By Gwladys Fouche and Terje Solsvik
OSLO – Norway votes this weekend after a national election campaign dominated by climate change and a widening wealth gap, though whoever wins seems certain to ensure the country’s transition away from oil – and the jobs it creates – is a gradual one.
Opinion polls show the opposition Labour party on course to replace the governing Conservative coalition of Erna Solberg, though Labour would need support from two or more other parties to secure a parliamentary majority.
Since an Aug 9 United Nations report https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/un-sounds-clarion-call-over-irreversible-climate-impacts-by-humans-2021-08-09 warning that global warming was dangerously close to tipping out of control, climate change has become one of the two main issues of debate https://www.reuters.com/article/norway-election-oil-idCNL1N2Q21UD.
The other, in a country where egalitarianism is an entrenched value, is the growing disparity between rich and poor.
The man projected to become prime minister after the Sept 12-13 ballot, Labour leader Jonas Gahr Stoere, has pledged to address inequality by offering tax relief to low- and middle-income families and hiking rates for the rich.
“Equal rights and equal opportunity have to be secured,” he told Reuters. “(Inequality) …has been increasing over the last years. So fairer distribution is a foundation of our policy and that will be felt.”
The proportion of Norwegian children persistently living in low-income households grew from 3.3% in 2001 to 11.7% in 2019, according to Statistics Norway, while house prices have outpaced salaries, rising sixfold in 30 years.
Stoere says his government would also focus on cutting Norway’s CO2 emissions in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement, but at the same time work to avoid job losses in its biggest export industry, oil and gas production.
“We have nine years to achieve the 2030 goals in meeting the Paris objectives so we will cut 55% of our emissions,” he said.
“That is a huge transition, so we have really to get going during these first four years. To have a fair policy on climate change requires a more active participation from … the state to support this transition.”
Labour will have to rely on the support of two or more other parties to push its policies through, polls suggest.
The Green Party, the Socialist Left and the Marxist-inspired Reds – all pro-environmental – are all expected to make gains and will seek to influence the next government, as will the rural Centre Party.
The smaller parties will seek compromises to trim the oil industry’s ambitions, such as limiting its ability to explore for more deposits.
But with the other two possible candidates for premier – Solberg and the Centre Party’s Trygve Slagsvold Vedum – also favouring further oil drilling, there seems little chance of the environmental lobby calling time yet on an industry that accounts for 42% of national exports and employs around 160,000 people.
Norway is Western Europe’s top petroleum producer, exporting some four million barrels of oil equivalent per day.