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Norway will not ‘shy away’ from green transition dilemmas, says PM

Norway will not “shy away” from the tension between combating climate change and protecting nature, the country’s prime minister has said, as he grapples with pushback against deep-sea mining and so-called green colonialism.

Jonas Gahr Støre’s centre-left government is expected to approve plans in the coming days that would open up the possibility of deep-sea mining in Norway’s Arctic waters despite criticism from environmentalists and fishermen.

Meanwhile, members of the country’s indigenous Sámi community have blockaded government buildings in Oslo several times this year, with the support of climate activist Greta Thunberg, in protest against the construction of wind farms in areas where their reindeer graze.

The nation, western Europe’s largest petroleum producer, has built up a sovereign wealth fund with an increasingly active role in climate matters and invests heavily in electric vehicles and ferries. But it is now caught up in a growing debate about hurting nature to reach climate targets.

“We have to weigh transport, fishing, birdlife, oil and gas — and find the right solutions,” Støre told the Financial Times. “With the green transition, in all countries you will have to find the balance between more power, more grid, more infrastructure and on the other hand you are bound to run into discussions about land.”

“It brings both challenge and opportunity. These are conflictual matters. We don’t shy away from them,” he added.

Norway, one of the world’s richest countries due to its oil and gas reserves, has drawn accusations of hypocrisy for its climate advocacy while still pumping oil and gas as well as making moves towards the controversial practice of deep-sea mining.

The country is thought to have extensive metals and mineral deposits both under the sea and underground on land, but little research has been done on the risks to marine life or farming communities if these resources were exploited.

Støre said a reliance on certain countries, such as China or the Democratic Republic of Congo, for raw materials essential for the green transition was a “risk from the security perspective”.

“There will be no licence granted for deep-sea mining without closing the knowledge gap and making us confident that we will carefully look after the requirements from the environmental perspective,” the Norwegian prime minister said. “But if we neglect deep-sea minerals, we leave it to other countries for things we badly need, including for the green transition.”

Norwegian environmentalist Frederic Hauge, founder of climate consultancy Bellona, has said parts of nature might need to be destroyed to combat climate change, for instance by building wind farms on mountains or picturesque areas.

A senior Norwegian official echoed this view, saying: “My feeling is that if it’s needed, we have to destroy a bit of nature to save the climate.”

But onshore wind farm construction in Norway has all but ground to a halt due to fierce local opposition, with some early plans for offshore wind parks running into objections from owners of seaside cabins who say their views would be spoiled.

Norway’s supreme court has said the construction of a wind farm on land used by the Sámi community for reindeer herding violated the indigenous people’s rights. Despite this ruling nearly two years ago, the government is yet to take action.

Activists, including Thunberg, have twice blocked access to the prime minister’s office in recent weeks to raise awareness of this issue, amid accusations of green colonialism — using the green transition as a way to undermine indigenous people and their way of life.

“We are beginning to understand that there will be no human economic activity without some of these dilemmas,” said Støre, referring to the nature versus climate debate and green colonialism. “We have to balance industrial activity and human activity in a way that is worthy of a modern democracy.”

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