Prime Minister Erna Solberg was smiling as she posed at the opening of the UN Climate Change Conference. Now, however, she’s accused of ignoring the conference’s “call to action,” with young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg publicly accusing Solberg of violating UN rules against endangering the lives of children around the world.
“Your government continues to support new oil production,” notes a letter sent to Solberg by an international law firm on behalf of Thunberg and 15 other youth activists in 13 countries. They accuse Solberg of allowing new and existing oil production despite calculations showing that Norway won’t meet its goals for emission reductions in 2020 or 2030, given the Solberg government’s policies.
A similar letter has been sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Canada, which like Norway wants to have an international leadership role in climate policy while nonetheless allowing more oil and gas production at home in the decades to come. The letters’ message is clear: Norway and Canada are only making the climate crisis worse, no matter how much they try to cut emissions elsewhere.
That’s simply not acceptable to Thunberg, who was just named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year,” or legions of other climate experts who demand that Norway be held accountable. Thunberg, who spoke at the UN’s climate conference in Madrid on Wednesday, and her young fellow activists are calling on Solberg to stop all exploration for more oil and gas. They also want Norway to plan for a rapid phase-out of existing production, in order for Norway to meet its obligations both in regard to emission cuts and human rights.
Newspaper Dagsavisen reported that the letter was also being sent to Solberg’s climate and environment minister Ola Elvestuen (who’s at the conference in Madrid this week), to Norway’s ambassador to the UN Mona Juul, and to the UN’s special representative regarding human rights and environmental issues, David R Boyd. Boyd was in Norway recently and lodged similar criticism of Norway’s government and oil industry, claiming that the Norwegian government can’t keep looking for and producing more oil if it’s to have any credibility in the fight against climate change.
Thunberg has claimed repeatedly, and again in the letter, that “the climate crisis is here. Our house is burning now. The world is moving towards global warming of 3.2 degrees celsisus,” more than double the 1.5 degree limit agreed several years ago. Michael Hausfeld, leader of the US-based Hausfeld law firm that’s representing the youth activists and sent the letters, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that “we have set a ceiling. The world can’t become more than 1.5 degrees warmer. By starting new production of oil and gas, you’re ignoring this ceiling. You’re rather pouring fuel on a world that’s already on fire.”
More production of fossil energy “will contribute to catastrophic and unavoidable climate change,” according to Thunberg, who worked on the letter with Hausfeld on behalf of children from her native Sweden and Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, India, Nigeria, South Africa, Alaska, Tunisia and both the Marshall Islands and Palau in the South Pacific, where rising sea levels are threatening their very existence. Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon was also confronted earlier this year over the consequences of oil production in Norway on the lives of people on the other side of the world. The letter claimed that “these children have first-hand knowledge of the threats that arise with every single fraction of global warming.”
Norway ‘intends to do its part’
Solberg, meanwhile, had spoken at the climate conference earlier and claimed that Norway wants the conference “to be remembered for focusing on ambition, action and implementation.” She claims Norway “intends to do its part,” with a long-term target of 90-95 percent emission reduction by 2050, and that the 40 percent target for 2030 will be strengthened next year.
“To achieve this, Norway is developing new zero- and low emission technologies, especially in the transport sector,” Solberg said in her remarks as the conference opened. “We are electrifying our car-park and ferries, and are now working on programs for zero-emission for the tranport of goods in our country.” Solberg also noted how Norway is raising carbon taxes, paying other countries to cut their emissions, investing in climate solutions, “scaling up” renewable energy projects and “advancing the deployment of carbon capture and storage below the seabed.”
See Solberg’s full statement here (external link to the government’s website).
The problem, claim climate activists like Thunberg, is that everything Solberg mentions won’t offset the climate damage caused when Norway’s oil, like oil produced everywhere, is actually used. Even as Norway’s own population is all but forced to reduce driving, and as its own oil industry cuts its emissions from production that Solberg and other Norwegian often claim,is among the “cleanest’ in the world, the oil produced in Norway will still generate emissions elsewhere.
“It’s getting steadily more difficult to balance faith in keeping the oil economy strong, and hope that the earth will avoid going to hell,” wrote Bjørn Sæbø, the editor-in-chief of a newspaper in the heart of Norway’s oil region of Rogaland, on Wednesday. Solberg keeps trying, but Thunberg and many others lost faith long ago. They firmly believe economic decline must be accepted, in order to save the planet. “Stop short-term priorities of economic gain,” they claim in the letter, because they can come at the cost of the next generation.
Elvestuen, Norway’s climate minister, conceded to Dagsavisen that the “impatience” of the young activists was “justified.” He claimed that his “most important job” is to make sure “that Norway manages to cut its emissions at a much greater tempo in the future.” He, like Solberg, claims Norway will cut its emissions by 40 percent (compared to 1990 levels) by 2030 and be a low-emission society by 2050.
“I believe (as does his small Liberal Party that’s part of Solberg’s Conservatives-led coalition) that we must set a clear limit to petroleum activity and let the oil lie in the northern portion of the Barents Sea, precisely out of consideration for the climate and the nature,” Elvestuen told Dagsavisen. The problem with that is that his party hasn’t so far succeeded in getting the coalition’s bigger parties to go along. His party managed to help prevent oil drilling off scenic Lofoten and Vesterålen in Northern Norway, but hasn’t blocked expansion into the Arctic.
Thunberg and the other youth activists have asked both Norway’s Solberg and Canada’s Trudeau to answer their letter within 14 days. “Norway can make a difference if you act now,” they wrote to Solberg, adding that they intend to hold leaders like her responsible and make sure they follow up on their promises.