NEWS ANALYSIS: Erna Solberg made history over the weekend by being the first Norwegian prime minister to be invited to a G7 meeting. Her goal of raising high-level consciousness about the state of the seas, however, was largely overshadowed by all the drama stirred up by US President Donald Trump both at and just after the summit in Canada, and by debate back home over Norway’s credibility as the seas’ saviour.
Solberg didn’t even get a chance to grab Trump’s ear, much less a hoped-for bilateral chat with him about the seas or other nagging topics like his punitive customs duties on aluminum and steel. His decision to leave the summit early, and skip the session on Saturday when Solberg spoke about the need for sustainable seas, was followed by an even more sensational decision to withdraw his support for the G7’s official declaration that he and all the other leaders had signed.
Tump’s subsequent Twitter taunting of the G7’s host, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, led to strong and negative reaction, also from Solberg, who told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that she was “a bit astonished” by Trump’s opening remarks that Russia should have been invited to the summit, and his ultimate lack of support for the US’ long-time allies at the G7: Germany, Great Britain, France, Japan, Canada and Italy. Solberg said Russia would have to show different attitudes towards, and treatment of, Ukraine before being invited back to a G7 summit. She also noted how the US itself has imposed tough sanctions against Russia, making it all the more astonishing why Trump thought Russia’s leader should be at the table in Quebec. Trump’s protectionism and treatment of allies can be counter-productive as well, Solberg thinks, for the US’ allies and the US itself.
“The US is losing political influence in the rest of the world,” Solberg told NRK. “They’re also losing the position as the central force in the work being done to seek common global mechanisms to set the agenda.”
By Monday attention had already turned away from the G7 summit in Quebec and towards Singapore, where Trump was due to finally meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, a man Trump also taunted by calling him “rocketman” from the podium at the UN less than a year ago. Trump has threatened Kim as well, vowing to unleash “fire and fury” against North Korea if Kim were to carry out a nuclear strike.
As the US president “turns the US’ friends into enemies,” as political commentator Frank Rossavik wrote in newspaper Aftenposten Monday morning, and then tries to turn its enemies into friends, the stability of the world seemed at stake this week. “The Trump-driven breakdown of the liberal world order,” as Rossavik put it, suddenly seemed much more important than Solberg’s initiative to set up what she calls an international “High-Level Panel on Sustainable Ocean Economy.” It’s “overall objective,” Solberg told the six remaining leaders of the free world in Canada on Saturday, “is to increase global awareness of how responsible ocean management can help us to achieve the (UN’s) Sustainable Development Goals.”
To read Solberg’s address to at the G7, click here (external link to the government’s webite).
Norway’s prime minister pointed to how her own country’s economy has long been fueled not only by its offshore oil and gas industry but also by shipping and, not least, fishing and, more recently, farmed seafood in Norwegian fjords and off its long coastline. She claimed that two-thirds of Norway’s export earnings originate from ocean- and coastal activity.
Solberg’s government is thus organizing an ocean science conference in Norway this fall, and inviting researchers from all the G7 countries to participate with the scientists from her “High-Level Panel.” Norway wants to share how it has learned, according to Solberg, “that it is fully possible to combine different ocean-based industries (petroleum, fisheries and aquaculture) and ensure a healthy marine environment, as long as solid environmental standards are in place.” She’s keen to set up a “to-do list” for the world as well, to clean up the oceans around the world (not least of plastics and micro-plastics) while also promoting the economic development the seas can provide.
“It’s of course disappointing,” Solberg told Aftenposten, that Trump wasn’t interested in sticking around on Saturday to hear her appeal. “It would have been good to have the US along,” she said. She tied Trump’s decision to skip the sustainability session to his earlier, and much more disappointing, decision to pull the US out of the UN agreement struck in Paris in an effort to reverse climate change.
Solberg nonetheless looked forward to address the G7, claiming her message had everything to do with “the environment, climate, sustainability, over-fishing and more.” The world is more dependent on the seas than many realize, she believes, and that’s why a “to-do list” is important.
Many would argue that one thing to do would be to stop drilling for oil and gas and thus cut back on the risk of pollution and more carbon emissions. That’s not on Solberg’s list, as her government continues to hand out licenses to develop new oil fields, many of which are in extra-sensitve Arctic waters. Solberg denies there’s a paradox in her appeal, given Norway’s long history of shipping that has, at times, fouled the seas with earlier dumping of everything from dirty ballast water to garbage. Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl complained about pollution from shipping 70 years ago, while offshore oil fields pose a constant threat of carbon emissions and spills.
“It’s correct,” Solberg insists, “that a country like Norway, which concentrates on the pollution potential of our oil and gas operations and therefore makes the strongest demands (of the oil industry) in the world, also takes on leadership in the sustainable exploitation of the seas.”
Opposition politicians in the Norwegian Parliament disagree. Torgeir Knag Fylkesnes, a Member of Parliament for the Socialist Left party (SV) claimed last week that Solberg “is not the right person to instruct or dictate to other countries about the seas.” He points not only to how Norway’s oil and gas operations contradict stated climate goals, but also that Norway’s fishing policy hasn’t always set the best standards either. Its policies on consolidation of fish processing plants along the coast, for example, have also hurt many coastal communities.
Solberg scoffed at the criticism. “SV should rather be proud that Norway can influence international debate than be petty and preoccupied with promoting its own small political standpoints,” she told news bureau NTB. “We have a system that has provided us with sustainable supplies of cod in the north, and many of our resources are growing. We are managing our natural resources in a good manner.”
Now it’s up to whether other leaders of the G7 countries (or at least the new G6 without Trump) agree, and are willing to look to Norway for guidance.