Political intrigue swirls around government’s climate report

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NEWS ANALYSIS: The gloves have come off during the week that’s followed release of the government’s long-awaited report on how Norwegians are supposed to reduce carbon emissions. Not only has the opposition found bones to pick with the report, the government players behind it have been accused of an unusually high degree of political intrigue and power plays.

Bård Vegar Solhjell (right) replaced Erik Solheim as environmental minister, and has been taking credit for the government's newly released climate report. In the background: The three coalition party leaders Jens Stoltenberg (Labour), Liv Signe Navarsete (Center Party) and Audun Lysbakken (SV). PHOTO: Miljøverndepartementet

They’re supposed to be on the same side, especially the government officials who all come from the Socialist Left party (SV). Instead, the circumstances surrounding last week’s release of the government’s so-called klimamelding have revealed serious bickering and bad blood within SV itself, not just the more predictable power struggles among the three parties making up Norway’s government coalition: SV, Labour and the Center Party.

It stems back to SV’s sudden, some say “shocking,” replacement of Norway’s government minister for the environment, Erik Solheim. He’d been working on the climate report for years, and holding firm on demands from SV — the most environmentally oriented of the three coalition parties — that fully two-thirds of Norway’s emissions cuts be taken in Norway itself, not simply through the provision of funds to make cuts in other countries.

Erik Solheim (left) has been working on climate issues for years, like here at the UN climate talks in 2009 with negotiator Audun Rosland. But Solheim was suddenly replaced as Norway's environmental minister last month. PHOTO: Miljøverndepartementet

That key point reportedly had finally been agreed back in January, according to Solheim. After that, the coalition worked with “measures and methods” for making those cuts. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported last week that until mid-February, the leaders of all three parties were in agreement that the climate report would be released on March 2.

Around February 15, however, then-SV leader Kristin Halvorsen reportedly said a March 2 release date would no longer work, without giving a reason. DN reported a reason given by several government sources: March 2 fell just a week before SV was to hold its annual national meeting and elect a new leader. Then-cabinet minister for SV, Audun Lysbakken, was running for SV leader and allegedly wanted to pospone the report’s release, fearing that if it was viewed as weak, he may lose out to rival SV politician Heikki Holmås, who was viewed as stronger on climate issues than Lysbakken.

Holmås, as it turned out, withdrew from the SV leadership race in late February, leaving Lysbakken’s candidacy unchallenged. Lysbakken, though, ran into severe trouble in another area and had to resign as government minister.

Bård Vegar Solhjell (left) and Audun Lysbakken on election night last fall, when Kristin Halvorsen announced she'd step down as SV leader. Now Lysbakken is new party leader, while Solhjell has taken over the environmental ministry. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

He was still elected SV leader, though, and it quickly emerged he had a new agenda. Lysbakken summarily replaced Solheim, a veteran SV politician and minister since the coalition took over in 2005 known for a huge network of international contacts within climate and peace negotiations, with Bård Vegar Solhjell as new environmental minister. Solheim was stunned and unhappy, not least when Solhjell and Lysbakken claimed and seem to get credit for pushing through the climate report Solheim had worked on for years.

Last week, Solheim’s state secretary from SV, Heidi Sørensen, was also replaced when Solhjell wanted his former adviser in the parliament, Ketil Raknes, as state secretary in the environmental ministry.

Solheim was furious, and went on national radio over the weekend saying that “if any person can be called the climate report’s ‘mother,’ then it’s Heidi Sørensen.” He called her ouster “a major loss for SV and for the government,” telling DN that “Heidi Sørensen is without comparison the person who has meant the most for the climate report. No one else comes close to her contributing so much, as the report’s architect and its negotiator within the government, also during the final phase. It’s sad that some people don’t want to give her the credit for that.”

Sørensen herself simply said she would have preferred to stay on as state secretary but accepted Solhjell’s right to replace her. She is returning to her seat in parliament.

Solheim said he wouldn’t speculate over why release of the report was delayed and then suddenly unveiled last week. He does clearly feel it was wrong for Lysbakken and Solhjell to claim and get credit for the coalition’s agreement on the report. Solhjell responds that the “heaviest decisions” came at the end, after he had taken charge. He told NRK that Solheim, now hoping to become Norway’s ambassador to the UN, can say what he wants.

Meanwhile, the climate report gives more powers of implementation to their government colleague SV politicians have least confidence in: Oil & Energy Minster Ola Borten Moe. He’ll manage the measures applying to the oil and gas industry, where many of the emissions cuts should be made.

And opposition politicians were not wildly impressed with the climate report. Trine Skei Grande, leader of the resurging Liberal Party (Venstre), claims the government can’t possibly fulfill its goal that two-thirds of the emissions cuts needed will be taken within Norway. The measures aimed at cutting emissions won’t cut enough.

Nikolai Astrup of the Conservative Party has no faith, either, that the government will meet its emissions-cutting goals, nor do the Christian Democrats. “There aren’t enough measures here to reach the coals on carbon emissions,” Line Henriette Hjemdal of the Christian Democrats told news bureau NTB.

All three parties claim they hope they can hammer out an “agreement on the agreement” with the government, and the Progress Party claims it will join in on discussion, even though it has long been skeptical about the need for emissions cuts at all.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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