Norway tackles tough climate job

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Norwegian cabinet minister Bård Vegar Solhjell faced a tough job this week when he arrived in Doha to help extend the Kyoto Protocol at the UN’s annual climate talks. Norway and Brazil were chosen to lead international emissions-cutting negotiations that looked difficult indeed, but a battle plan was in the works.

Bård Vegar Solhjell, Norway’s minister of the environment, has a tough time getting other politicians at home to go along with major climate cuts. Now he has to get politicians from all over the world to do the same. PHOTO: Miljøverndepartement/Erik Aasheim

“The negotiations will be a complete fiasco if we don’t agree on a new Kyoto 2 agreement,” Solhjell told news bureau NTB before he left for Doha. He was referring to the representatives of nearly 200 countries who have gathered in the wealthy host country of Qatar for this year’s UN Climate Change Conference.

He told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) late Tuesday night that he nonetheless had “good faith” that he and Brazil’s incoming climate minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo Machado would manage to hammer out a new agreement over the next few days. Solhjell called Machado “a very experienced climate negotiator and politician.”

The current Kyoto agreement expires at the end of this year and even though an extended one will likely only cover around 15 percent of the world’s emissions, an extension is critical in order to also push forward a new global pact. It would include China and India in addition to the world’s developed countries, and should be negotiated itself by 2015.

Many countries, from some former Soviet republics to other oil-producing and industrialized nations, are trying to avoid demands to seriously cut the emissions that are blamed for everything from the recent terrible storms around the world to melting glaciers and rising sea levels. Political debate has been heated in Norway as well, where emissions are high on a per capita basis because of the country’s oil industry and its small population. Solhjell’s Socialist Left party (SV) has been fighting to make tougher cuts at home instead of mostly paying other countries to make cuts, but the Norwegian government’s dominant Labour Party along with the non-socialist parties don’t want to hurt domestic industry or threaten jobs.

Now Sohjell also has to try to get scores of other countries to go along with cuts to reverse climate change. “The world has to save the world,” is how one Norwegian researcher put it, after news broke this week that carbon emissions rose by 3 percent last year at a time when they’re supposed to be falling, and global warming is accelerating.

‘Very demanding’
Prospects for success in getting binding commitments to cut emissions were not high. Henrik Harboe, who has led Norway’s delegation in Doha for the past week said it will be “very demanding” to get a good result by Friday’s deadline.

“It’s difficult, because we came so short during the first week (of negotiations last week at the bureaucratic level),” Harboe told NRK earlier on Tuesday. “And we’re uncertain how well Qatar as the host country has control of the process.” Emissions per capita in Qatar itself rank among the highest in the world, reported NRK.

Harboe turned the job over to Solhjell as negotiations rose to the ministerial level this week. Ola Skaalvik Elvevold of Norway’s chapter of Friends of the Earth (Norges Naturvernforbund) said Norway must put heavy pressure on other wealthy countries, to boost ambitions that he called “frighteningly low.”

Norway’s newly assigned role as co-leader of the negotiations puts huge pressure on Solhjell himself, Elvevold noted. “Norway is one of the countries that enjoys a certain degree of confidence among both wealthy and poor countries,” Elvevold told NRK. “That has to be used positively, but Norway must try to liberate itself a bit from ‘the club’ of rich nations that it’s a part of.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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