Norway’s outgoing prime minister, Erna Solberg, spent most of this past week on her last major official trip abroad. She and her foreign minister Ine Eriksen Søreide bowed out on the international stage at the UN General Assembly in New York, before both return to their seats in Parliament when a new Norwegian government takes over.
Last year’s opening of the UN had to be cancelled because of the pandemic. This year the UN was hosting a vastly scaled-down version of the top-level gathering, and Solberg grabbed her last chance to meet face-to-face with other government leaders. She was especially keen to do so since Norway won a coveted seat on the UN Security Council last year.
“It’s important to be able to meet face-to-face and speak together in the normal manner even though there are still many hybrid meetings,” Solberg told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) shortly after arriving in New York. “There’s a completely different tempo here this year. There aren’t all the piles of receptions like before.”
She took part in both video meetings and some in person while in New York. “It’s important to me to offer some strength and direction on issues that mean a lot to me, like taking care of the seas and education for girls,” Solberg told DN. “I’ll continue that work also when I move into a new role (as a Member of Parliament, after eight years of leading Norway’s government).”
‘We must cooperate on so much…’
Solberg was also keen to bring up peace and disarmament as a member of the UN Security Council. “I’m worried about a world in which the superpowers are even more at odds with one another,” she said. “We all must understand that we must cooperate on so much, even when we don’t agree.”
She was also willing to walk into a lion’s den of sorts when taking part in a meeting that concentrated on preparations for the next UN climate summit that will take place in Glasgow in November. The International Energy Agency (IEA) and the UN itself have urged oil-producing nations to cut back on exploration and production, something Norway currently has no intention of doing. Both Solberg’s Conservatives, which lost last week’s election, and the winning Labour-led side keep resisting calls to halt exploration for oil that shouldn’t be used if the world is to meet its emissions reduction goals.
Norway, normally a cooperative member of the UN, is thus all but defying such calls even though Norwegian leaders have committed themselves to meeting the UN’s climate goals. Solberg told news bureau NTB that the meeting in Glasgow “will be important for securing the important steps that must be taken,” without detailing what those steps will be. Critics have called the Norwegian government’s latest energy and climate plans “embarrassing.”
Solberg seemed more worried that China, which hasn’t confirmed that its increasingly authoritarian leader Xi Jinping will attend the Glasgow meeting, now seems reluctant to cooperate on climate issues if the US continues to criticize China in other areas.
“Climate change is not a bilateral conflict between the US and China,” she told newspaper Aftenposten while in New York. “This is a global challenge.” She said the mood at the climate meeting with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres was “much worse” than it had been before the global pandemic. She added, though, that “China isn’t the only country we should be worried about. There are many countries that say a lot of nice things, but what’s important now is action.” Some other national leaders may say the same things about Norway, but Norwegian leaders claim they look forward to the meeting in Glasgow and will meet their climate commitments, even without shutting down offshore oil and gas fields.
Solberg insisted she was not making the rounds at the UN in New York in search of a new job, after losing her post as Norwegian prime minister. “I’m not interested in any international positions” like those taken on by many other former Norwegian politicians over the years, Solberg told DN. “I’m interested in Norwegian politics and Norway’s position internationally. This is a farewell tour, and an opportunity to thank many people for good cooperation over many years. I want to continue in Norwegian politics.”
After presenting her government’s last platform and state budget in early October, Solberg will turn over her office to the next prime minister (expected to be Labour’s Jonas Gahr Støre) and then she’ll take over as head of the opposition in the Norwegian Parliament.