Erna swaps Oslo turmoil for UN’s

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After weeks of election and government turmoil in Oslo, it was perhaps symbolic that Prime Minister Erna Solberg donned a life-jacket on the first day of a busy annual week in New York. She was accused over the weekend of losing her authority at home, but is intent to assert it at the United Nations where she’ll be promoting climate measures and lobbying hard to get Norway a seat on the UN Security Council.

Equinor’s CEO Eldar Sæter took Prime Minister Erna Solberg on a boat trip from New York Harbour to the area where Equinor is involved in a major wind energy project. PHOTO: Høyre/Facebook

First she spent Sunday morning with the CEO of state oil and energy company Equinor Eldar Sæter. It was a paradox of sorts, with their meeting occurring just as Equinor faces having to clean up a major oil spill following hurricane damage to its plant in the Bahamas. Preserving and protecting the world’s oceans is a major new priority for Solberg’s government, which is also trying hard to win credibility for its stated climate commitment. That’s not easy for a country made wealthy by its offshore oil industry and major ownership stake in Equinor (formerly Statoil).

Solberg’s boat trip from New York City with Statoil- and Equinor veteran Sæter, however, was meant to promote the Norwegian company’s recent major investments in wind energy, which include the large Empire Wind project southeast of Long Island. “I’m glad Equinor is also investing internationally in renewable energy,” Solberg told reporters who were on board. “That shows how Norwegian companies are world class.” She boasted how the Empire Wind project will supply power to “at least half a million families in New York.” Sæter couldn’t resist adding that “now you see why we changed our name from Statoil to Equinor.”

Oil production just isn’t as popular as it once was, and it’s regularly accused of causing lots of the climate change that Solberg’s fellow delegates at the UN this week will be trying to halt. Her government will gamely present its own climate initiatives aimed at offsetting Norway’s own considerable carbon footprint.

Climate and rain forests high on UN agenda
She’ll be accompanied in New York by no less than five of her government ministers, with Climate and Environment Minister Ola Elvestuen ready to unveil new rain forest preservation projects. Norway is boosting its financial support to new areas in Gabon and Guyana, along with other areas of the Amazon in Colombia, Equador and Peru. Frustrated and angry over all the fires in Brazil’s Amazon, Norway is sending its money elsewhere.

Elvestuen told newspaper Dagsavisen that the conflict with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s new government remains unresolved, with no official meetings planned in New York this week either. Norway has donated more than NOK 8 billion (nearly USD 1 billion) to Brazil over the past 10 years, only to see much of its investment literally go up in smoke because of all the rampant fires set in the Amazon this year.

“The situation in Brazil is very serious,” Elvestuen repeated to Dagsavisen. He claims Bolsonaro and his government have violated the goals of their agreement to limit deforestation. Now Elvestuen’s ministry is turning its interest towards the Central African Forest Initiative, for example, instead.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres posed with Solberg as the busiest week of the year begins at the UN. PHOTO: UN/Evan Schneider

That’s the sort of “concrete” projects that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres wants to see materialize when Elvestuen, Solberg and other leaders from around the world meet for the UN latest climate summit in New York on Monday. Neither Bolsonaro nor US President Donald Trump were even expected to show up, but other world leaders are concerned about climate change and keen to prove they’re “doing something” to stop it. Guterres has made it clear he doesn’t just want to hear speeches but rather receive “concrete and realistic plans” for meeting the climate goals already agreed in Paris.

Solberg, meanwhile, met Guterres right after her boat trip with Equinor and then hosted a “working lunch” on the Green Climate Fund along with Germany and Jamaica. Before the climate summit began, Solberg was also  due to take part in a “High Level Panel on Sustainable Ocean Economy” and in a press conference on the Amazon initiative.

Tough campaign for seat on UN Security Council
In addition to all the climate activity, that also included a meeting with WWF, Solberg will be promoting Norway’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council all week. She’ll have Crown Prince Haakon along as a means of grabbing extra attention during what many call “international diplomacy’s Super Week.”

She won’t say how many votes Norway has secured so far to gain a Security Council seat for the first time in nearly 20 years. Norway has held a two-year seat four times, but the last time was in 2001-2002.

“I think we can get one of the seats,” Solberg’s Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide, who’s also in New York this week, told Norwegian reporters on Sunday. “The campaign has good momentum. We’re steadily getting new support from all regions.”

Both she and Solberg reject arguments that it can be just as well if rivals Ireland or Canada win a spot instead: “Only Norway can further Norwegian interests,” Søreide stated. The Norwegian campaigners are stressing Norway’s experience within conflict resolution, its traditionally generous foreign aid and the importance of multilateral cooperation at a time when it’s under threat. Solberg has set aside most of the day on Wednesday for so-called “bilateral conversations” with other national- and government leaders, bound to include requests for support of Norway’s Security Council bid.

Health care and military base visits, too
Solberg and her Health Minister Bent Høie will also be promoting universal health coverage at the UN this week before she takes off for a whirlwind day on Thursday visiting US Navy and Marine bases in Florida and North Carolina with her Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen. Her office said they’ll be hosted by the US Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer.

She’s expected to address the UN General Assembly Friday morning and she’ll be in New York through Saturday, when she’ll attend a Global Citizen concert in Central Park. Then it will be time to head back to Norway and try to renew cooperation within her own four-party conservative coalition government. With the Progress and Liberal parties still at odds on a variety of issues, Solberg’s authority has been called into question, most recently by political commentator Arne Strand. Others, including Kjetil B Alstadheim in DN, note that Solberg is well-known for her ability to “keep calm and carry on” as she strives to keep her government intact at least until the next election in 2021.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund