As Oslo sweats through a “frighteningly” warm winter, its large chapter of the Conservative Party made some hotly contested decisions over the weekend to help reverse climate change. The decisions to protect Arctic waters from more oil industry activity provoked other chapters and will challenge the party’s new Oil & Energy Minister, but cheered junior members of the Conservatives-led government coalition.
The chapter (Oslo Høyre) now wants to move Norway’s hotly contested “ice edge” border, which determines where oil activity can take place, farther south. The border issue is expected to be at the center of one of the most difficult political debates this spring: Norway’s pro-oil factions and parties want it to remain flexible and able to be moved father north as Arctic ice melts, to open up vast new areas for oil drilling and production, while more environmentally friendly and climate-oriented parties both within the government coalition and Parliament want it moved south, to restrict more oil activity and the emissions it generates.
Now the Conservatives’ Oslo chapter that boasts members including Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide and several Members of Parliament, wants to ward off more carbon emissions and protect the sensitive Arctic area, not least what MP Mathilde Tybring-Gjedde called its “rich fishing grounds” on national radio Monday morning.
Calling for permanent protecton of Lofoten area, too
Concern for Norway’s second-biggest industry, fishing and seafood, was also behind a decision earlier in the weekend to forever ban all oil industry activity in the waters around scenic Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja. Oslo Høyre became the Conservatives’ first county chapter to vote in favour of protecting “especially vulnerable waters” off what’s called the Lo-Ve-Se area against not only actual oil industry exploitation but also any further studies of its environmental impact.
The moves quickly set off loud protests not only from the Conservatives’ former government partner, the strongly pro-oil Progress Party, but also other chapters within the Conservatives. The chapter in Troms and Finnmark in Northern Norway, which views oil as important for economic development, mocked the decision, vowing to respond with proposals of its own to ban all further activity in the hills and forests around Oslo. They’ve been having lots of snow and cold, stormy weather this winter, while Oslo is set to record its warmest January ever with no snow in the city or even at higher elevations.
Oslo Høyre seems undaunted by the internal party opposition. “We view the value of these (Arctic) areas, as fishing grounds and with its fantastic nature, as so enormously huge that we put a priority on that over oil industry activity in exactly this vulnerable area,” stated Saida Begum, leader of the chapter’s resolution committee. She added that the chapter’s resolution also contained “several other important environmental positions,” including development of more offshore- and land-based wind energy projects, state financing of full-scale carbon capture and storage, more regulation of the cruise industry and electrication of all Norwegian offshore oil fields by 2030.
“We now hope that the other Conservatives’ chapters in the country will join us in approving these standpoints when we hold our national meeting in March,” Begum said. Such approval would also clearly help Oslo Høyre in the capital, where it needs to appeal to climate-conscious voters that recently re-elected a city government coalition dominated by the Greens, Labour’s most-climate oriented chapter and the oil skeptical Socialist Left (SV).
The climate resolutions approved by Oslo Høyre are bound to involve noisy debate, in which Norway’s new Oil & Energy Minister Tina Bru from the Conservatives will play a key role. She hails from Norway’s oil capital of Stavanger and has called herself “a genuine child of the oil age,” now viewed as both supporting the oil industry as a source of jobs and welfare, but also “greener” than her predecessors.
Bru, who just took over the ministerial post from the short-lived but bullish former Progress minister Sylvi Listhaug on Friday, said it was too soon to comment on the issues. She and the rest of the now-minority government will need support from either Progress or other opposition parties in Parliament. The Greens and other parties keen on reining in the oil industry (SV and the Reds) can’t offer the coalition government enough votes on their own to form a majority.
Labour, meanwhile, has also reluctantly declared itself as keen to at least protect the Lo-Ve-Se area and is also debating the ice edge issue. The Conservatives’ partners in government, the Liberals and Christian Democrats, have long blocked oil activity around Lofoten and that’s what’s held back drilling or production for the past six-and-a-half years, since the conservative coaliton first won govenrment power.