate-friendly international profile and campaigning for emissions cuts while allowing Statoil to generate even more emissions, both at home and abroad, and to campaign against measures aimed at preventing climate change. Norway’s oil fund also has been accused of investing in forestry, plantation and mining companies that are destroying rain forests, undermining Norway’s high-profile efforts to save them while failing to make emissions cuts at home.

Now the government faces another setback in its long-stalled efforts to promote carbon recapture projects. DN reported Friday that leading local firm Aker ASA is writing off its investment in Aker Clean Carbon and may shut down the company, because of losses and no sign of improvement.

“The market is dead,” Aker chief executive Øyvind Eriksen told DN. “Therefore Aker Solutions is taking its investment as a loss.”

That’s a huge setback, not least to Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s own high-profile carbon emission reduction plans. Eriksen said industrial efforts depend on support from government authorities, but it hasn’t materialized. Aker had hopes for business from Norwegian authorities at Statoil’s Mongstad facility, but it’s been delayed, and from British authorities at the Longannet power plan, but they backed out because of high costs.

Aker Clean Carbon was initially set up in 2007 and Aker even recruited the powerful state secretary at the time, Liv Monica Stubholt, to run it. Now the future for Stubholt and her 30 colleagues appears uncertain.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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