Petroleum-Free Norway Is No Pipe Dream for Ascending Green PartySaleha Mohsin
While Norway’s Green Party has just one man in parliament, it has big dreams.
Fronted in the legislature by Rasmus Hansson, a biologist and environmental activist, the party is working to stop all petroleum activity in western Europe’s largest oil and gas producer within 20 years. At the current pace of production, which won’t be maintained, Norway would run out in 37 years and some oil and gas fields are expected to keep up output for at least 50 years.
“As a nation that has produced enormous wealth based on oil, we need to take responsibility,” Hansson, who also headed WWF Norway for 12 years, said in an interview at his Oslo office. “We can’t expect China, India and Ukraine, who are much poorer and much more coal dependent, to reduce their production and use of fossil fuels if we don’t.”
The Greens’ entry into parliament last year came as Norway is expanding into the Arctic to keep up output as North Sea deposits are depleted. Its time in parliament has been slow in coming in Norway, which has built an $840 billion wealth fund from oil and gas and become Europe’s second-richest country in the process. Green parties have been in the legislature in neighboring Sweden and in Germany since the 1980s.
The 59-year-old Hansson, who at least twice a week bikes 18 kilometers (11 miles) from his log cabin in a forest outside Oslo, says Norway should hurry in replacing its oil industry by using built up know-how to expand in offshore wind, renewable energy as well as extract bio-chemicals from the surrounding seas and look at its forests for chemical resources.
Politicians from more traditional parties, including Conservative Prime Minister Erna Solberg, are also debating how to ease Norway's reliance on its oil industry, which accounts for almost 25 percent of economic output. Norway’s oil output has dropped for 13 consecutive years and now investments are set to decline, threatening an economy where the energy industry feeds through to all areas of its economy.
The Green Party, established in 1988, won 2.8 percent of votes in September, double from 2009 elections. The curly-haired politician, whose hobbies include chopping wood to heat his 120-year-old cabin, is not the Green Party leader in Norway. The group instead has two spokesmen and Hansson gained a seat in parliament by winning 5.5 percent in his Oslo district.
While he has limited power to enact legislation, Hansson sits on three parliamentary committees, including those dealing with the environment, foreign affairs and constitutional affairs, from which he seeks to influence fellow lawmakers.
He used that opportunity after the new government took power in October, and in his first speech argued that the wealth fund should be banned from investing in coal stocks, a proposal that was rejected. Labor, Norway’s largest party, is working on submitting a similar plan for a vote. The ruling two-party Conservative-led government last week agreed with its support parties, the Liberals and Christian Democrats, to form a committee to consider excluding oil, gas and coal companies from the fund.
“Our power is in our arguments and in the fact that most other parties have strong environmental rhetoric, and we can keep challenging them on delivering those,” Hansson said.
“The biggest goal we have is to nail down the large question about Norway’s future,” he said. To make it ``unavoidable'' to ``discuss where Norway is heading and how we’re going to move into the next sustainable generation.”