Thousands of Norwegian school students were mounting demonstrations around the country again on Friday, to demand that politicians do more to stop climate change. Now they’ve won the support of Crown Prince Haakon, who told a German magazine this week that he thinks the school climate strikes taking place around the world are “enormously important.”
The 47-year-old heir to Norway’s throne took an unusually clear stance on climate issues in the interview with Der Spiegel, conducted before he spent Friday taking part in the Greentech Festival in Berlin. His participation at the festival, which Norway helped mount, is meant to boost awareness of “sustainable technology and innovation as a means of solving the world’s climate challenges,” according to the Royal Palace.
“I think this movement (of school strikes to protest climate change) is enormously important,” Crown Prince Haakon told Spiegel, adding that he thinks it might be looked back on as an “historic” moment, as a time “when it became possible to initiate the change that had long been necessary.” His own two children can’t take part in the strikes, because of how the royals are supposed to remain non-political, but he clearly agrees with the striking students’ message: “The students say that we do not do enough to protect the earth. Obviously they are right.”
In expressing his support for the strikes initiated by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, the crown prince is at odds with the position of Prime Minister Erna Solberg. She has said that it’s fine for Norwegian youth “to engage themselves,” but she wants them to stay in school instead of cutting classes to mount climate protests. She has also flatly rejected their demands to halt Norway’s highly controversial granting of new offshore oil exploration and production licenses on the Norwegian Continental Shelf. Neither she nor a majority of politicians in the Norwegian Parliament are willing to cut back on Norway’s oil and gas industry because of the huge role it plays in the Norwegian economy.
Government’s position ‘so false’
Solberg’s response has infuriated the leader of Natur og Ungdom (Nature and Youth), the environmental group that’s firmly behind the school climate strike movement in Norway. Climates strikes around the country in April attracted an estimated 40,000 school students, with thousands more expected to turn out on Friday. Millions were expected to be protesting Friday around the world.
“Erna Solberg’s statements have only motivated us even more, and show the huge need for more school strikes,” Gaute Eiterjord, leader of Natur og Ungdom, told newspaper Dagsavisen. “That’s because she (Prime Minister Solberg) has shown that she doesn’t understand a thing. She praises the young protesters, but doesn’t take them seriously. It becomes so false.”
He said that the school strikers don’t want a pat on the head: “If Erna Solberg wants the students back at their desks in school, she’ll have to start granting our demands. She needs to declare a climate crisis and change her politics. Until that happens, she’s not doing anything but shirking her responsibility.”
Among the school students’ demands are an end to more oil exploration and production and creation of more new, “green” jobs. “The government has to cut more than half of Norwegian carbon emissions by 2030,” Eitrjord said. “Only then will Erna Solberg’s words actually mean something.” Norway’s own carbon emissions, meanwhile, have been rising, not falling.
The Norwegian paradox around oil
The crown prince was also asked whether he sees the “contradiction” of Norway’s international efforts to reduce carbon emissions and promote renewable energy, while owing its prosperity to an oil and gas industry that continues to produce the oil that should no longer be burned and used.
“I understand what you mean,” he responded, before borrowing the government’s and industry’s standard reply that the “world is still dependent on fossil energy.” He added, though, that “we have to shift away from that.” He claimed Norway is working to “accelerate” a change towards renewable energy and noted, as do the politicians, that the “global community” must work together to find a solution.
“But we can also do a lot as nation states,” he said, affirming that he thinks Norway’s oil and gas sector will lose its significance. He resisted the suggestion, though, that Norway is guilty of double standards in promoting and relying upon renewable energy at home while continuing to controversially search for and develop new oil fields from the Arctic to the Australian Bight. Environmental and climate activists have long argued how that hurts Norway’s credibility, and puts the crown prince’s claims of a change in direction in doubt.
Supports more energy cables
Crown Prince Haakon also supported proposals for more energy cables between Norway and Europe as he ventured into political issues on which the monarchy is traditionally supposed to avoid taking a stance. Marit Arnstad, a Member of Parliament for the Center Party, quickly expressed her disagreement with the crown prince.
More energy cables sending Norway’s hydroelectric power out of the country, Arnstad told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN), “will weaken Norwegian industry and raise electricity bills, so we’re critical towards building more cables abroad. But it’s difficult to blame the crown prince for expressing the line the current government has adopted. It’s his job to represent Norway’s view abroad and that’s what he’s doing, unfortunately.”
With the exception, however, of his support for the school strikes and that Norway could do more to cut its own emissions and reduce demand for Norway’s own oil. Crown Prince Haakon was recently confronted, during an official visit to South Pacific nations threatened by climate change, with direct demands to halt Norway’s ongoing oil exploration and production in the Arctic. An elected activist in Fiji blamed Norway for contributing to climate change instead of working to hinder it, while Norwegian state oil company Equinor is under severe pressure to drop its plans for oil exploration and production in the Australian Bight.
Crown Prince Haakon also talked about his own carbon footprint in the Spiegel interview, which can be read here (external link to Spiegel Online).