Erna: ‘No plans to change oil policy’

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Prime Minister Erna Solberg has been taking part in this week’s virtual “Leaders Summit on Climate” at the invitation of new US President Joe Biden. He’s called for a global halt to oil drilling in the Arctic, but Solberg has no intention of ending Norway’s own Arctic oil exploration and production.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg took part in US President Joe Biden’s virtual climate summit Thursday and Friday. She has no intention of halting Norway’s Arctic oil activity, though. PHOTO: Statsministeren kontor/Arvid Samland

“We have no plans to change our oil policy because of this (Biden’s opposition to Arctic oil),” Solberg, leader of Norway’s Conservative Party, told news bureau NTB on Friday. She won’t heed Biden’s call, claiming it has “little relevance” for Norway. It’s difficult, she said, to compare the conditions for oil in the US’ Arctic with those in Norway.

“Norway is different than most other Arctic countries,” Solberg insisted. “We have people living there, 9 percent of Norway’s population resides in the Arctic. We do business in the Arctic, we have activity, we have open seas. We have a completely different environmental situation.”

Staying active in the Arctic
Several of Norway’s opposition parties with strong environmental and climate agendas disagree, as do most climate and environmental organizations, and they’ve long been calling for an end at least to oil exploration in offshore waters. Solberg, like all Norwegian prime ministers, is keep to cooperate with the US and especially its new president, but her government continues to actively open more areas of the Norwegian- and Barents seas, and hand out both exploration and production licenses, closer and closer to the ice edge.

“We’re in a completely different situation (than the US),” Solberg contended. “But we will do this (keep drilling for more oil and gas) in the absolutely most sustainable manner.”

Solberg delivered a speech to fellow government leaders taking part in the climate summit on Friday. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor/Arvid Samland

Solberg is one of 40 state- and government leaders invited to Biden’s two-day digital summit, and she delivered a speech Friday on how innovation can contribute to the green transition (external link to the text of her remarks). Despite her objections to his campaign promise to work towards a ban on Arctic oil activity, she hailed Biden for bringing the US back to the climate negotiations table and for returning as a driving force for policy aimed at halting climate change.

“There’s no doubt there’s a huge difference between (Biden’s) Democrats and (former US President Donald) Trump,” Solberg told NTB. She wouldn’t go along with further boosting Norway’s own climate goals but noted they were raised last year with a goal of cutting emissions by 50-55 percent from 1990 levels by 2030, in cooperation with the EU. It remains unclear, however, how the government will accomplish that. Its latest progress report on climate measures included a major increase in carbon emission fees, based on the premise that polluters should pay. The opposition Labour, Center and Progress parties, however, quickly appeared to give in to the garbage branch, for example, that’s protesting how costly the fees will be for burning refuse.

Admits to lots of dilemmas
Solberg and three of her ministers met their EU counterparts in the EU last month to discuss the “green transition” and what Norway can contribute to it in terms of technology, knowledge and products. Norway has long championed electric vehicles and is now electrifying everything from ferries to oil platforms, while also developing the use of hydrogen.

She talked about some of that sort of innovation in her remarks at the summit on Friday. She conceded to NTB, however, that she’s acutely aware that Norway has many dilemmas tied to its role as an oil-producing nation. It’s at least now trying to use its sovereign wealth fund fueled by oil revenues over the years to invest in alternative energy and do “something good” despite what climate activists view as the country’s wicked and miserable past.

“I of course am aware that there are some who point out that we’re not just ‘the good guys’ on climate,” Solberg said, “and I try to be honest about that.” Even if her government loses to the Labour-led left-center opposition in the upcoming national election, it’s still likely to maintain Norway’s oil and gas production for as long as it’s in office, too.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund