The two faces of Norway’s environmental policies

statfjordajarvin1982On the one hand Norway is the champion of environmental policies, on the other its prosperity is based on the production of hydrocarbons. That is the dilemma facing Norwegian Conservative PM Erna Solberg (photo).

Those two irreconcialable differences are also part of her political reality. Her coalition partner, the far right Progress Party (Frp), is skeptical of climate change science, while her majority in parliament is secured through the support of the environmentally conscious Liberal Party(V) and The Christian Democrats (Krf). Erna Solberg has to play both sides.

But time is running out according to Liberals and Greens. There is no time to pander to climate deniers. But if she initiates the transition to a greener economy, it means giving up the foundation of Norwegian wealth, the very thing that produced Norway’s gigantic sovereign wealth fund. That is why Norway hesitates.

The country must find another source of income, and there no guarantee of success. Since the 1960s Norway has grown into one of the richest nations on earth, a beacon of self conscious human rights. But it is all founded on pollution. The question is whether Norway will be able to ride a moral high horse in the face of inevitable decline.

Norwegians have grown accustommed to ever expanding welfare policies. Once such a policy has been implemented, it has proven politically impossible to have it adjusted. Oddly, Solberg has found an ally for her policies of postponing the dismantlement of the oil industry in the opposition Labor Party (Ap). They are not hindered by climate skeptics in their midst, but they realise that without the income generated from oil production, they will not be able to keep their promises of an ever expanding welfare state.

So the two largest parties, Erna Solberg’s Conservative Party (H) and the opposition Labor Party, both support the continued expansion of the oil industry. Various diversionary tactics have been proposed: supporting the rain forrest, depositing CO2 underground, anything but cutting oil production. Fortunately, the problem may solve itself as Norway’s oil wells are either running dry or becoming economically unsustainable, and unemployment is hitting the oil industry. However, it is a gradual slow down.

In the mean time, Solberg is searching for ways to keep her election promises while at the same time adapting to the new reality of global warming. So far her answer has not been to embrace solidarity in inevitable decline, but to cut taxes on the rich and hope for trickle-down economics.