Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has worked closely for the past several years with his Ethiopian counterpart as co-leaders of the United Nations’ group looking for ways to halt climate change. On Tuesday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi died after a battle with cancer.
Zenawi, who was 57, and Stoltenberg met often after Stoltenberg replaced former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown two years ago as co-chairman of the UN’s High-Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing. The group aimed to develop practical proposals on how to significantly boost long-term financing for climate measures from both public and private sources.
They believed it was “challenging but feasble” to reach the goal of mobilizing USD 100 billion in annual funding, but progress on their anti-climate change work has faced myriad delays as international climate talks drag on and agreement remains elusive.
Stoltenberg and his left-center government in Norway, meanwhile, have been subject to criticism at home for their ongoing support for Zenawi’s government in Ethiopia. Human Rights Watch and Norway’s most conservative parties, Høyre and Fremskrittspartiet, have questioned the amount of Norwegian foreign aid sent to Ethiopia, claiming that Ethiopian leaders regularly violate human rights.
“It’s a mystery why Norway has such widespread cooperation with a regime which in many ways is a dictatorship,” Jan Egeland, European director for Human Rights Watch, told newspaper Aftenposten last month. His group has harshly criticized the rising amounts of foreign aid that the Norwegian government has been sending to Ethiopia in several of its reports. While Sweden has cut its aid, not least after two Swedish journalists were imprisoned in Ethiopia, and the UN itself has criticized the Ethiopian government, Norway’s support has tripled. Aftenposten reported that state-controlled fertilizer firm Yara also has agreed to hand over 30 percent of the profits on a fertilizer development project, Ethiopotash, to the Ethiopian government.
“We are aware that some criticize our support, but we have three political goals,” Unni Berge in Norway’s Foreign Ministry told Aftenposten. “Ethiopia is managing to lift its people out of poverty, they want to concentrate on clean energy and climate measures (including climate-friendly agricultural methods and forest preservation) and they’re an important player in Africa.”
Berge visited Ethiopia just last month and said she took up the issue of human rights violations, but Norway made no concrete demands. Opposition politicians in the Norwegian Parliament, including Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide of the Conservative Party (Høyre), think the government should do just that.
Zenawi, despite the criticism, is credited with helping lift Ethiopians out of poverty. He’ll be at least temporarily succeeded by Hallemarian Desalegn, according to a report on Ethiopia’s state television.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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