Climate change dominates elections in oil-rich Norway

Oil-rich Norway goes to the polls on Monday in elections dominated by climate change that the ruling Conservative party is widely expected to lose to a Labour-led coalition.

Climate change dominates elections in oil-rich Norway
Labour leader Jonas Gahr Store aims to take power from Erna Solberg. Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB/AFP

Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Store is hoping to wrest power from centre-right Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who has headed the wealthy Scandinavian nation for eight years.

Polls suggest Solberg is unlikely to win again, and the key question is whether Store’s hoped-for coalition with the Centre and Socialist Left parties will get enough votes for a parliamentary majority.

If not he may have to seek the support of other small parties.

“Something really dramatic would have to happen for the right-wing to win,” political scientist Johannes Bergh of the Norwegian Institute for Social Research told AFP.

The campaign has largely focused on the future of the oil industry in Norway, western Europe’s biggest producer.

Norway owes its riches to black gold, enabling it to amass the world’s biggest sovereign wealth fund.

The country has embraced environmentally-friendly policies to tackle climate change in recent years, but Store says it’s not been enough.

He has vowed to introduce “fair” climate policies and narrow socioeconomic divides.

“We haven’t done nearly enough in our climate transition and our welfare state has in many areas been cut back, privatised or carved up,” the 61-year-old told AFP.

“After eight years of right-wing politics, inequalities have increased in Norway.”


Black gold

Though Store’s own Labour party is expected to put in a poor showing at the polls, he should be able to take the election with the help of his allies, primarily the agrarian Centre Party and Socialist Left.

It remains to be seen whether the three parties will win a majority, or have to rely on support from the communist Rodt party and the Green MDG party.

The Greens have called for an immediate halt to oil exploration and an end to production by 2035.

But Store has rejected the ultimatum, saying he wants to fight global warming without endangering jobs.

“The climate and environment will be a major issue, maybe the key issue, when it comes to building a government after the elections,” Bergh said.

“It will be difficult for the various parties to agree.” The centre-right has called on Norwegians to vote for continuity, citing
Solberg’s strong track record. In eight years at the helm — a record for the Conservatives — Solberg has
steered the country through the migrant crisis, plunging oil prices and the pandemic.

“The choice this year is between Erna (Solberg’s) safe leadership with policies that work, and an uncertain alternative,” the Conservative Party said.

“We need solid management and a clear course ahead to kickstart Norway after the pandemic.”

‘More billionaires’

After the Vatican and Iceland, Norway has the lowest number of Covid deaths in Europe per capita, and its economy has already returned to its pre-pandemic level.

But critics have accused the outgoing government of being overly optimistic about returning to a post-pandemic reality.

In mid-August Health Minister Bent Hoie told Norwegians “we’ll be able to dance slow dances and resume ‘one-night stands’ at the end of September”.

But facing rising infection rates, the government has had to postpone the lifting of all its restrictions several times.
Solberg also ran into trouble when she broke her own government’s social distancing rules at her 60th birthday celebration in March, a mistake that also cost her a hefty fine.

Ahead of the vote Monday, the election campaign was in full swing in downtown Oslo.

“Under Solberg, the inequality gap has widened. The number of billionaires keeps growing,” complained one pensioner.

Near a Conservative Party campaign stand, an elegantly-dressed woman says she wants Solberg to win.

“Of course we all care about the environment, but without oil revenues what is going to pay for our welfare state?”.

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Norway says it hasn’t breached treaty by blocking Russian cargo to Svalbard

Norway is not breaching a century-old treaty covering the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard by blocking Russian cargo to the islands, the country's foreign minister said Wednesday after Moscow threatened retaliatory measures.

Norway says it hasn't breached treaty by blocking Russian cargo to Svalbard

“Norway does not violate the Svalbard Treaty,” foreign minister Anniken Huitfeldt told AFP. “Norway does not try to put obstacles in the way of supplies” to a Russian coal mining settlement in the area, she said, after Russia’s foreign ministry said it had summoned Norway’s charge d’affaires over the issue.

Moscow accused Norway of disrupting the work of the Russian consulate general on Spitsbergen, the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago. Norway has sovereignty over Svalbard but allows citizens of more than 40 countries to exploit the islands’ potentially vast resources on an equal footing.

Moscow has long wanted a bigger say in the archipelago — which it insists on calling Spitsbergen rather than the Norwegian Svalbard – which has been a haunt of its hunters, whalers and fishermen since the 16th century. The Svalbard Treaty handing sovereignty to Norway was signed in 1920.

Huitfeldt argued the shipment that was stopped at the Norwegian-Russian border “has been stopped on the basis of the sanctions that prohibit Russian road transport companies from transporting goods on Norwegian territory”.

Goods transport “does not have to go via mainland Norway by Russian truck”, she said, suggesting other solutions could be found to supply the mining community.

Svalbard was exempt from a ban on port calls by Russian-flagged vessels, “and we have clearly signalled our willingness to consider a dispensation from the flight ban”, the minister said.

The situation in the town of Barentsburg, home to the Russian miners, was “normal”, she said.

“Residents have access to food and medicine,” Huitfeldt said. “It is not Norwegian policy to try to force Russian companies or citizens away from Svalbard, or to put obstacles in the way of the business that takes place in accordance with Norwegian laws and regulations.

“At the same time, Norway’s necessary reaction to Russia’s war in Ukraine may also have practical consequences for Russian companies on Svalbard, as in Norway in general,” Huitfeldt said.