Royals confronted again, now over oil

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For the second time in as many weeks, members of Norway’s royal family have been confronted while abroad with what’s seen as the hypocrisy of Norwegian climate and environmental policy. Crown Prince Haakon was the latest to receive a plea for help, this time in a South Pacific island nation that’s threatened by the carbon emissions of the oil industry.

Crown Prince Haakon was adorned with flowers and served the traditional kava drink during welcome ceremonies in Fiji’s capital of Suva. PHOTO: Det kongelige hoff/Sven Gjeruldsen

The crown prince was on an official visit this past week to the island nations of Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. He was accompanied by the Norwegian government’s minister in charge of development and foreign aid, Dag-Inge Ulstein instead of Norway’s climate and environmental minister, even though the Royal Palace states on its own website that the climate and caring for the oceans topped the agenda for meetings with local officials.

The stated goal of the meetings was to strengthen or establish contact, to build relations and strengthen Norway’s interests abroad. The royal palace noted that the crown prince’s visits to the island states, many of which are already acutely threatened by severe storms and rising sea levels, were meant “to strengthen partnerships with island states in the South Pacific, to futher common interests at the United Nations and through international cooperation regarding the seas and climate, peace and security.”

Oil exploration ‘undermines’ Paris Agreement
During his visit to Fiji, the Norwegian delegation’s second stop on the trip, the vice president of Fiji’s National Federal Party (NFP) Seini Nabou issued an “open letter to Crown Prince Haakon Magnus of Norway.” It was published the next day on the local website Islands Business (external link) and now has been picked up by media in Norway, including state broadcaster NRK and newspapers Dagens Næringsliv (DN) and Dagbladet.

The crown prince was also guest of honour at a reception for the Norwegian delegation hosted by Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama. PHOTO: Det kongelige hoff/Sven Gjeruldsen

In the letter, Nabou offered “humble greetings of welcome” but made “one modest request:” She and her colleagues want Norway to stop exploring for more oil in the Arctic, and cut back on oil production.

Nabou, who also is an “ambassador at large” for Fiji’s foreign ministry, wrote in her letter that “unfettered carbon emissions from one part of the globe present trans-boundary challenges and climate insecurity in another.” While applauding Norway as being one of the first industrialized nations to ratify the Paris Agreement to halt climate change, “we also know that (Norway) is actively involved in further opening up its part of the Arctic for oil and gas exploration.” She claimed that “would essentially undermine” the Paris Agreement’s goal of cutting carbon emissions.

She then touched on the essence of a class action lawsuit filed against the Norwegian government, which lost in court but claimed Norway’s oil industry violated the Norwegian constitution by endangering future generations’ “right to a safe and healthy environment.”

Nabou applauded the Norwegian Oil Fund’s decision to divest from coal companies and invest in more renewable energy, but that’s not enough in Nabou’s view: “As you leave our shores Your Royal Highness, may we respectfully plead that Norway helps us in the Pacific to retain our proud, rich place in the world, by moving swiftly to eliminate exported emissions and de-escalate fossil fuel extraction.”

Royals restricted on political issues
Norwegian media wrote that the crown prince was “surprised” by the letter, just as his parents King Harald and Queen Sonja were when confronted with demonstrators on last week’s state visit to Chile. Those demonstrators were protesting how Norway’s huge salmon farming industry, which has expanded to Chile, is threatening natural fishing grounds and polluting local waters.

While visiting Tonga, the crown prince met with the island nation’s environment minister Siaose Sovaleni, and saw first-hand how rising seas are threatening coastal areas. Crown Prince Haakon remarked that “it made an impression” and urged the importance of “standing together” against climate change, but he’s restricted from commenting on whether Norwegian oil is at least partially to blame. In the background, Norway’s new development and foreign aid minister Dag-Inge Ulstein. PHOTO: Det kongelige hoff/Sven Gjeruldsen

The royals, however, are restricted by the terms of Norway’s constitutional monarchy from commenting on or involving themselves in political debate. The royal palace’s website mostly restrained itself to noting that Crown Prince Haakon had stressed in his remarks that Fiji was an important leader in ocean- and climate issues that “had raised its voice on the global stage, speaking out about critical issues such as climate change and oceans.” He claimed that “the voice of the Pacific is important, and Fiji has made it heard.”

NRK reported on Friday how Norway’s official visit to the South Pacific was part of Norway’s efforts to win a seat on the UN Security Council from 2021. Fiji, Tonga and Samoa are all members of the UN and are eligible to vote on the issue.

Government responds with its standard defense of oil
Rikard Gaarder Knutsen, a state secretary in Norway’s Oil & Energy Ministry, told NRK that he couldn’t answer an open letter to the crown prince. who ended his South Pacific tour on Thursday. He claimed, however, that “like the letter-writer, the government is also concerned about the climate. Norway was, as pointed out, among the first to ratify the Paris Agreement. It points out that the climate challenge can only be solved through global cooperation. All countries, also Norway, must cut their emissions.”

Norway has pledged to do so, but Norway has no intention of halting exploration or shutting down oil fields, much to the aggravation of climate and environment advocates also at home in Norway. Knutsen defended Norway’s oil industry by repeating its long-held argument that Norway’s offshore oil and gas production generates lower carbon emissions that those in other countries, and that the world will continue to need oil and gas for decades to come.

“There is no foundation for the claim that a political decision to limit production of oil on the Norwegian Continental Shelf will contribute towards lower global emissions,” Knutsen told NRK. Norway’s largest political parties have all supported the oil industry for years because of the jobs it creates and the huge revenues it generates for the state treasury and its pension fund.

‘Embarrassing’
The current conservative Norwegian government’s unyielding position on maintaining and even expanding oil production continues to irritate environmental and climate organizations, however, and increasing numbers of Norwegian voters. Climate issues are expected to be among the most important in upcoming elections.

“It’s embarrassing that politicians in Fiji understand the environmental consequences of Norway’s oil policy better than our own politicians do,” Haldis Tjeldflaat Helle of the organizaton Natur og Ungdom (Nature and Youth) told NRK. “Norwegian politicians have yet to take those hit hardest by climate change seriously, along with those of us who will live with it in the future.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund