Norway’s new Prime Minister has defended his country’s oil and gas industry by stressing that shutting it down would undo the transition to greener industries like renewable energy.
In his first newspaper interview as Prime Minister, Jonas Gahr Store told the Financial Times that if Norway, the largest gas supplier to Europe after Russia, were “out of business” then the continent would also have difficulty achieving its green goals.
“If we were to say from one day to the next that we were going to stop production on the Norwegian shelf, it would, in my opinion, stop an industrial transition that is necessary to achieve the momentum towards net zero. . . So we are in the process of evolving and shifting, not closing down, ”he added.
Labor’s return from Store in Norway means all five Nordic countries have left-wing prime ministers for the first time since 1959 and crowns a center-left revival that includes Social Democrat Olaf Scholz’s victory in Germany.
Store said he was and will remain in close contact with Scholz, who is talking about the terms of a coalition with green and liberal parties, and stressed their similarities in the context of the “upswing in social democracy”.
“One reason is because people see this growing inequality, they see the inadequacy of right-wing governments in managing the social part of the political agenda, but also the technological and modern part of the energy transition,” said Store. “The other part is that social democracy had to get back to its roots in order to represent the interests of the people who do decent work.”
Norway is the largest oil producer in Western Europe, but it also invests a lot of money in green technologies such as electric cars, carbon capture and storage, and offshore wind.
Store agreed that this was “a paradox” but argued that it was not a Norwegian, but a global one, as the world had “left a few centuries of fossil fuel production” behind.
He stressed that Norway will meet its climate goals and commitments, but claimed that the country of 5 million people could make a bigger difference by developing a green industry. “That will be important in Norway, but it will be very important in the transition of Europe, the transition of India and the transition of Asia,” he added.
The new center-left minority government is also keen to make its $ 1.4 trillion oil fund, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, more active on environmental issues. The government platform said it should become the leading asset manager for responsible investment as well as climate risks. The coalition also said it wants tougher rules on the sale of shares in companies that violate human rights and the rules of the International Labor Organization.
Store told the FT that the fund was “political,” a statement that marks a change in a country where politicians have tried to say that it is not an instrument of Norwegian foreign policy.
He stressed that it is run by professional managers whose goal is to achieve “high returns with acceptable risk”.
But he added that it is “the property of the Norwegian people and it is up to the Norwegian government and parliament to set the framework. That makes it political in my sense. “
The government “apparently did not select winners or set the details,” he said, however.
Fund officials have long believed that its greatest risk is being seen overseas as the arm of the Norwegian state. They sought to counteract this by emphasizing that their framework for responsible investment – which includes bans on tobacco, nuclear weapons and coal producers from the Fund – is based on generally accepted international principles.
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Since the fund is owned by the Norwegian people and is structured to “last forever,” said Store, “we would like to see the goals and values of Norway reflected in the management of the fund”.
Store, a former foreign minister, showed a more internationalist bias than his center-right predecessor Erna Solberg, said he would travel to Brussels soon to discuss how Norway could help the EU with the energy transition and his first interviews with three European publications.
But he also criticized a proposal by the European Commission to ban all oil and gas activities in the Arctic, which would affect Norway more than almost any other country due to the activities in the Barents Sea.
“Resolutions from continental Europe, according to which everything north of the Arctic Circle should be stopped arbitrarily – it doesn’t work that way. Norway is a coastal state from north to south, we have our rights and obligations to look after our economic zone and the activities in this zone, ”he said.
However, he added that his government would emphasize oil and gas exploration in “more mature areas and activities near existing infrastructure”. This would mean that the largely unexplored Barents Sea would be less of a focus than the North and Norwegian Seas below the Arctic. Large oil companies, including the state-controlled Equinor, have announced that they will withdraw their plans for the Barents Sea after a series of disappointing search results.