Norway’s conservative minority government was immediately attacked after rolling out its new state budget for 2017. Government ministers were once again accused of “greenwashing” the budget, and the leader of one of their support parties in Parliament said she couldn’t back it without major changes.
Liberal Party leader Trine Skei Grande had already demanded “the greenest budget of all time,” and said Thursday that Finance Minister Siv Jensen’s budget doesn’t come close. “They had one major assignment after last year’s budget and they didn’t deliver,” Grande said during one of many live debates on state broadcaster NRK Thursday. “I’m disappointed.”
The “assignment” was to come up with new fees and higher taxes (on fuel, for example) that would be onerous enough to all but force reductions in carbon emissions. Jensen presented a budget that includes minimal increases in fuel taxes, for example, arguing that anything higher would put an unfair financial burden on Norwegians living in outlying districts who must rely on their cars, since they have no alternative means of public transportation.
Grande, who otherwise often backs Norway’s so-called “district politics,” threatened that unless the budget was much more oriented towards battling climate change, “this government has no future.” Now she’s following up with declarations that her party won’t support the budget as it now stands. If the government also continues to respond that fuel taxes are not subject to renegotiation, “they have a huge problem.”
‘Green shift cancelled’
Environmental organizations were also blasting the proposed budget, with the head of WWF (who happens to be Finance Minister Siv Jensen’s sister Nina Jensen) sending out a message that the government had bid farewell to the much-hyped “green shift.” Nina Jensen suggested the government already had effectively sent its resignation to Grande.
While Grande mostly seems pre-occupied with imposing onerous “climate taxes” to curb emissions, others tackled arguably the most serious aspect of government policy: its ongoing support for the oil industry and recent decision to open new areas of the Arctic to oil and gas exploration and production. Beate Sjåfjell, a professor at the University of Oslo’s law school, also claimed “the green shift was cancelled” in the proposed state budget and not just because of minimal fuel taxes.
“Everyone knows that the majority of known fossil fuel resources must be left lying under the ground if we’re to have any hope of avoiding dangerous climate change,” Sjåfjell wrote in newspaper Dagsavisen on Thursday. “The clear first step would be to stay away from sensitive northern areas and unconventional extraction, like tar sands (which state-owned Statoil is controversially involved with in Canada).”
Oil industry the main emissions source
She claimed that the government’s recent opening of new Arctic areas for petroleum activity “is completely at odds” with the climate goals the government has promised to uphold. She complained that nothing in the state budget indicates that the government will even try to cut back or compensate for the oil industry activity.
“What the government is delivering is an attempt at greenwashing Norway’s ongoing role as a high-emissions society,” Sjåfjell wrote. That’s also been a recent view from abroad, with a Swedish commentator writing this week that Norway was “doped” by its oil in refusing to cut back on its oil and gas industry for financial and economic reasons.
A major problem for that climate lobby is that the otherwise opposition Labour Party and left-center alternative to the current government also supports the oil industry. Both the Labour and Center parties have even refused so far to block oil exploration off scenic Lofoten. Both the Conservatives and Labour promote claims that Norway’s oil production is the cleanest in the world and that its gas provides an important alternative to coal. Not only was that challenged in an NRK documentary earlier this week, but state statistics bureau SSB has shown that Norway’s own emissions have continued to rise while other countries’ are on the decline.
At least Grande’s Liberal Party and the Christian Democrats have forced the current Conservative-led coalition to put the Lofoten issue on ice for this parliamentary period, even though Prime Minister Erna Solberg said just last week that she still supports tapping Norway’s natural resources. The bottom line is that experts claim Norway doesn’t have a chance of actually cutting its emissions unless it cuts back on oil and gas production. With both of Norway’s major parties claiming the oil industry will remain important and active for years to come, Norway’s emissions will likely continue to rise, no matter how high Grande might force fuel taxes to be raised.