Protests washed over ‘Our Ocean’ show

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NEWS ANALYSIS: After years of earning billions off its own offshore oil, gas, seafood and shipping industries, the Norwegian government hosted a heavily promoted conference in Oslo this week aimed at protecting the world’s oceans. Protesters demonstrating outside found it all a bit hypocritical, claiming Norway should first protect the seas in its own backyard.

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg at the opening of this week’s “Our Ocean” conference sponsored by her government in Oslo. Critics ridiculed it as little more than a public relations campaign aimed at making Norway look more responsible for protecting oceans than it really is. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor/Werner Juvik

The Nordic chapter of environmental organization Greenpeace complained how police stopped “peaceful activists” Thursday morning from hanging up a banner at a shopping center opposite the downtown hotel where the conference was being held. It read “Empty promises = empty oceans,” and called for “ocean sanctuaries now.”

Demonstrators have also been posting images of Prime Minister Erna Solberg around Oslo, and accusing her of “empty promises” to protect the seas. That’s because  Solberg and every Norwegian government before her has made it clear they’ll keep drilling for and producing oil and gas for as long as it’s profitable, even though researchers claim that at least 30 percent of the world’s oceans should be shielded from industry and protected. Both her Conservative Party, her even more conservative coalition partner the Progress Party and their fellow rival, the Labour Party, have always put jobs and tax revenue generation ahead of rising calls to rein in Norway’s offshore oil industry.

Solberg’s government won’t meet its climate goals for 2020 and is highly unlikely to meet those set for 2030 either. Environmentalists and climate activists are weary of all the talk and no action, and angry when the government instead spends millions on a conference that many believe is more aimed at boosting Norway’s own international image than putting restrictions on those putting the seas at risk.

Norway also appeared this week to once again be buying its way out of cracking down on industrial threats to its own seas. Norwegian politicians have long paid other countries to cut their carbon emissions while allowing them to rise at home. On Wednesday Solberg announced her government’s plan to now donate NOK 3 billion (USD 333 million) over a four-year period to various measures aimed at “sustainable ocean management” (external link to the government’s own website). Norwegian officials said the money would go towards funding “concrete solutions to protect the seas and better exploit ocean resources.”

This protest message illuminated on the Oslo Cathedral, just around the corner from the conference site, called on conference host Prime Minister Erna Solberg to “listen to scientists” and protect at least 30 percent of the world’s seas including Norway’s own. PHOTO: Greenpeace

Solberg claimed in her opening remarks at the conference, which  attracted hundreds of delegates from 100 countries, that “we must protect the ocean against pollution and make it possible to continue producing food and energy from the sea.” Just a week after major Norwegian oil and offshore firm Aker BP had to apologize for major chemical spills from its Ivar Aasen oil platform in the North Sea, Solberg still supports ongoing offshore oil and gas activity, also in the sensitive Arctic.

So do her enthusiastic Oil & Energy Minister Kjell-Børge Freiberg and her foreign minister, Ine Eriksen Søreide, who admitted on national radio Wednesday how research shows that the seas have become warmer and are changing in other ways that create “serious consequences for life under water, the fishing industry, sea levels and the weather.” The challenge is that the seas also, noted Søreide, “provide food, energy, jobs and welfare for people all over the world,” and must continue to be exploited

She defended how Norway had resorted to yet another conference as a means of trying to solve problems. “We must cooperate across borders and strengthen partnerships through business, research, authorities and organizations,” Søreide insisted. “This conference is just such a meeting place.”

Prime Minister Erna Solberg was taunted during the conference with her photo lit up on the side of the Oslo Cathedral, next to a quote linked to her that “protecting the seas won’t protect the jobs we need.” PHOTO: Greenpeace

On Thursday afternoon, state broadcaster NRK reported that a German environmental activist had been arrested just before the conference began. He allegedly tried to hack the conference’s data network, in order to take over screens and embarrass the Norwegian organizers. He was stopped and slapped with a fine of NOK 10,000. The man was later linked to Greenpeace.

Demonstrators outside were also skeptical. “We don’t have time for empty promises,” said Jennifer Morgan, managing director of Greenpeace International and a participant at the “Our Ocean” conference. “Countries like Norway claim to be leaders in climate and the environment, while in reality they put profit over protection and empty the seas of life.”

Greenpeace claims it’s “embarrassing for a major maritime nation like Norway that the new promises aren’t in line with the challenges the seas face.” Morgan claimed that Norway also is working against creation of a new international agreement that would make it easier to protect vulnerable maritime areas.

Oil company Aker BP and its parent company, meanwhile, hosted a presentation of their own earlier this week that candidly began with the words “the show is about to begin.” A string of company officials including Aker CEO Øyvind Eriksen boasted how Aker is supporting marine research to come up with better ways of “how we fuel ships, operate fisheries and exploit oil and gas.” Eriksen insisted Aker is “deeply committed” to finding “sustainable solutions … to facing challenges from where we make our living.”

Eriksen was praised by Solberg’s government minister for business and trade Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, who told the audience assembled in one of Oslo’s finest seafood restaurants in the posh Tjuvholmen complex the he was glad Aker was trying to tackle “the dual challenge to preserve our oceans better, while we continue to reap their resources.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund