Norwegian government leaders were not granted speaking time when the United Nations held its summit on climate ambitions during its annual General Assembly in New York this week. The reason is tied to Norway’s refusal to rein in its oil and gas industry, and because it’s unlikely Norway will meet its own climate goals.
Norway was far from alone in being dropped from the program, which stressed the urgency to act instead of making more empty promises. Only those countries that could present concrete and credible plans to cut emissions, or those suffering from climate change that’s not self-inflicted, were invited to speak at the UN’s Climate Ambition Summit on Wednesday. Norway was not among them. Denmark and Iceland were the only Nordic countries on the list of just 34 worldwide that were deemed both credible and capable of replacing the use of oil, coal and gas with emissions-free alternatives.
“This is super embarrasing for Norway,” Frode Pleym, leader of Greenpeace Norge, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). He stressed that Norway lacks a credible climate plan, and suggested the UN realizes that Norway continues to ignore warnings from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the UN itself that the world has discovered all the oil and gas it can use if climate goals are to be met. Both UN officials and environmental advocates have called for a halt to further oil exploration.
Successive Norwegian governments including Støre’s Labour-Center coalition, though, have defied both the IEA and the UN by continuing to offer new licenses for more exploration, not least in sensitive Arctic areas. “It doesn’t help to have ambitious goals for emission cuts when we’re building up for another oil boom and approving record numbers of new oil and gas projects on the Norwegian continental shelf,” Karoline Andaur, secretary general of WWF in Norway, told NRK. She also thinks it must be embarrassing for Støre and his environment minister Espen Barth Eide to be dropped from the UN’s list of those genuinely concerned about climate change and doing something about it: “Støre should take this as a clear signal that his (Labour Party’s) policy of ‘developing, not phasing out’ oil and gas is blocking the way for Norway as a credible climate nation.”
Norwegian leaders have gained a reputation in recent years of being “all talk, no action” or, worse, taking action that damages the environment or can lead to more climate change. Eide, a career politician for the Labour Party who’s now in charge of climate and the environment, caught lots of criticism when he returned from an earlier climate summit this year and immediately authorized a new wolf hunt and construction of a new motorway through a nature preserve near Lillehammer. The environmental lobby’s verdict is clear: Norway simply lacks the political willingness to make real changes and meet its own climate goals.
Eide, who flew to New York along with several other Norwegian government ministers for the UN General Assembly this week, tried to defend Norway as the world’s largest contributor to preservation of rain forests. The problem has long been, however, that Norway pays other countries to help cut their emissions, but not Norway’s own. He told NRK that Norway would gladly have been included on the short list of countries honored with speaking time at the UN this week, but would participate in the meeting “with great interest.”
He and Norway’s government minister in charge of foreign aid and development, Anne Beathe Tvinnerheim, did take part in a meeting on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Norway played what they called “an important role in negotiations over the summit’s declaration” and the launch of a report on efforts to end plastic pollution.
“It shouldn’t come as any surprise” that Norway wasn’t invited to speak at the UN Climate Ambition Summit, said Lars Haltbrekken, a Member of Parliament for the Socialist Left Party (SV) and former leader of Norway’s chapter of Friends of the Earth (Naturvernforbundet). He’s long been critical of how Norway’s oil and gas industry has always been politically more important than the climate change it causes (regardless of whether Labour- or Conservative governments are in power) because of the money and jobs it generates.
“The government doesn’t have any new or major climate measures to offer,” Haltbrekken told NRK Wednesday, after the UN’s speakers’ list was released and Norway wasn’t on it. “If they had listened to SV during state budget negotiations and halted oil exploration in sensitive offshore areas, they probably could have spoken at the UN.”
Ola Elvestuen of the Liberal Party said he can “well understand” that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres didn’t invite Norway’s prime minister to speak at the climate summit: “There’s no reason to let another prime minister speak seriously about climate change without following up with concrete measures to halt it.”
Haltbrekken said Norway must launch “a credible plan” for restructuring its fossil fuel industry. Instead, the industry has continued to expand under both Labour- and Conservative governments, nearly 50 years after Norway’s own Gro Harlem Brundtland first launched the need for sustainable climate and environmental goals at the UN. Despite all of Norway’s efforts to present itself as a climate-conscious and environmentally friendly nation, it’s not.
Elvestuen said the world has now noticed that one of its wealthiest countries isn’t taking strong measures to curb global warming, “and that’s weakened Norway’s position in international climate cooperation.”