The Center Party (Senterpartiet) was the big winner in the recent Norwegian elections. Although the Labour Party won fewer seats than previously, they are seen as winners too, as they now by far are Norway’s biggest party. The Conservative Party (Høyre) lost many seats. The left will now form a government, under the leadership of the Labour Party, together with the Center Party and most probably the Socialist Left Party (Sosialistisk Venstreparti).
The new government programme is expected to centre around a more proactive rural policy, less centralization, more equity and equality, and a forward-looking policy on climate and new non-fossil industries.
The UN report changed the discourse
Together with the mentioned Socialist Left Party, the other self-proclaimed climate-oriented parties, the Red Party (Rødt) and the Greens (Miljøpartiet de Grønne), all gained new seats, and the Liberal Party (Venstre) had a strong finishing streak and did better than last time around. The Red Party grew from one representative in parliament to 7, and the Greens grew from 1 to 3 representatives. But expectations for the Greens were much higher in the region of 7 representatives, and thus many voters and party officials grieve the result. Much of the debate after the elections has thus concentrated on whether this has been a so-called climate election or not.
The climate issue was brought forward as a leading issue in the election campaign, thanks to the UN Climate Panel’s most recent report, published during the initial phase of the Norwegian election campaign.
The four ‘climate parties’ received a total of over 20 per cent of the votes, i.e. every fifth voter voted for green issues, in some way or other. Although the four parties have different priorities within this broad theme, there is now a general pressure to initiate a powerful green shift.
The battle of the last oil
What can we expect in the coming parliamentary period between 2021 – 2025? The much-fought for pristine coastal areas in the country’s north, known as Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja, will probably be declared a no-go oil area forever. This will be low hanging fruit. But we will see a more vigorous debate and perhaps a decision about whether the so-called ordinary oil and gas licensing rounds will be phased out. They are usually announced every two years and concern immature areas, where there has been no activity before. That’s an excellent first step and a victory for marine life in the Barents Sea.
We also have annual allocations in what are called predefined areas. These are considered mature areas, where one knows the geology and where activity and infrastructure exist. Stopping this will be a much harder match, given that both the Labour Party and the Center Party see this as economically significant.
Lots of other “fruit” to pick
There are a lot of other low hanging “fruits” to pick, though. The new premier to be, Jonas Gahr Støre, already announced some time ago a willingness to look at a change of mandate for the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund (also known as the Oil Fund). This implies setting a net-zero CO2 target for companies in which the fund is invested. Jan Erik Saugestad, Executive Vice President of Asset Management at Storebrand, a leading player in the Nordic market for long-term savings and insurance, recently said: “Zero-emission targets for 2050 have become “the new gold standard” for investors.”
Norway will also accelerate its investments in renewables on the global stage. This is often done via the Norfund-institution. New funds will be made available for the Enova institution, owned by the Ministry of Climate and Environment. Their mandate is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, develop energy and climate technology, and strengthen supply security. They will invest more in solar panels in housing associations, condominiums and private homes.
Likewise, we will probably see more flexible schemes and incentives for upgrading small power plants, without it being at the expense of natural values, but where upgrading is energy efficient. Other energy efficiency projects will be initiated. The new government has a lot to gain here. Personally, I am less optimistic about the destruction of carbon-rich bogs and nature, which are sacrificed on the altar of road construction. Here, both the Labour Party and the Center Party are old-fashioned. The climate parties must be fierce watchdogs!
Hairy targets for offshore wind
The political battle for the next four years is about investments to be made in the enormous ocean spaces Norway possesses. Oil production is going down. Offshore wind power is going up. But this must be done in agreement with fishing interests and ornithologists. The Norwegian shipyard and supplier industry is waiting for more proactive government initiatives.
There are a lot of similarities between oil platforms and the bottom-fixed and floating wind power installations. If there is carbon capture and storage on the Norwegian shelf, our geologists and geophysicists will contribute. Pipes that currently carry the gas to the UK and to the continent can take CO2 back instead.
Thousands of oil wells will eventually be plugged. Norwegian expertise can do that. All these opportunities we have become much more aware of during this election campaign. That is why I think it can be argued that the elections were much about climate — after all. I think it is fair to say that the Norwegian climate debate has changed forever.